THE DECIDER CLASS: Gatekeepers in the System
by Karen Christine Patrick
DECIDER from the Urban Dictionary:
"A person who decides what is best."
Twenty plus years dealing with "the system" in being the caregiver for my disabled daughter, then injury and being disabled myself, I have run the gauntlet of the "deciders" too many times to count. People who tell me that the Basic Income Guarantee is "socialist" have no idea what they are talking about if they are worried about "big government" or "the nanny state" because it's here already in the United States, alive, but not well. Instead of taking the cue from Martin Luther King Jr. and others, way back in the day, we went the way of the deciders. I learned this term recently, "deciders" from the Urban Dictionary online. Sometimes "slang" words pin it just right. Instead of self-empowered individuals making their own decisions as to provisioning their daily life, we have an army, many battalions of deciders who decide FOR grown adults what they should eat, what they should wear, where they should live... if they "deserve" anything they things they are asking for. In a recession, where one cannot just simply go and fill out a resume or application, and show up to the job, to get the money to buy what is needed, this is enforced "learned helplessness." The deciders have decided that we need them, and it's enforced.
I can attest to "angels in the system" so for people in the social work class who are not only doing their job well, but still care deeply for people... this is not about you. This is about your co-workers who's body shows up to shuffle the paperwork, but their mind and heart are absent, who stick by the rules even if the "rules" are just guidelines, are badly trained or misinformed. These are the deciders who make of the system a labyrinth of despair. There are also the devils of the system, the ones for whom my mother said, "would break the wings off of butterflies." Our bureaucratic system acts as a dank, dark cellar system that warehouses human "resources" made from our most vulnerable citizens, the "precariat" with no other door to walk through. The potential for predation is truly there. Our "nanny state' is just the kind of hunting grounds for that darker type, a natural habitat for psychopaths and sociopathic behaviour that uses the rules as a ruler to whack you on the knuckles with if you get it "wrong" with a larger authority and less advocacy. The ability to decide the fates of people everyday, when one is frustrated and angry, to have a ready whipping post of authority of some kind, is too much of a temptation for some to resist, unfortunately.
Our system of "benefits" is at the mercy of the deciders. Deciders decide at every step of any process. Deciders methodologies are a product of a system that provisions "departments with budgets' instead of "dividends for citizens", thus paying the deciders and the "clients" out of the same pool of funds. This creates a natural competition for resources, a contrived animosity, a power play-between "deserving" clients and the ones who decide who is deserving. There are always plenty of deserving clients, especially in a scarcity economy. This is problematic for deciders, because they are outnumbered. However, they are in the system and of it, and know what the clients do not know, know how to make sure that they are provisioned first, and the clients after. They are playing the insider game, knowing they must pay out something to be seen as productive and deserving of budgets, but also knowing the strategies to maintain the superior position and creating a system-within-the-system hierarchy that gives them maximum decider leverage.
It's human nature, so they say, to take care of number one. No matter how many times the "non-discrimination" policies are printed on forms, documents and other paperwork, humans discriminate. Training for FBI agents include the idea of the power of "mirroring," a technique relying on the fact that we are most favorably drawn to, supportive of, those almost exactly like we are, with whom we identify. It would be the first tenet of decidership, if they are to decide, the are doing so on the basis of alike-ness subconsciously. Second, decidership is motivated by the tyranny of the urgent. Which is decided first, the client's paperwork on the desk, or the demand of a superior in the system? The third tenet of decidership is the fear paradigm. The overt and covert threats of loss of status, loss of the comfort zone, loss of job security, the more motivating it is to make decisions based on how the decisions affect them personally, rather than with any concern about any part of any particular case. I've observed personally that you are in peril if your case is being heard just after a budget meeting threatening cuts or benefits loss for the employees of the department. Or just before or just after lunch. It's a key point to ask the question, if you are in the system, are you a person, or a case?
I didn't know the term for the procedure, but I invented one, "Case Stacking" what I saw watching what was going on in state government while living in a state capital city. I knew some of the state employees and heard them talk among themselves or complain about the way state business was handled. There was so much competition between departments, all requesting money from the state legislature that I saw this game that goes like this... human services departments are designed to process in as many cases as they can so they can show to the legislature during appropriations, "See, we have ALL these CASES. It's soooo overwhelming" and then when they get their budget amount assigned which of course will NEVER provision the entire case load, especially here now in the age of American Austerity. The game continues to the next level. What happens is then, the first provisioning out of the budget is to pay the employees of the department. In recent years, budget cuts were ordered on the backs of the state employees resulting in job cuts, furloughs, reduction of benefits, and workers having to help codify their jobs technically so that automation, phone bots, and websites can replace functions, or eliminate their jobs. Now you have pissed-off and insecure, defensive deciders even before any funds are then assigned to the clients.
The constant drumbeat of how we need to save money and eliminate fraud, which is always pinned on the client population, never the decider population, is ringing in the ears as provider deciders meet with clients on the front line of the austerity war. The word "handicapped" was created from the idea of a disabled person having their cap in their hand, begging. We do have beggars on the street of our cities, but most of the cap-in-hand begging goes on in whitewash wall offices where it's hidden away. The deciders are in cramped state offices, with piled up in-boxes, on phones, on computers, having to make so many decisions on so many things that deciding isn't even personal so much anymore, it's a machine growing larger every day with a reduction in human components. The client is faced with navigating a system that is just like the classical labyrinth, running blind, basic human needs in peril, waiting for decider action for food, shelter, money for bills, healthcare. And there is a monster in that labyrinth, the "minotaur of minutiae", cowed by "the code" the decider's rulebook which shifts and changes often, like sliding panels in this labyrinth. It is fiddled with all the time by deciders at the upper echelons, elected deciders who have promised to "do something" about poverty, homelessness, starvation. They do almost anything but give money, the lifeblood, the first choice of trade, directly to people as a Basic Guaranteed Income, but would rather maintain the decider class.
The decider class transcends all levels of society. The upper echelon decider class also presides over the activities of the middle class, deciders who decide things in your governments of all level, the cost of utilities to homes, deciders in financial institutions and banking, deciders in healthcare, education, professional licensing, taxes, getting permits, etc etc. These deciders are gremlins of another sort altogether who need appeasing with the paperwork having to be "right" and all fees paid, leaving the middle tiers also competing for that rubber-stamp, "Approved." The palpable fear of becoming poor, of falling into the ranks of the 'precariat" drives the compliance of the working classes.
It is from the middle class where the recruits to the ranks of the decider class come from. I would wager most deciders don't like their jobs, especially any deciders with true human value and feelings left, the empathetic and kind, and knowing the deprivations of the system as they do, if they were not under threat themselves. Especially this would be true these days, in the scarcity economy of the "good job" that actually still, "pays the bills." Watching the grotesque show from behind the curtains has to be frightening and heartbreaking. Those "angels in the system" are trying to save who they can, like rescuers on a sinking ship, as a triage team made by political necessity.
What drives it all now, this scarcity-driven human-provisioning machine, is no longer basic "making a living" issues but a clear and present fear. Nobody wants to end up in the precariat class where the next level down is completely down and out, irretrievably lost. It's around us all the time, it is ourselves, friends, or family members falling into the pit, or just experiencing a failure to thrive, or not being able to be independent or able to formulate/maintain households. Our consensus reality show, political polemic, suggests it's some defect in the people themselves, but in reality it is the failure of human leadership pointing the finger at those who cannot fight back.
We have an exciting idea to change the whole paradigm, to implement that we want people to be re-empowered to decide for themselves. We have a way to disband the decider class, reversing the learned helplessness that permeates the economic outlook in this state of global austerity. Those those about to lose their decider jobs, we say, "It's nothing personal, we just don't want to need you anymore." The current system, having been given a large amount of resources is just not doing the job to rid of poverty, is not distributing resources fairly, nor is it fitting our notion that an economy is based on people making personal decisions. Not only do we need a Basic Income Guarantee, but, as Martin Luther King, Jr. said, it should not be too low or it relegates a large group of people to being locked into poverty. This Basic Income Guarantee "floor" for people to stand on, we will completely change this decider/client paradigm.
It becomes obvious that a lot of current members of the decider class, who have been dependent on a poverty class as a reason to exist, will lose their jobs. That's a good thing, isn't it? Those who work at processing poverty, who currently benefit by poverty because it has become an industry will be without a job when we eradicate poverty for real. But they will be provisioned by a Basic Income Guarantee until they transition to doing whatever comes next. Many social workers got into the field "to help people." They would be free to really help people in a hands-on way instead of a paper-pushing way. This might be a very satisfying thing in the long-run, especially for those who really, deeply want to make a difference in the lives of people.
The day after a Basic Income Guarantee goes into effect, that does not mean people are not going to need each other, or that we won't need some deciders for people who truly are disabled or incapacitated, it's just that the process of helping or being helped won't have a huge complexity to it that creates false hope and false work. For the precariat, from peril-to-provision will be a welcome change. I think the Basic Income Guarantee is a good, humane decision, even for the people currently in the decider class ultimately.