Monday, May 21, 2007

The Mask of Bureaucracy

I've been thinking about faces and masks.

It is a truism that goes without saying that the masked man will commit greater crimes than if he weren't masked, because anonymity protects him. Bandits, anarchists, bank robbers - masked, faceless, made bold by their hidden identities.

In former times, and in New Orleans, masquerades became a license for licentiousness and drunken revelry, and a masqued ball was synonymous with sexual impropriety ... no good girl went to one of those.

In even earlier times, and in remote parts of the planet, native tribesmen and our barbaric ancestors understood - knew intuitively - that putting on a mask made the wearer one with that symbolized, usually a god of kind. Not surprisingly, the wearer was not considered responsible for what he did while masked.

Berserks, from bear-sarks [skins], were warriors who put on the skin of the bear and became one with the bear essence. Their madness in battle, their bloodlust came out of the wearing of the skin. Came from their loss of self in a union with something demonic.

Babies, I am learning, naturally, instinctively focus on faces. One of the first things that my baby will do will be to seek out Mommy's face, to seek out mine. They know something that we have forgotten, that identity is in the face. Is it any wonder that so many children are terrified by clowns?

All of which comes out of various experiences E & I have had with bureaucracy. Not just the government, but hospitals as well ... wherever offices, office legislations, and officialisms make decisions once left to people to make ... wherever a person is hidden, made anonymous, by their office. "Well, I can't take responsibility for that - it is outside my control," etc. How many times have I seen various officials, emboldened and made cruel by the "facelessness" of bureaucracy, refuse to show even the commonest of common courtesies, let alone mercy?

Bureaucracy, one of the worst inventions of the modern age, is today's equivalent of the bandit's mask. Anything can be done in the name of "doing one's duty" - as long as one hides behind the mask of officialdom.

Some cases we have experienced/ run into:
  • An American young lady was in a head-on with a semi. She survived, but had a cracked pelvis among other problems. Her doctor wanted her to stay in the hospital 2 more days, but because her insurance only covered 3 days of a hospital stay, the hospital discharged her prematurely.
  • An American vet has had chronic health problems for the past number of years. The doctor booked an electrocardiogram, but because he had had one a few months previously, the hospital decided that he didn't need another one, and cancelled it.
  • An American young lady is visiting her Canadian boyfriend. It is customary to permit a visitor from the States up to six months - she declares one. The customs agent decides that she is a risk (maybe she will look for a job), and orders her to leave the country within a month - however, if she had said a week (while intending to stay a month or more), she probably wouldn't have run into the same problems.
  • A Canadian young man is bussing down to visit his American girlfriend. Because he is not wealthy and is wearing flip-flips (they say as much), the border guards threaten to refuse him entry to the country. He is going to visit a girlfriend, and is staying with her priest - money is not a necessity, but because they have rules about crossing the border with X dollars, they verbally abuse him and threaten him with non-entry.
  • A visitor to Canada has to have a medical procedure (an ultrasound). She can have the easy, less expensive one or the more complicated, more expensive (but diagnostically more accurate) one. She asks for the more expensive one, knowing that if the first doesn't work out, she will have to get the second anyway. She is informed that it is against policy to give the second first - she is required to go for the less sure one first. So she does, and because nothing shows, she has to get the second as well. Because she is not covered, and is paying out of pocket, this is a large financial sacrifice.
There have been many other cases we have encountered, in one form or another. However, these stand out in our minds, of idiocy triumphing over common sense, of principle over people, of policy over principle, of the barbaric savagery of the faceless bureaucrat over the humanity of those who still have faces.

- V.


Anonymous said...

I'll add one.

A truck driver is involved in an accident (found not at fault) with another vehicle and suffers neck injury. He is an employee and is covered by Compensation. Waits two months for a cheque and finally goes to the Head Office of Comp. Button-holing his third adjudicator he finally gets the info that his file cannot be processed without a signed legal release saying he will not sue the other party. The file is on another floor in the same building in the legal department. He goes to that floor, signs the doc and then, not impressed with inter-office mail he takes it by hand to the adjudicator, effectively processing his own file. He has a cheque in a week.

Stacy said...

I am a big believer that charity belongs to the Church (and not faceless organizations within a large church entity) and not to the government for reasons such as these.

There is something very important about the exchange between beggar and rich man... there is accountability and responsibility. Removing this exchange from persons sets up individuals to be tempted with licentiousness, entitlement, greed, and more.

No, it's not comfortable, but it may very well be essential.

V & E said...

Good point, Stacy.

The thought of a Church bureaucracy makes me tremble. With horror.

The Church is the only organization that claims to be the body of a single Person. And that Person is not faceless. We have seen His Glory, we have reverenced His icon. As such, the Church's interaction with the world cannot ever be that of a faceless bureaucracy. We must ever show His face to the world.

- V.