Bureaucracy. Though we may have trouble spelling the word, the features that embody the concept are all too familiar: paperwork, red tape, waiting periods, committees, paperwork. But this condition is not unique to tax and spend commies or those fast-talking Washington fat cats of the post-industrial period. No, bureaucracy has been plaguing civilization since long before Father of Sociology Max Weber first delineated its characteristics in his devastating book Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft, published posthumously in 1924. Observe:
Modern-day Dusseldorf, Germany. 205,000 B.C.E.
Chief Blorg: Vice Chief Thog, I instruct you to spear that hoofed creature and prepare his flesh for the feast.
Vice Chief Thog: Why do I always have to do it? Why can’t you do it?
Chief Blorg: Because I’m the Chief. I tell you what to do.
Vice Chief Thog: But you’re closer.
Chief Blorg: [Spears Thog]
Vice Chief Thog: Only now, with my death, do I realize that an automatic compliance with all rules would best ensure my career advancement and securityarghghghgh.
Chief Blorg: Let this be a lesson to all Germans!
Cairo. 1998 B.C.E.
King Mentuhotep III: Here are the plans for the pyramid tomb of my immortal soul for submission to the Bureau of Planning.
Secretary: Looks good, except you filled out the wrong form. Tomb of immortal soul plans need to be submitted on papyrus 12-B. You used stone tablet 12-B, which is used to reserve sarcophagus cleanings. Sorry.
King Mentuhotep III: But I’m going to die on Tuesday! What will become of my soul?
Secretary: Here’s some clay and a stylus; write a hieroglyphic message to someone who cares.
Rome. 81 C.E.
Emperor Domitian: All right, what’s next on the agenda…a lobby group from Gaul is pressuring us to adopt a numerical representation of the concept of zero.
Senator Marianus: Hold on…zero? I concede that lacking an iconic and conceptual understanding of an empty set is stifling our technological advancement, but do we really have the capital for zero right now?
Emperor Domitian: You are wise beyond your years, senator. Developing the infrastructure to accommodate zero would devastate the imperial fund. Jesus, just think of all the facades we’d have to recarve!
Senator Valerius: However, Emperor, the zero constituency has been very vocal, and this is an election year.
Emperor Domitian: Hmm, also a compelling argument.
Nubile, rose-lipped Senate intern Cornelius: If I may speak out of turn, Emperor, my estimates show that we can afford either zero or twelve additional public executions of disobedient Vestal Virgins per annum, but not both.
Emperor Domitian: Zero denied.
Tenochtitlan (modern-day Mexico City). 1519 C.E.
Doctor Tzitzimime: Glorious news, Moctezuma the Second, I’ve fashioned out of available roots and herbs a medicine that can cure all disease, including ones that we have no knowledge of!
Moctezuma: That’s fantastic! I’ll spread the news as soon as… Hold on. I forgot.
Doctor Tzitzimime: Forgot about what?
Moctezuma: Well, we’ve got the Aztec Drug Administration to contend with. ADA approval can take up to fifteen years. First there’s the animal testing, then the Augury Board, then the Medicine Man Union Committee…could be decades.
Doctor Tzitzimime: But our cities could fall prey to heretofore unknown pale-faced cowards, whom we have no reason to expect.
Moctezuma: Never fear. Any white intruders (of which we to date have no knowledge) would never get into our walls. Unless, of course, they have large exploding metal sticks, which, again, we don’t know about.
Washington, D.C. March 4, 1841.
Anna Harrison: How will you celebrate your inauguration, my love?
William Henry Harrison: All of my life I’ve wanted a mail-order stereoscope. I hear Charles Wheatstone’s newest invention is knocking the Yankees’ socks off up north. I just couldn’t justify the expense until now. All I need to do is fill out this form and…aw, horseradish. It can take up to 31 days for my order to be processed and mailed to the White House! I can’t wait that long.
Anna Harrison: Stop your complaining. You’ll live.