Officialdom, an object lesson

Well, as with any return to home base, there’s always good and bad news. The snail mail contained a number of not quite unforeseen bills and the usual round of things which had to be paid right now. A couple of difficult to reach taps had stuck. The phone wouldn’t work until I’d spent half an hour with tech support on the line while stripping out the modem for several hard reboots. And sadly my Tomato plants have died. That’s right, all of them. The watering device worked, but the recent BC cold snap took it’s toll and there is nothing to be done but recycle as compost. Such is life.

Still recovering from jet lag, but one item of personal news had me pumping my right hand and saying “YES!” in a loud triumphant tone. Let me enlarge. Just before we were due to leave for the fabled land of Oz I had a run in with a minor branch of Canada’s bureaucracy. What they were demanding would almost certainly have demolished our travel plans and they were quite willing, one would say even eager, to wave the full force of authority in our face with threats of fines and even imprisonment. Over a relatively minor matter, but that’s bureaucracy for you. Even though I thought we had done nothing wrong and was gearing up to fight these faceless fuckers to their last breath. However, Mrs S tapped me on the shoulder and reminded me of advice which I have so often given to others. “Don’t get mad – get devious.”

Now after my last run in with British bureaucrats two years ago I knew there was no point in taking their Canadian counterparts head on. Public sector employees love those who resist emotionally because they have the law, well at least their interpretation of it, on their side. So they think they can just tick a few boxes and hey presto, you’re up before the Judge, fuming with outrage and struggling to put together a defence while watching lawyers fees chew merrily through your hard won resources.

Now for those of you who think that butting heads with officialdom Ranty-style is the right thing to do, take a tip from your Uncle Bill. Don’t. Don’t ever play the bureaucrats game because they make up and interpret the rules as they go along. Seriously. I’ve worked alongside these people and this is how they think. They’re right, you’re wrong, so pucker up buttercup. You will lose because they have a full house of two’s and fours against your piddling pair of threes, and they know the house rules better than you do. So don’t play their game.

What you need in these troubled times is a big friend who can ring the bureaucrats boss and say; “Your people are out of control, stop it.” For UK local government there are ombudsmen and all sorts of referees who will listen if you can take a deep breath and a slow step back before playing the victim trump card oh so carefully. Over here we have our local politicians. Federal Members of Parliament and Provincial Members of the Legislative Assemblies. These are the people who make the rules. And guess what? They work for you. Find one hungry enough for your vote, make your case without getting too histrionic and and there is a strong probability that they can get the mindless machine of bureaucracy to back off. Because that’s what a bureaucracy is, a barely-accountable brainless behemoth that follows set rules, no matter how square-headed and insane those rules might seem. All you have to do is find someone higher up the food chain to push the right button. The idea being to make your oppressors dinky little jackboots do a smart about face and quick march in the opposite direction. Away from you.

In short; when in doubt, escalate. Field your problem upstairs. Don’t shout, don’t threaten, don’t, whatever you do, simply get angry with the forces of dead-headed conformity. Because when you’re angry you’re not thinking straight exactly when when you most need to have your mind right and firing on all cylinders. And if you start shouting, any message will immediately get lost in all the emotion. The best you’ll get in that case is being put on hold as the person who really doesn’t need your shit buggers off for a coffee. If you get mad, they will win because all they have to do is nothing while you rail on at a dead line or some poor zero hours contract call centre drone on little better than minimum wage. Oh, and it goes without saying that you should record everything and refer back to any minor concession on their part in painstaking detail. Better still, speak softly, and let someone else wield the big stick on your behalf.

Furthermore. Don’t bother with junior management or departmental heads because they are the very people who would cheerfully sign the Dalai Llama’s death warrant if it meant they could finish early on Friday. So immediately go over their heads to someone with a little real power and make a carefully worded complaint, detailing how you think these public sector pen pushers are out of order. Which is what we did. And bless me Vicar, this time it worked. Hence my minor celebration. A letter has even arrived apologising for the ‘misunderstanding’. Although they can’t guarantee it won’t happen again. So, only a partial success. Just a reprieve.

Not that I believe the oily platitudes, but like someone who has been stung by nettles, or a bully who has just been kneed in the unmentionables, they will leave us alone for now. They may be back, but in the meantime I’m changing my phone number and migrating to a new email address. Which will do. The trick with bureaucrats, like with petty criminals, is to make their life just difficult enough so that is not worth the effort to bother you, but not so tricky as to make your life awkward. Or for now, which in our case will be long enough before we slip away into the mists and out of their reach. Which may just take the Sticker family even further than it has gone to date.

Which is another happy thought.

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2 thoughts on “Officialdom, an object lesson”

  1. All I can do, Sir, is to remind you of Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy:-

    Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy
    In any bureaucracy, the people devoted to the benefit of the bureaucracy itself always get in control and those dedicated to the goals the bureaucracy is supposed to accomplish have less and less influence, and sometimes are eliminated entirely.

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