The launch mechanism for this particular catharsis is the Sojourns of Sally as chronicled in recent letter to the editor of The Brazil Times published on Feb. 1, 2010.
Seems the letter writer had her Social Security card, birth certificate, utility bills, and current driver's license. However, she'd been married three times and on this particular day this particular civil servant was "just doing my job" by requiring proof of marriage No. 3 (or was it No. 2?). Don't know anything about divorce, but apparently there is great satisfaction in burning such "proof".
In a follow-up edition we learned the Governor's office, the pinnacle of bureaucratic knowledge itself, advises she will need not only marriage licenses, but divorce papers.
Truly Sally has encountered the dreaded Bureaucrat Syndrome (commonly known as "B.S."). B.S. is a worldview often found in those employed in governmental units, as well as any industry without competition (such as utility companies, certain cable providers, and a to be named later software conglomerate).
This mindset is documented in two of the best books ever written on economics, "Parkinson's Law" and "The Law and the Profits" by Professor E. Northcote Parkinson (1890-1993). If truth be told these are the only books on economics I've ever read.
The issue at hand evolves out of Parkinson's First Law -- "work expands to fill time available for its completion". One of Parkinson's primary proofs is that bureaucrats, whoever employs them, inevitably fill time with irrelevant paperwork.
My personal introduction to the dreaded B.S. came back in 1964 as an insurance underwriter. My boss told me to automatically approve any civil servant applicant. His theory (and this in 1964) was that universally these were people with little ambition beyond the next promotion, and getting that promotion involved scrupulous following of all rules. Civil servants, my boss assured me, simply did not take risks that could be put off onto someone else.
In my experience the most obvious way for any bureaucrat to look busy without taking risks is to make sure the paper trail leading to their promotion is immaculate. It is irrelevant whether this involves human beings with human needs and human ignorance of bureaucratic Gnosticism. All that matters is whatever paperwork is perceived to be required on that particular day. If treating "civilians" this way annoys them, security can always be beefed up.
Examples of the dreaded B.S. (governmental and commercial!) are immeasurable...
Having to go home and return with new paperwork because it "had" to be signed by me in the presence of a given civil servant comes to mind.
Needing a birth certificate on which the original State Seal could be felt also comes to mind (something about being at the bottom of a stack for 60-plus years was involved).
My mother died at age 90, having been widowed five times. At her request she was buried in a national cemetery under the name of her second husband. Fortunately no bureaucratic careers were endangered by her interment -- I cannot imagine how we would have come up with the required paperwork if someone needed to justify eight hours on their timecard.
With this background, I propose David's First Law of Bureaucracy:
You Might Be A Bureaucrat If There Is Any Way To Look Busy Without Actually Risking Your Ascendency.
David L. Lewis is an observer of and sometimes commentator on life who may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.