Kafka’s Bureaucratic Nightmare Through Pabst, Farts and the Keystone Cops

Working in a brewery isn’t like working in a slaughterhouse or -20 degrees in an Amazon warehouse. It’s not logging or police work or roofing in 105 degree heat. So let’s get that out of the way first.

Instead, it’s the intangibles I’m interested in. Specifically, the intangible of working within competence or not. And the difference in how that makes you feel to be a part of something awesome and wicked versus something bumbling and dysfunctional. 

MillerCoors and Pabst were in a heated legal battle stemming from the former’s contract to brew the latter’s beer through 2020. MillerCoors says with decreased sales and profits, they may not have the brewing capacity to fulfill a contract through or beyond 2020. Cynics might think that, with declining sales, to knock Pabst out of the market by restricting their production, MillerCoors picks up what Pabst losses. So, even to renege on the contract for underhanded reasons, it would still make business sense.

For sake of argument, let’s say the MillerCoors/Pabst contract goes to shit, leaving Pabst in need of a new brewer. Company A and B both vie for the new contract. Both have the same capacities and resources. Here are the two scenarios.

Company A successfully fulfills Pabst’s monthly orders of X barrels and cases.

Company B fulfills 75% of Pabst’s monthly order of the same number of barrels and cases.

Reasons for and consequences of B’s perpetual inability to fulfill:

Inventory/raw materials: incompetence/inefficiencies in getting raw materials (grains, hops, barley, etc.) delivered on time, leading to production backlog.

Quality control: Far greater number of cases and barrels of beer rejected each month for reasons of subpar quality. See equipment failure and poorly trained manpower.

Manpower: Employees routinely call off or quit, leaving production partly complete or shoddy and employees misguided and overworked. Consequently, morale sucks. Mindset ingrains that if they company doesn’t care about the work environment/culture, then why should a worker care that much about the quality of the company’s product.

Equipment failures fixed less efficiently than company A, leading to production backlog – see issues of competent and quality manpower.

Failure to fulfill contractual obligations leads to litigation and erosion of financial solvency and investor trust.

It’s a systemic, pathological incompetence. It’s minor failures scatted everywhere, whose sum is major failure. One thing or person can’t be  pinpointed as the problem. It’s a positive feedback loop of incompetence and we are the company we keep. We become dumbed down by an organization that wants us dumbed down….too dumb to see their systemic incompetence. Not unlike, perhaps, the Soviet Union that kept people dumb by standing in a bread line all day rather than moving forward with positive change. It applies in personal relationships and work and in politics and society. But those who understand it can either accept it or try to find a place on the outside if they can escape.

Over time, the naive come to see how the institution has constructed itself to be immune to change – like a buffer solution. Through incompetence and lack of guidance, it has become a force that remains stuck in and justifying of its incompetence. It values blind eyes and justification and clever excuse making to productive change. It’s the Keystone Cops with an entire hierarchy putting effort into justifying 3 out of 10 arrests to the overall city’s average of 8 out of 10. And it’s not even real effort at incompetence. It’s lieutenants and captains sitting in offices pouring over numbers, allowing the figures to make the excuses for them when the chief finally receives enough political pressure to ask why things are so bad in Keystone. But, until then, they waste time pouring over spread sheets and creating a cloud of obfuscation to ignore the flatulence that stinks up the office every day but nobody acknowledges. Over time, they don’t even acknowledge the odor, having told themselves,  “There’s nothing I can do about it. It will always be with us. The best I can do is accept it. And the easiest way for that is to ignore it.” It takes a maverick  – the Kafka-esque hero or idiot*- to acknowledge that putrid passage of wind. To work in Keystone Station, fully aware of huffing that noxious vapor and trying to get to the root of what it is. Trying to understand it while co-workers don’t know what he’s talking about because, for them, it’s become the olfactory equivalent of white noise. So the maverick begins to question himself. He questions his own sanity and world around him. He disavows broccoli, partly placating his own digestion but the odor remains. Maybe the smell’s coming from his own asshole. Maybe he should be more conservative and spend more time wiping. And his comrades begin to wonder if he’s crazy as he manically examines his soles for dog shit smooshed within the crevasses – like the bacteria stuck between teeth that gives off bad breath. And he understands that if the majority question his sanity, then it’s worth his own consideration of his sanity as well.

Meanwhile, the call comes in and two (when, in an efficient police department, only one’s needed), two lieutenants take the same call. See, when an incompetent lieutenant’s hired, that’s what you do….hire another one to fill his gaps. Each lieutenant, necessarily unable to communicate even between themselves (an essence of bureaucracy) interprets the call differently and send their respective squads in different directions with different understandings of the nature of the crime. They clash and bumble just trying to leave the station. And if the Chief calls and asks why the robber wasn’t apprehended, they both know they can blame it on the phone.

*the Kafka reference is far too dramatic for what this rambling essay is. But the idiot part likely applies. There’s also the element of, “…he understands that if the majority question his sanity, then it’s worth his own consideration of his sanity as well.” I don’t know if rambling on about Pabst and Kafka and farts and the Keystone Cops is enough to merit a serious consideration of my own sanity. But I don’t think it’s all just for show so it’s sorta frustrating not knowing where that leaves ya.

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