Some years ago, I read Franz Kafka's The Trial, or at least the English translation of it. The story stuck in my mind and made quite an impression on me.
Particularly, I was struck by the chapter in which Herr K visits Herr Huld, encounters the similarly duped Block and is confronted with Leni, Huld's promiscuous nurse. From the point of that chapter on, I started to form a synthesis on what Kafka was getting at, which I can only describe as the interactional dimensions to the absurd bureaucracy that Herr K faced, as well as to the absurd forms of authority that it entailed.
If I remember correctly, Kafka portrays the court system that Herr K falls victim to as somewhat off-Broadway, in a sense: shadowy and quasi-official, with parallel structures and rules that come close to, but never in tangent to, the official courts. It is significant that, in the end of all things, Herr K is supposed to kill himself; he is supposed to be his own executioner.
Yet little in the way of actual duress or enforcement seemed to happen throughout most of the book. Herr K was told what to do, and out of fear, he did it. That is, he was pressed into conforming to the half-disclosed bureaucracy, and much of its effect seems to have come from his own actions.
I couldn't help but apply this interpretation of The Trial to more anthropological/sociological reasonings. Elsewhere, I've asserted that institutions are actually democratic, in a sense, in that they are composed of, and moved by, the people that comprise them, staff and patrons. Bureaucracies are people- (demos) powered (kratos).
You can take the bureaucracy out of the people (socialize or enculturate them without it), but you can't take the people out of the bureaucracy. Without the day to day activities of the staff, there is no bureaucracy. As bureaucracies are marked by systemic and institutionalized inequalities and authorities, I suggest that those inequalities and authorities are also, ultimately, the product of the staff that makes up the bureaucratic structure. That is, the people embedded in the bureaucracy make that bureaucracy together, in terms of the results of their interactions.
Like Herr K, we are all complicit in the bureaucracies in which we are embedded. The catch is that we have little choice in most instances, in which we are bureaucratically embedded. We get locked into vast webs of complicity, which are underpinned by what Sartre might have called bad faith, marked by ideologies and practices of the official and of authority. At the very least, most people have recorded and indexed identifications (as opposed to identities; I believe I'm echoing Josiah Heyman here), and most of us will draw a salary or wage at some point in our lives.
Really, is there a human being alive who isn't embedded in some bureaucracy, somewhere?
For example, what happens when blood samples are taken from Yanomami, samples that later get entangled in international legal disputes? What happens when Native American and First Nations peoples have to face issues of ownership and appropriation for sacred objects that have, traditionally, culturally, never really been a possession of anybody particular?
Are they not also caught up and become complicit through their struggles?
What about colonial transformations and modernization in the Third World?
Sartre argued that existential freedom is inalienable, even from a slave or prisoner. I tend to agree. Yet, as Nietzsche might have it, how easily we tend to forget the action in favor of the result of the action, which stands unwittingly reified and fetishized.