It should go without saying – but we still say it, firmly
and without qualification – that nothing can justify crashing an aeroplane into
a building, even a tax office, with the deliberate intention of killing oneself
and others. That it is morally indefensible was as true in Austin,
Texas, last week as it was in New York in 2001.
Yet the most disturbing thing about the Austin case was the
“suicide note” the
perpetrator left behind: like most of these things, it was misspelt,
ungrammatical, and often irrational – as one would expect, given that his
actions were those of an unbalanced man – but some of the things he said cannot
be easily written off as the ravings of a madman. Amid the ranting, there were
occasional flashes, no more than that, of something very familiar: the despair
of a businessman driven over the edge by the constant frustration of dealing
with an uncaring bureaucracy.
The individual feels powerless in the grip of The System. Of
course, this has almost always been the case, but what makes it harder to bear
is that The System is intruding more and more into our daily lives – and into
It is in the nature of The System to be corrupt – and it has
in fact been more corrupt in other times and in other places – but it was at
least bearable when it was further away and we did not have to deal with it so
It only adds insult to injury when bureaucrats claim to be
acting in the name of countries committed to freedom, democracy, justice, equality,
and the rule of law – when, in practice, we are helpless in the hands of those
same bureaucrats whenever they choose to ignore those fine principles. This is definitely
not saying anything against freedom, democracy, justice, equality, and the rule
of law – on the contrary, it would be very pleasant if we could have them for
once, or, in some cases, have them back.
Politicians and bureaucrats must be held accountable for
their actions. They must be taught that bad things will happen to them if they
do bad things. That does not, of course, mean crashing aircraft into them –
but, if such acts of despair are to be avoided, there must be a legal mechanism
which ensures that those who inflict suffering on their fellow citizens through
maladministration cannot expect to go home to fat, secure pensions.
So far the only reaction by the bureaucracy has been a statement
that tax returns will not be delayed.