Bureaucratic theater

If you as a bureaucrat or politician find yourself embarrassed, here is what you can do to make us docile.

We have seen this countless times over the years on both sides of the Atlantic and probably Pacific. It does not refer to any one case or official.

  1. induce awe and loyalty in requester (if there is one) by issuing plastic silver badge, or if requester is not likely pliable, make personal contact to sincerely convince requester (requester can be charity or individual, insincere or sincere, ingenuous or no)1
  2. unexplained lack of transparency combined with exciting news [not allowed to tell you details, but they are going to be good!]
  3. appeal to trust and fear [we are sincere THIS time, so don't demand anything or we will stop being sincere!]
  4. appeal to reciprocity [be grateful for promises]
  5. the core of bureaucratic theater: create working group, shuffle responsibilities, create committee to outline a vision to create a process (there are infinite combinations of sound and fury you can use to signify your resolve)
  6. pliable lapdog interposing charity to filter and spin information both ways (great if charity has non-transparent donor list and is sometimes funded by a progress-obstructing agency, but this is not required)
  7. self-promoting reports of exciting! non-progress (charity will reliably take credit)
  8. compare non-progress to the past, never to what is needed
  9. snow everybody with impenetrable government jargon to make us feel incompetent at knowing whether the question was answered or whether the answer is relevant to anything real
  10. in case anything real might be demanded, fiercely and consistently squash expectations so that a bit of attention or a few studies for a serious disease of 20 million is a generous gift (have charity call it a "breakthrough" to drive the point home)2
  11. under no circumstances treat us with AIDS-level urgency and priority
  12. dribble in words we want you to use, but get the facts wrong and never mention disease progression
  13. if needed, try to isolate and marginalize any activists who say "um, have we seen this before?", or bunch them with our occasional hotheads so we ignore them
  14. make excuses [these things take time, baby steps, let the adults work]
  15. use charity to explain why AIDS-level urgency is impossible and ridiculous, but it understands our feelings and thinks it sucks too but that's how the cookie crumbles

If you properly demoralize us using the above, then you can buy a few more years, or if pressured, extricate your agency from its past so slowly the public never notices.

Bureaucratic theater will also prepare the charity for future uses, allow rapid ramp-up in case of PR emergency (the health emergency doesn't count), and provide implausible deniability in case Congress or Parliament hauls you in and asks pointed questions.

By "implausible deniability", I mean "plausible deniability" except that, despite not being plausible, it serves exactly the same purpose. As long as all decision makers and watchdogs treat it as plausible, it is as good as plausible.

You can follow these steps as many times as you like. In fact, you can do FOIA non-compliance and misopathy to your heart's content, with the only drawback being that you will have to do bureaucratic theater a little sooner.

I'm not so sure it's going to work much longer, however. PR emergencies sometimes hit unexpectedly and hard, somewhat like Tolkien's Ents at Isengard. Doing the job the public thinks you have, with a smallish risk to your career, might, in principle, be needed.




A reminder that is not needed for my readership: fellow sufferers are not the enemy. Even bureaucrats and politicians are not always the enemy, but always need pressure.


I wonder how many studies it takes to beat hay fever?


  1. Yes, excellent. Calling something a 'Working Group' that has no minutes and does nothing that anyone can find out about. Call something 'research' which is a determined effort to undermine any actual research which has been done. Say that our data are so good and so unquestionable that requests to reveal it are clearly 'vexatious' attempts to destroy our scientific reputation. etc.

  2. Hi Nancy,

    Thanks. Indeed.

    History will be written.

  3. The buzzard told the monkey, "You're chokin' me

    Release your hold and I'll set you free"

    The monkey looked the buzzard right dead in the eye

    And said, "Your story's touching but it sounds like a lie"

    -- A vexatious lyricist

  4. Wow! That is all I can say. You have hit the target perfectly here, Samuel. This is exactly what they do, and I am sad to have to observe that ME patients fall for this song and dance routine again and again. Is it because we are so desperate? Many of us have been sick for decades, getting worse all the time and seeing our lives dissolve into nothingness. Thank you for pointing this out with such wit and grace.

  5. Hi Wildaisy,

    Thank you.

    I have wondered why too. I don't know. Here are two possibilities.

    I think I've bitten off small pieces of it with posts like Characterization and Myths. It is possible we don't understand we are in this together, because we don't fully acknowledge disease progression. In our dealings with bureaucracies. we treat Whitney and Karina as if they were outliers. When we ignore the disease progression elephant in the room, bureaucracies make more sense (less unthinkable).

    We're not pros. We're just sick people trying to logic humanity from an inhumane world. But we are getting wiser rapidly.

    Why did Charlie Brown keep trying to kick Lucy's football? Perhaps because he focused on kicking the football (NOT on Lucy), but Lucy focused on Charlie Brown.


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