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Having a recent need to be submerged in administrative duties, my husband who is himself a civil servant, and has a particular fondness for the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy keeps reminding me that, “Vogons destroyed the Universe through bureaucracy”. I used to think that I quite enjoyed the finer points of form-filling and writing submissions. Now perhaps I am inclined to agree with him after all.
There is no escaping bureaucracy in Australia. I am not sure if the statement is true, but I have heard we are one of the most excessively bureaucratic countries in the world. Not that I have much experience with other countries in this department. I am sure, however, we Australians could take over other planets, just like the Vogons did, and without any recourse to weaponry, just by slowly imploding them through the bureaucratic process.
Here is a description of your typical Vogon, courtesy of Douglas Adams:
Oh, lament! How many times this week have I been bad tempered, bureaucratic, officious and … yes, even callous. It does things to you, all this form-filling. It gets inside and eats away at your common sense and joie de vivre. It does give you an excessive dowagers hump as you strum away on your keyboard, then make phone calls to people who don’t even understand how the forms in their department are meant to be filled in, then transfer your enquiry to another person in their department who doesn’t really know either. The one you are transferred to is the last bastion of knowledge about Form83 Part B, and because they don’t really know themselves but don’t want to admit it, they speak with a certain disdain to make it appear that you are really the stupid one for not understanding. They don’t, however, actually give you the help you need to be able to fill out the form correctly. In order not to keep appearing as stupid as the person seems to assume you are, you give up asking. Then, you take a running leap and jump off the cliff of Form ignorance, hoping that if no one really knows what the answer is, then they will just sign off the approval on it and file it somewhere in the Vogon universe. They will then charge you $20 to retrieve it in 3 years time when you encounter another department that wants the answer to the form you didn’t fill out properly in the first place, and the whole thing starts again.
It’s just like the Vogons:
“…order, signed in triplicate, sent in, sent back, queried, lost, found, subjected to public enquiry, lost again, and finally buried in soft peat for three months and recycled as firelighters.”
There is no escaping the Vogon clutches so I must learn to live with this reality. One approach I have adopted with a measure of success is to tell them exactly what they want to hear. This worked well in Douglas Adams’ novel, and seems to work equally well in the real bureaucratic universe.
The other method is one I am going to experiment on in the coming weeks. Namely, the, “There but for the Grace of God go I” method. Here I will attempt to do what the bureaucratic system is tempting me not to do, and that is to treat people as people, not systems or objects or machines. There is a temptation to depersonalise the bureaucrat, and turn them into Vogons. But they are not. They are people I am speaking to, and people will read these forms I fill out.
I am sure that Douglas Adams chose the abhorrent form of the Vogon as an apt image for how he saw bureaucracy. I think, however, that demonising the people who work within a bureaucratic system doesn’t actually fix anything. We all have Vogon in us. We are all tempted at times to seek efficiency before love. To say things abruptly so as to get the job done, as though the job is what is important, not the people we are hoping to serve. Perhaps the Vogon world has come across my path at the exact moment when I need to learn more about love and relinquish this temptation to objectify others who cause me to suffer interminable delays and require a multitude of forms to boot.
And so, I will embrace my inner Vogon. Not because it is good, but precisely because it is bad, and in order to overcome it, I must first acknowledge it. All you Vogons out there, you are not alone. And to those who have been the sad recipients of my Vogonish behaviour: Please forgive me! I hope that knowing we can all fall back into Vogon land from time to time may give you a measure of compassion for my plight.
Have a great week everyone!