285 Comments

The laws, rules and policies have become so numerous and voluminous they can never be enforced in full (and can't ever be known in full). This opens another opportunity – in some cases, pushing for full work-to-rule compliance might be preferable to non-compliance.

Here's an example. Here in our backwoods of Eastern Europe, we have a law that commands everyone who sees a stray dog or another animal to immediately inform the municipality of this fact. No one ever does that, and anyone why walks down a street violates said law about two to three times an hour.

Now... if couple hundred people suddenly decided to report all dog sightings, preferably in written form... I reckon the law would be gone in a week but we'd have some fun meanwhile.

Such opportunities for DDOSing the system are all around, and could be used to punish them for something else altogether.

Expand full comment

I love this idea and already live it as much as I can. Civil disobedience! If I lived in London, I would definitely be one of those people sawing down the ULEZ cameras.

I think thermodynamics plays a big role in all of the obscure power structures. There is money to be made in expanding bureaucracy, especially by _former_ members of the bureaucracy who can then get lucrative government contracts for themselves and their cronies. Corruption grows on tax revenue like mold grows on bread. How can this be countered?

I read my aunt's high school Latin textbook ("Latin For Today" by Gray and Jenkins) and was struck by the stories of ancient Romans. They all seemed to be about civic virtue, and the unity of Romans as one people. This was the secret sauce of the early Roman Empire. They were all interrelated, a nation and not just a country, definitely not an empire yet. They gave a shit. This, along with impressive engineering, made them nearly invincible.

Then they slowly opened up citizenship to the world, and slowly sank into the miasma of corruption and bureaucracy. The secret to security and prosperity is _unity_ as members of a nation. Deliberately divisive diversity is death for nations. Anyone praising diversity should be publicly slapped. The melting pot was the answer. We need to bring it back.

Expand full comment

Amazing that you published this on the heels of your wonderful piece on the military!

Extra rhetorical points, also, for not just diagnosing a problem, but actually impelling us to action (or inaction). But my main response is: "sure, okay... but YOU FIRST." It's a collective action problem.

One of the principles of the State's enforcement of administrative norms is to make an example out of precisely chosen actors, "pour encourager les autres." Those actors are selected on the basis of how likely their forced compliance will lead to the unquestioning obedience by a like cohort of the greatest size possible.

These are not flaws in your argument, just additional points for consideration. It may simply be the inevitable result of a prosperous, unchallenged administrative state is that laws and regulations will proliferate exponentially until they choke the entire system with bureaucratic effluent. Perhaps summarily firing half the civil service would work, but their interests are vested too deeply for this to actually be implemented. Look at Japan.

The New Mexico example offers some insight though. She tried to boil the frog a little too quickly and he hopped out of the beaker. No doubt the Cryptocracy will be furiously studying the lessons from this episode for its next iterative attempt to steal our liberties by means of an emergency. Nonetheless, we should carefully consider what it was that made this attempt different and do our own furious study to achieve some comparative advantage of their engrossing bloat.

Expand full comment

We have reams of regulations in part because we do not have sufficient accountability. If a building falls and kills people, is it murder? Did the inventor of leaded gasoline serve time for all the people he killed or ruined?

Nassim Taleb's "Skin in the Game" has some interesting solutions from the ancient world. In the Roman Empire, a bridge builder had to live under the bridge for a time.

We could do something similar with nuclear power plants, oil refineries, and similar hazardous installations. Surround them with golf course communities and posh private schools, and those in charge have to live there and send their children to said schools. Leakages would be reduced substantially, inspectors or no.

Expand full comment
Nov 13, 2023Liked by John Carter

Excellent essay John. Lot to digest here, but I think it comes down to one thing (of course my libertarian leanings could lend bias):

Once The State reaches "critical mass", a "thermonuclear" chain reaction begins. One in which your agency must be cannibalized in order for the government to exist without external agency. The self-perpetuating power of the bureaucracy is more powerful than a thousand suns.

The entire purpose of government has now become a inexorable stage exercise to keep their unlawful and unconstitutional self appointed internal agency by purloining the publics agency in order to protect the self-perpetuating sprawl of government. The States sword and shield is a cooperative and reliant public that gifts self-determination in exchange for the scourge of powers phony "promissory notes".

Their lifeblood and "survival" is dependent on the publics willingness to trade their right to self-governance, only to be governed by the people who they are supposed to govern. They will go to all lengths to make sure the people are oblivious and/or incurious to the brick wall at the back of the theatre. If this were not so, they could only steal your agency by force, otherwise the profligacy, ineptitude and their contempt for the citizenry would be laid bare as a farce by the self-governed.

The illusion of freedom and the absurd notion of a benevolent government is carefully arranged on the stage in order to perform the best magic trick of all time; to camouflage the obvious as illusory through a Cabal of Consensus. They must do this to make sure they remain the "unmoved mover", free from the dependence of external agency.

The revolution will be complete when the definition of patriot has been completely transmogrified into "love of government" - the exact opposite of what a true patriot is. This didn't happen through magic; it was a deliberate slow march through the institutions allowed incrementally by the public and our representatives.

We are in the acceleration phase of this imo, where absurdities are used to force people to live a lie (or worse when people don't know their living a lie) in order to emasculate them so that they progressively loathe themselves for not speaking out with each new lie/absurdity they know not to be true from their experience on the ground.

Seriously, you have to wonder how long before the minds of men will be so terrified, by unjust power, to the point they degenerate into all the vileness and methods of servitude. A place where the only means of preferment is the abject sycophancy required by The State, lest they be eaten alive by bureaucrats....

Expand full comment

Let us not forget this started with hypnotizing the public using catchphrases such as "We the people" and "The people's Government, made for the people, made by the people, and answerable to the people." This further diffuses the power and responsibility in the minds of the people, thus dividing everyone. But There is a sense of learned helplessness, like you point out, among the public, who feel they cannot influence the system through normal democratic processes like voting, protesting, etc.

So while democratic principles point to government derived from the consent of the governed, this is more fiction than reality based on this analysis. The obscured and concentrated nature of power they describe undermines the idea of a transparent system accountable to the public. So the rhetoric of "We the people" arguably helps maintain the illusion of popular control.

Expand full comment
Nov 13, 2023Liked by John Carter

Yes!!!!! I have been saying this for years! If we all do not vote, nobody is elected! If we all refuse to pay IRS, they can't jail us all! DO NOT COMPLY means DO NOT COMPLY! not just in the case of va××!

Expand full comment
Nov 13, 2023Liked by John Carter

A heart too to your footnote on anglerfish! And that illustration by Peter Polach is one of the most strikingly creepy pictures I have ever seen!

Expand full comment

Well done! Shared it far and wide.

I live in NY state, small village. Of course our property taxes are obscene, but hard to find out who sets the taxes, etc. they’re at least three groups who set the tax; village, county, and unknown. Have to be careful not to dig too deep or question, or your home could be suddenly “reappraised” to a much higher value. Anyway, dealing with these bureaucrats is like walking in a minefield. Of course, I always play to win.

Thank you for writing this.

Expand full comment
Nov 13, 2023Liked by John Carter

This about sums it up

“It will be of little avail to the people that the laws are made by men of their own choice if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood”.

James Madison

Expand full comment
Nov 13, 2023Liked by John Carter

I'm not sure that building codes are a great example here.

Yes, they're way more onerous than they need to be. Yes, they are often arbitrarily and pointlessly restrictive.

But!

Buildings can and do collapse, especially in countries with lax/absent building codes or corrupt/non-existent enforcement. All the time. And not just there either. Dozens of people died in the Grenfell Tower fire in London just six years ago.

Yes, humanity has been building structures for a long time. But 1) building codes are probably older than you think (e.g., London banned thatch roofs after the Great Fire in 1666); and 2) the ancients weren't building multi-story buildings using modern building materials and high-energy utilities.

Here's the problem though: even if we accept for the purposes of argument that building codes are worth it. . . now we're left with the difficult problem of trying to tell which aspects of the regulatory regime are worth it and which aren't. Unless there's some obvious, bright-line rule that lets us say "all of these sorts of codes are good and all of those are bad," how are we supposed to know which ones to ignore?

Expand full comment

Love this anadiplosis!

Pure brilliance:

"Dispersed power is hidden power, hidden power is unaccountable power, unaccountable power is illegitimate power, and illegitimate power does not deserve your compliance"

Expand full comment

I follow my own rules. I'm old so I know all of them. I do what I need to do and hope that nobody gets in my way. Since the break(lock)downs, I've become even more reluctant to follow the lines. Noncompliance is my mantra!

Expand full comment
Nov 13, 2023Liked by John Carter

All politics, everywhere and always, boil down to this: cui bono? Laws, rules, regulations, etc. are all promulgated to enrich someone, to limit others from encroaching on those riches or punish those who dare to transgress, thus eliminating them from encroaching. And yes, I know there are exceptions, such as laws against murder, rape, etc. (aka agreed upon social covenants), but we are not discussing those here. The mundane, the seemingly trivial (recreational fishing, hair braiding, barbering are licensed, why?), nothing escapes the “eye of Sauron” if there is money to be made, power consolidated and wielded. And there is nothing more arrogant than a bureaucrat with a tiny sliver power who enjoys exercising their “authority” over you. Their pleasure in increasing your misery is almost palpable.

Expand full comment
Nov 13, 2023Liked by John Carter

*Cryptarchy (love u bruv)

Expand full comment

The three myths of management:

1 - The illusion of control

2- There is one right answer

3- There is always someone or something to blame for failure, i.e. scapegoat.

Corollaries are:

- HIPPO: The highest paid person's opinion is the only one that counts

- ZERO SUM: Deny accountability and move onto greener pastures where you can play the same or similar cons. It doesn't matter the cost to businesses and staff so long as you come out whole.

Expand full comment