The bureaucratic beast spits out only stupidity

March 18, 2002|By Crispin Sartwell

SOMETIMES THE federal government proves itself to be so deeply, impossibly, thoroughly incompetent that insulting it is redundant, because it has already humiliated itself to within an inch of its life.

Sometimes you're surprised to wake up in the morning and realize that the government hasn't simply dissolved because of embarrassment. Sometimes being an anarchist is just too easy.

Imagine the pleasure with which, exactly six months after he piloted a plane into a skyscraper and died a fiery death, Mohamed Atta received the news that he had been granted a visa by the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

The immediate response of various officials, up to and including the president, was to demand in an enraged tone how this could have happened. But you know how it happened. I know how it happened. George Bush and Tom Daschle know how it happened.

It happened because the INS, like the IRS, the Social Security Administration and every other government bureaucracy that deals with the public, is a huge, lumbering tribute to human ingenuity in making our lives impossible. No one knew those visas were issued. You will never find the one chump responsible, because there is really no one who is responsible.

Endless things pile up in the input zone of the bureaucracy. They float through files, pile up on desks, wend their way through hard drives.

Eventually, something comes out, no one knows why or how. The system is too big to co-exist with the notion of personal responsibility or public trust. It is essentially, we might say, Soviet: the sheer impersonal grinding of impossible irrational, senseless power.

Let this be a lesson to us, as though we needed another lesson: these systems of power that seek to control our day-to-day lives are far too large, far too impersonal, far too far away to be anything but incredibly stupid. My advice: Ignore these organizations and hope they dissipate like a fog.

Crispin Sartwell teaches philosophy at the Maryland Institute College of Art.

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