Sometimes I think the closest we’ll ever come—certainly the closest we have come thus far—to a non-human having something even slightly recognizable as intelligence is the Bureaucracy.
Which Bureaucracy? Well, any bureaucracy which emerges out of a sufficiently large organization, really. Once enough “policy” is put in place, once those policies are manned by (ahem) Human “Resource” organizations, middle management and others who defer to the Bureaucracy who possess even a trivial latitude of discretion with respect to the organizational policies, the only human power over such a beast can only be trivial. Well, trivial and/or petty.
Think about it. Humans in such an organization are slaves to the machine, and those above individual-contributor level are coxswain at best and a form of clergy at worst. The reality lives too close to the “at worst” side of things.
Passing the buck is the first step in opening up enough space to exercise one’s own discretionary powers and clearly marks the passer as having given up fundamental initiative. Passing the buck to another human is deplorable enough, but when one passes the buck to a set of bureaucratic policies, the quality of it moves beyond—or rather, below—humanity in its description. And I’m torn between finding this irony laughable or reprehensible.
When you add to the policy-laden bureaucratic beast the fact that a hierarchical organization is required to keep the beast’s vitals within acceptable parameters, you’re left with everyone not at the top of the hierarchy impotent in every applicable way to “superiors”, leaving each to aim downward in order to shore up his or her own sense of worth. In rare times, this results in a kind of power-with unit-cohesiveness created by a common misery. More common (and “common”) cases involved a power-over kind of move in order to maintain the illusion that the “superior” isn’t entirely toothless.
The latter is the environment in which “making an example of” thrives. This is the environment in which personality conflicts between non-piers truly does make the subordinate entirely powerless: the “superior” always wins because there’s no recourse. You see, the policies that created the needed hierarchy will always favor the maintenance of that hierarchy and, like you might clean your body to rid it of dirt, filth and a few million epidermal cells in a five-minute shower, the beast-entire has little thought to any one individual, a quantity directly proportional not to talent, not to humanity, not to fairness, not to decency, but entirely to “rank”. The lower you are in the political hierarchy, the less it matters. No matter what, it[‘]s rank.
No wonder then that more people play at politics the more aware they are of the beast’s true needs. Those are the ones who make the connections, pay attention to “networking” and find devious or clever—but always non-duty-related—ways to close off subordinates and promote self-promotion—or at least tangle themselves enough across nodes in the hierarchy such that no one other person can completely decide their fate and no one level can form a consensus.
All effort that could be better spent doing real work, but hey, the Bureaucracy only expends effort for self-maintenance—a non-human form of the will to live—and generates valuable output solely in the service of keeping itself in existence among other hierarchies (competitors) and outside influences (pestilent—from the perspective of the Bureaucracy—swarms of humans, for example).
So I dared claim that bureaucracies possess organizational-level intelligence, but now that I think about it, most forms of organizational intelligence are not those easily recognizable by a human being. There are edge cases, of course, and some of those do present themselves as bits of intelligent behavior but those are rare and effete, no more than sinister grace notes that do nothing but season the larger march (or dirge, depending on perspective).
Is there a particular event that provided the impetus for painting such a picture? The only worthwhile answer that can be offered is this: it genuinely does not matter.
Not to the beast.