Today, I spent an hour and a half in an airless room only slightly larger than the combined volume of the four human beings occupying it. Yes, I was at the local Bank branch, setting up an executors bank account with my two fellow-executors of Aunty E's estate. Aunty E did very nearly make it to ninety but she had, as far as I am aware, never made it to the Mexican capital of the drugs cartels, nor had she been involved in people trafficking from Thailand, nor had she lent her spare room out to Vietnamese cannabis growers. Aunty E was a feisty lady, remarkable in some ways, but certainly not a suspicious character - and, she was a long-term customer of this bank.
If the scale of her assets was unremarkable, so was the requirement for us to present ourselves in order to regularise an executors' account. Both my fellow-executors had spent their lives working for two banks, and clearly they thought they knew what was involved. They had even, helpfully, conducted all the pre-emptive work in order to smooth the whole process. But, the process was not willing to be smoothed, for the bank had recently upgraded its computer system that handled the whole administration of new accounts, and nothing worked as anybody might have expected. Whilst I struggle to summon up much sympathy for people who work for these soul-sucking organisations, in this case I found myself almost overwhelmed with empathy - or it may simply have been oxygen deprivation. The incessant clicking of mouse buttons, combined with an increasingly desperate thumping of the keyboard told you all you needed to know. There was much furrowing of the forehead, symptomatic of internal turmoil and perplexity. There were frequent departures from the tiny office, to seek help from other members of staff - or perhaps simply to let some fresh air in.
The actual process of applying for this kind of account need only take around ten to fifteen minutes. The fact that we were forced to respire anaerobically for nearly ninety minutes whilst, in the process, beginning to fear that we might never be let out of our little box, was all down to regulation. We had come armed with all the necessary items for identity verification, and here we were sitting eagerly in front of the bank official. None of this stuff was rocket-science, and yet click after interminable click, the message was being relentlessly hammered home: nothing of what we were experiencing was about us, or about Aunty E. The whole ordeal is something mandated by bureaucrats, who actually have no interest in, or concerns about people like us. It may be that (perhaps) it really is about those despicable money-launderers, but I failed to spot anything significant within our own experience which would have convincingly nailed a half-competent villain. The sausage-machine that we were being forced through was there for its own sake, an utterly persuasive reminder that regulation is there for the benefit of the regulators, not anyone else.
And, as if one needed further proof, all one needed to do was look at the antics of the bank official. She knew what needed to happen, she just couldn't make it happen because the 'system' wouldn't let her. She was not free to exercise her own initiative in any way at all. Professional judgement? Technical expertise? Customer-focused service? Forget it. In this world, you're just a small cog within the regulatory machinery, which has been designed to grind everything down very small indeed. Including your own sense of self-worth.
And, yes, the following video remains our favourite parody of the kind of world delivered to us by the regulators...