Friday, April 20, 2007


I rail a lot against bureaucracy, because it's healthy to let off some of those pent-up volumes of steam now and then, particularly against amorphic abstractions, and what better target than a shapeless morass of vague requirements that at best makes your life remorselessly complex, and at worst can send you up the river?

But apart from the precious time spent railing while finding out what the right forms are, getting the right forms, filling them out correctly and mailing them off, or standing in a long line with a bunch of filled-out forms in your hand -- then a certain time later frequently doing it all over again in a manic cycle -- as I say, apart from that, it's all quite educational in demonstrating how imaginative people are in cheating bureaucracies, which are after all simply the massive efforts of lawmakers to thwart the massive efforts of lawbreakers.

And don't kid yourself, we're all lawbreakers at some level; there's always been an adversarial relationship between the governing and the governed, with neither at rest, both continually seeking to optimize any advantage over the other.

I speak in a worldly sense of course, from beneath the shadow of the many governments I've lived under in my decades of travel, some of those governments downright despotic, which makes me a bit hard-boiled when it comes to dealing with that humungous interface whose individual representative is often as hardboiled about it all as I am, especially at Immigration. This may sound cynical, but it's not, because truth can never be cynical. Life itself often wears all the trappings of cynicism. Anyway, in some deep place where freedom has its roots it feels good to give a government a noogie.

What got me thinking about all this was the form I had to use in order to get the US government to send my paltry (as per my long travels and minimal employotime in the US) pension checks to a US bank (no way I'll cash them here in Japan). After I applied for Social Security (what a misnomer that's gonna be before too long) I found out I needed the form, requested it, waited for it, filled it out and sent it off to the logical place, the SSA. Each month since then my check in dollars has nevertheless come to my mailbox on the mountain. I figured my meager form Z19-EA-4Q2 or whatever it was might take a few months to get those massive bureaucratic hindquarters in gear, so I waited... When the eighth check came I delved into the SSA website and found after some gnashing time that no, according to the small print I had to send the form to the bank I wanted the checks sent to!

It was counter-intuitive until I descended to a lower moral level I frequently inhabit, especially with regard to government, whence I offer this explanation if you'll just step right down here a moment: as soon as the check-to-bank thing was initiated way back when, some members of the public began at once to find a way to use the situation to their advantage, thereby making it necessary for subsequent users to send a form to the bank for complete verification of everything and everyone's existence or whatever; and the bank then had to send it on to the SSA, who will not take your word for it, even though it's your money. They must have stopped taking anybody's word for it a looooong time ago.

So next time you're struggling in whatever big web and wondering why it has to be this way, just remember that it's all your fault-- and while you're there, you might as well look for loopholes to use before they slam shut.


Winston said...

Thanks for the timely advice. I'm preparing to apply for SS but have not gotten as far as the direct deposit procedure. It is tough enough dealing with the multi-tiered bureaucracy here. I can only imagine, with some degree of horror, trying to wade through that swamp from a mountain top halfway around the globe.

Loophole. Now there is a common word that probably has elusive origins. Think I'll go check it out. But not through the local office or website of the US Dept of Loophole Management.

Dalene said...

At one point whilst doing my taxes, it came to me that it might be easier to give up and start learning all the words to Oh Canada. But as you live in Japan, I see there really is no escape.

I slogged through but it will always remain as a memory of a humorless teeth-grinding week in which I would have rather been doing anything other than what was required. I am okay now, barely recovered, but okay. Thanks for eloquently putting into words just what it means to attempt to interact with bureaucracy, regardless of the reason. Dalene

Trace said...

Extremely well stated Robert. So very classic; so very true!