The Petty Lies Of Bureaucracy

Politicians will always lie, as will company directors and senior civil servants; we expect them to and when they tell fibs it rarely unsettles us. It is the petty lies of bureaucracy that cause the real damage to our emotional wellbeing. They coagulate together into massive globs of deception that insinuate themselves into the fabric of our lives and infect each one of us with their cynicism. I will give you an example.

You have to pay to park almost everywhere in Chester-Le-Street, the nearest town to the village I live in. This means people drive to the out-of-town megastores to do their shopping because it is always free to park at such places. This, in turn, means that the high street is dying, shops are closing down, most are either boarded up or occupied by charities, bookmakers or here today, gone tomorrow discount stores. The council that benefits from the indirect taxation on people who cannot afford to live in the town centre (a council based in Durham where the rich people live and not locally) throws a sop to the few remaining store owners every year by allowing free parking after three o'clock in the afternoon throughout December. There is a notice on each ticket machine stating this and also pointing out that the machines have not been adjusted to allow for the freebie and that any money paid into them after three o'clock will be gobbled up. Then comes the lie. The same notice tells us emphatically that any monies lost in this way "cannot" be reimbursed.

Of course, they can. There is no law or local regulation that says they cannot be. If you mistakenly pay after three o'clock you are given a ticket just like at any other time of year. These tickets, that are marked with time, place and length of stay could be presented to the relevant authority for reimbursement. No problem.

The truth is that it would cost money to do it. It would be an uneconomical scheme for both the council and the person who had mistakenly paid when they did not have to (the price of postage alone would be more than the amount recovered). So, what the notice should say is that the money "will not" be reimbursed. But "will not" admits that it is the council's deliberate decision not to repay overpayments whilst "cannot" linguistically passes the buck onto some mysterious entity that hovers above us all dictating the governmental annoyances that assault us as we struggle to get through each day.

The thing is, as I said at the beginning, we become infected by these petty lies to the extent that we routinely employ them ourselves. We blatantly lie to our families, our friends and strangers we meet in our daily lives in order to give ourselves plausible deniability should anyone dare to hold us to account. We also lie on social media, especially when we are engaged in political and moral arguments when we routinely use linguistic sleights of hand to encourage people to believe that things that are not true, or may not be true, are true.


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