Usually, it’s offered as a joke, often with a strange local person uttering the words. Logically, it shouldn’t hold up. However, nothing fills me with fear like the kind of scenario that announces itself in these sorts of terms. The form which you can’t fill in without having the right code, which you can only get by filling in the form. (We had one of those this morning). More often than not, there is a way round it, although significant resources of patience, lateral thinking and perseverance are often called for.
Life has thrown me a few seemingly impossible things to try and field in recent years. The necessity of moving when there was nowhere affordable to rent or buy in viable striking distance was one such. It led to us being on a boat – not a challenge free arrangement, but one that gives us what we need. I’ve seen plenty of systems that seem to have impossibility built into them. Things where winning is just not possible. Others hold all the power, deal the cards, name the game and decide how to interpret the rules. Every run-in with one of these makes me that bit more cynical, and also that bit more determined not to let it grind me down.
There are plenty of systems you can get round by paying them to leave you alone. In essence this is corrupt, but it’s widespread. If you have enough money to hire the best lawyers you can write letters to intimidate others into giving up. If you can pay, you can force a less affluent opponent to quit just by upping the stakes enough. The rules of the poker table seem to apply all kind of places I’m pretty sure they shouldn’t.
Part of the trouble is that we have a longstanding culture in which money buys privilege. In English history, peerages, and parliamentary seats have been discernibly for sale. Politicians today will vie to buy your vote and to court the media. The company with the biggest budget can advertise the smaller competitors out of the market or undercut them to death. Money doesn’t just talk, it carries a big stick.
You can’t get there from here. You can’t easily change country without a lot of money to wave about. If you can show the funds, you can buy your way in. Criminal courts may be free to the victim, but many kinds of justice (restraining orders, child residency orders, small claims for repayment etc) require the civil courts, and you pay for that. Justice has a price tag, all too often. I notice down here on the canal that the bigger and more expensive looking your boat is, the more you can get away with – mooring alongside the no mooring signs is a popular one. Manifestly less affluent boaters would be moved on at once, but even those with legal authority hesitate to challenge the exceedingly rich.
The more obscure, convoluted and challenging a system is, the more unfair it is. The harder you make things, the faster you exclude anyone who isn’t so well educated. The more nasty your legal language, the sooner you intimidate folk who can’t afford legal advice or can’t buy themselves out. The more aggressive you are, the easier it is it shove out people who already feel vulnerable. There is no excuse for this. All official systems should by default, be as simple, clear and transparent as is technically possible. Ideally we ought to test them on eight year old kids. If the kids can’t navigate it, the system isn’t good enough. I’m thinking here about benefits systems, tax systems, medical systems, all the facets of society we may need to appeal to for help in times of difficulty. Any system which at any point has the capacity to exclude or intimidate, needs work.
Although that wouldn’t serve the interests of anyone who can currently buy their way to advantages, and who doesn’t want to share the privilege. Or anyone who fantasises about making it to the degree they think they too will one day grease the wheels and that therefore it should stay as it is. While any of us buy into the make believe that we’ll win the lottery, land the movie deal and get to cross over to the place of power, we’re stopping ourselves from fixing all that is sick and stupid.
We can get there from here. It might take some doing, but we can.