TK/B/B: Annoyed at being a broke grad student edition

Through daring exercises of skill and some amount of good fortune, I’ve arranged my affairs so that numerous pots of money legitimately are going from Stanford to me (e.g., multiple fellowships, pay for a handful of random tasks like running a workshop, etc.). Unfortunately, Stanford is the DMV of universities, so every additional source of money leads to more and more bureaucratic complications, to the point where I have no idea how much money I can actually expect to see, and when. Several of these pots might actually violate secret rules: last year, when I asked for payment for one thing to which I was entitled, I was told that there was a rule against doing so, to be found only in an obscure document of which grad students are not informed (though it’s technically available, in the basement/locked file cabinet/beware of leopard sense), although eventually a loophole was found.

I’ve already set one staff member on figuring out what the university officially thinks it owes me, and when (if only so I can pay estimated tax on some of it and not get slammed by the IRS again — and also because, for fuck’s sake, I have uses for money), but I’m entitled to another iteration of the object of the secret rules from last time, and I’ve put off asking for it simply because it’s too tiresome to hassle with the bureaucracy (Rob, if you’re reading, and I know you are, expect to get cc’ed w/in a few days on an e-mail re: workshop getting paid like in last spring.) There are also other random bureaucratic things that I need to deal with, which might interact in sinister ways…

This is annoying. What I really need is some kind of lawyer-equivalent, only not an actual lawyer (which I could have in abundance, between memyself and dozens of friends), but something like a canon lawyer, only, for “Catholic dogma” read “Stanford policies” — an advocate who knows the university bureaucracy and its stupid fucking secret rules inside out. That, I think, is the real problem with bureaucracies — those who understand them are those who are invested in them and who have places within them that could be threatened by actually advocating for people who are interacting with them. Oh well. I’ll eventually get everything sorted out. Probably with lengthy e-mails to multiple administrators, as per usual. Hmm… perhaps I’ll write one right now. Moan. Or maybe I’ll contact my agents in the law school, get them to find me some kind of psychotic 3L with lots of time on its hands, draw up a limited power of attorney and set it loose on the bureaucracy with a 5% bounty for any money it can shake loose that I wouldn’t otherwise get. How much is my time and sanity worth? Hmm… Ok, I wrote the damn e-mail. Only because I think that if I hired some law student, it would just piss everyone off.

Given that this is a story about bureaucracy, and it’s the TK/B/B, I probably ought to put some nice menacing Kafka in here. Perhaps from the Castle… only my copy of the Castle is still missing (argh!!!!). Perhaps I’ll order a new copy right now, with my uncertain wealth. While I’m waiting for Amazon, instead, since this is also a story about money, some delightful Borgesian musings about same.

I turned the corner; the chamfered curb in darkness at the far end of the street showed me that the establishment had closed. On Belgrano I took a cab. Possessed, without a trace of sleepiness, almost happy, I reflected that there is nothing less material than money, since any coin (a twenty-centavo piece, for instance) is, in all truth, a panoply of possible futures. Money is abstract, I said over and over, money is future time. It can be an evening just outside the city, or a Brahms melody, or maps, or chess, or coffee, or the words of Epictetus, which teach contempt of gold; it is a Proteus more changeable than the Proteus of the isle of Pharos. It is unforeseeable time, Bergsonian time, not the hard, solid time of Islam or the Porch. Adherents of determinism deny that there is any event in the world that is possible, i.e., that might occur; a coin symbolizes our free will. (I had no suspicion at the time that these “thoughts” were an artifice against the Zahir and a first manifestation of its demonic influence.) After long and pertinacious musings, I at last fell asleep, but I dreamed that I was a pile of coins guarded by a gryphon.

Borges, The Zahir.

Oh, what the hell, here’s some Kafka too. This about captures how I feel about the Stanford bureaucracy.

The City Coat of Arms

At first all the arrangements for building the Tower of Babel were characterized by fairly good order; indeed the order was perhaps too perfect, too much thought was taken for guides, interpreters, accomodation for the workmen, and roads of communication, as if there were centuries before one to do the work in.

In fact the general opinion at that time was that one simply could not build too slowly; a very little insistence on this would have sufficed to make one hesitate to lay the foundations at all. People argued in this way: The essential thing in the whole business is the idea of building a tower that will reach to heaven. In comparison with that idea everything else is secondary.

The idea, once seized in its magnitude, can never vanish again; so long as there are men on the earth there will be also the irresistable desire to complete the building. That being so, however, one need have no anxiety about the future; on the contrary, human knowledge is increasing, the art of building has made progress and will make further progress, a piece of work which takes us a year may perhaps be done in half the time in another hundred years, and better done, too, more enduringly.

So why exert oneself to the extreme limit of one’s present powers? There would be some sense in doing that only if it were likely that the tower could be completed in one generation. But that is beyond all hope. It is far more likely that the next generation with their perfected knowledge will find the work of their predecessors bad, and tear down what has been built so as to begin anew.

Such thoughts paralyzed people’s powers, and so they troubled less about the tower than the construction of a city for the workmen. Every nationality wanted the finest quarters for itself, and this gave rise to disputes, which developed into bloody conflicts. These conflicts never came to an end; to the leaders they were a new proof that, in the absence of the necessary unity, the building of the tower must be done very slowly, or indeed preferably postponed until universal peace was declared.

But the time was spent not only in conflict; the town was embellished in the intervals, and this unfortunately enough evoked fresh envy and fresh conflict.

In this fashion the age of the first generation went past, but none of the succeeding ones showed any difference; except that technical skill increased and with it occasion for conflict. To this must be added that the second or third generation had already recognized the senselessness of building a heaven-reaching tower; but by that time everybody was too deeply involved to leave the city.

All the legends and songs that came to birth in that city are filled with longing for a prophesied day when the city would be destroyed by five successive blows from a gigantic fist. It is for that reason too that the city has a closed fist on its coat of arms.

And because I’m annoyed, some more Kafka, who, naturally, had things to say about secret rules:

The problem of our laws

Our laws are not generally known; they are kept secret by the small group of nobles who rule us. We are convinced that these ancient laws are scrupulously administered; nevertheless it is an extremely painful thing to be ruled by laws that one does not know. I am not thinking of possible discrepancies that may arise in the interpretation of the laws, or of the disadvantages involved when only a few and not the whole people are allowed to have a say in their interpretation. These disadvantages are perhaps of no great importance. For the laws are very ancient; their interpretation has been the work of centuries, and has itself doubtless acquired the status of law; and though there is still a possible freedom of interpretation left, it has now become very restricted. Moreover the nobles have obviously no cause to be influenced in their interpretation by personal interests inimical to us, for the laws were made to the advantage of the nobles from the very beginning, they themselves stand above the laws, and that seems to be why the laws were entrusted exclusively into their hands. Of course, there is wisdom in that — who doubts the wisdom of the ancient laws? — but also hardship for us; probably that is unavoidable.

The very existence of these laws, however, is at most a matter of presumption. There is a tradition that they exist and that they are a mystery confided to the nobility, but it is not and cannot be more than a mere tradition sanctioned by age, for the essence of a secret code is that it should remain a mystery. Some of us among the people have attentively scrutinized the doings of the nobility since the earliest times and possess records made by our forefathers — records which we have conscientiously continued — and claim to recognize amid the countless number of facts certain main tendencies which permit of this or that historical formulation; but when in accordance with these scrupulously tested and logically ordered conclusions we seek to adjust ourselves somewhat for the present or the future, everything becomes uncertain, and our work seems only an intellectual game, for perhaps these laws that we are trying to unravel do not exist at all. There is a small party who are actually of this opinion and who try to show that, if any law exists, it can only be this: The Law is whatever the nobles do. This party see everywhere only the arbitrary acts of the nobility, and reject the popular tradition, which according to them possesses only certain trifling and incidental advantages that do not offset its heavy drawbacks, for it gives the people a false, deceptive, and overconfident security in confronting coming events. This cannot be gainsaid, but the overwhelming majority of our people account for it by the fact that the tradition is far from complete and must be more fully inquired into, that the material available, prodigious as it looks, is still too meager, and that several centuries will have to pass before it becomes really adequate. This view, so comfortless as far as the present is concerned, is lightened only by the belief that a time will eventually come when the tradition and our research into it will jointly reach their conclusion, and as it were gain a breathing space, when everything will have become clear, the law will belong to the people, and the nobility will vanish. This is not maintained in any spirit of hatred against the nobility; not at all, and by no one. We are more inclined to hate ourselves, because we have not yet shown ourselves worthy of being entrusted with the laws. And that is the real reason why the party who believe that there is no law have remained so few — although their doctrine is in certain ways so attractive, for it unequivocally recognizes the nobility and its right to go on existing.

Actually one can express the problem only in a sort of paradox: Any party that would repudiate not only all belief in the law, but the nobility as well, would have the whole people behind it; yet no such party can come into existence, for nobody would dare to repudiate the nobility. We live on this razor’s edge. A writer once summed the matter up in this way: The sole visible and indubitable law that is imposed upon us is the nobility, and must we ourselves deprive ourselves of that one law?

I scheduled this post for 6 am on Tuesday, even though it’s 1am when I’m finishing it — my urge for immediate impulse gratification is struggling hard against my wish to test the scheduling feature. I will not be akratic. I will not. The rational part of my soul rules the appetitive part, yo. I have gold mixed in. I will be a guardian. I’ve been reading way the fuck too much Plato.

(When, incidentally, are prime blog reading hours? Belle, you once recommended I post at a certain time… what was that time, precisely?)


One Response to “TK/B/B: Annoyed at being a broke grad student edition”

  1. Uncommon Priors » Roundup of being in a good mood. Also TK/B/B revised: Happy Nice Bureaucrat Edition Says:

    [...] The bureaucratic nightmares referenced in my last post have turned out to be less painful — mainly because my department has a wonderful, glorious, [...]

Leave a Comment