Me, a nightmare

Faceless, nameless nightmare. Once, this was me. In a manner of speaking.

There are many human nightmares. Robbers, burglars, rapists, stalkers… I’ve not been any of those. But I’ve been a faceless bureaucrat ruining your life through sheer incompetence and cowardice.

Before I branched into computer and software support, I spent years as an actual bureaucrat, working for the state as a tool of public suspicion. I shuffled papers, I read various explanations of why people wanted money the state would have for itself, and rejected them. I was probably a source of fear, hate and despair even when I did my job. When I did not, it could be even worse. This also came to pass.

Looking back on my life, I remember one time in the 1980es, when I was still fairly young and had only worked for a fairly short time as a case worker. There was a thick dossier on one of the famous people in our city, and he had sent in a form that I for some reason did not know what to do with. The details are pretty hazy, but I remember reading it and trying to figure out what to do with it. I was not sure, and the boss in charge of this particular thing was an elderly man of somewhat unpredictable temperament, when he was present at all. And of course we had a quota of sorts – we had to report how many cases we had handled each week, and I was already lagging badly. (I know this because I was ALWAYS lagging badly with the cases.) I held on to the document for some while, then misplaced it. Eventually it was destroyed before its time.

Much later, I found out that there had been a fairly high-profile case involving this person, where he had referred to the document, but it was nowhere to be found, and the corresponding arm of government naturally did not believe there had ever been such a document at all. At that time, I was doing something else and only learned about it afterwards. This was exactly the kind of nightmarish encounter that people have with the bureaucracy, where they lose money and get humiliated because some incompetent faceless bureaucrat has failed to follow their incomprehensible rituals.

This is one reason why I am skeptical of a big public sector (and other monopolies). I was intelligent, idealistic and basically a good person, and I still became a nightmarish villain through a brief combination of ignorance and cowardice. And I did not even lose sleep over it. It was just a job, after all, and not a well paid one at that. It was not my money that was lost or my reputation that was tarnished.

Now that I am old and look through my life, I see it suddenly from the other side. Whereas I have been thinking of myself as a Servant of the Light, this guy has rightly seen me as a faceless, nameless, shadowy figure of evil and probably cursed me a hundred times, wishing that I would burn in Hell and be violated by a thousand hairy demons.  After all, Hell has no fury like a conservative scorned by bureaucrats.

I have toyed with the idea of telling the guy the whole story, if he is still alive. But I am not sure whether this would make things better or worse. It happened a generation ago, after all: I cannot prove anything, and even if I could, there is no way the decision would be overturned now, these things expire after 10 years around here.  Nor do I really have the kind of income to compensate him for the money he lost, or at least it would probably take many years.

Or I could just say to myself: “Well, Jesus died for my sins so it does not matter that I caused Hell on Earth while I was alive, I’m still going to Heaven and there’s nothing you can do about it, nya nya!”

OK, got a little carried away there. But you know what I mean.