“All Gaul is divided into three parts” Julius Caesar
In my last post, Hail Caesar?, I wrote about a phenomenon known to some as “empire building,” in which people try to increase their stature in an organization by making themselves appear to be more valuable than they really are. So what does this have to do with the geography of ancient France? Well, I don’t know about Gaul, but if you observe the would-be emperor in his glory, you will likely notice a lot of gall. You don’t like to be around him, but you’re stuck with him.
The earlier post primarily dealt with empire building as it relates to government bureaucracies, which I believe provide the most hospitable environment for that type of fungus to thrive, and I only made passing reference to the private sector. But those mushrooms can grow in any forest, and here in part two I will discuss a type of empire building that does not lend itself to civil service as well as it does to private business. If I should happen to think of a third aspect, then the title will be really easy to come up with, and I can even use the same quote at the top of the page.
At my job, I find myself having to deal with some seemingly pretty useless paperwork. I can see what the intent was in killing all those trees, but I have a hard time understanding why people expend all the energy that they do worrying about it. So I have come to the conclusion that there must be some Caesar wannabe lurking about somewhere. Not sure who he is, or how he got there, but I do have a theory. I can’t help but think that this could be a manifestation of what I call “Idiot Nephew Syndrome.” To illustrate what this is, I have, in the immortal words of Rod Serling, “Submitted for your approval:”
A play in (much less than) one act
by QMC, USN (Ret)
Mark Proconsul (for you non-Romans, that means “big shot”) at Seven Hills, Inc.
Cleo Middle-aged younger sister of Mark
The stage is divided into two sets, with darkness between. Stage left is a suburban kitchen. Stage right is a corporate office. As the curtain rises, Cleo is sitting at the kitchen table, phone to her ear. Mark is at the desk in the office. Mark’s phone rings, he answers it.
Mark: Hello, this is Mark speaking.
Cleo: Hello, Mark. This is Cleo.
Mark: Cleo! Well hello. How’s everything going?
Cleo: (Looking nervous) Okay, but, well, you know I hate to ask for favors, but, well, you know my son Claudius?
Mark: (Looking annoyed) Yes, Cleo. I know Claude. What has that worthless moron done this time?
Cleo: He hasn’t done anything. And that’s why I’m calling. You see, I’ve been wanting to turn my basement into a sewing room. But I really can’t do that as long as Claude is living there. So I was thinking … maybe … Do you think that you could give him a job so he can move out?
Mark: Well, I don’t know. I’m just not sure what …
Cleo: Oh please, Mark. You know he turned thirty last month, and there aren’t any liberal arts classes left at the community college that he hasn’t taken at least once. I just have to get him out of my house! Please!
Mark: Let’s see. What if? … Maybe I could … I’m trying to think of something … Well, maybe …
Cleo: But you know, it can’t be anything menial. I mean, I know that he doesn’t have any fancy degrees or anything, but he has more or less been going to college for the last twelve years. I don’t thing that I’ll be able to get him to crawl out of bed for some low-level thing. It needs to be something that will make him believe that he’s as important as he thinks he is.
Mark: Yes, I was kind of thinking about that myself. Okay, wait … what if … just a second … yeah, that’s it. I can …
Cleo: You have something for him?
Mark: Yes, Cleo, I believe that I do. I can make him my “Executive Supervisor of Administrative Compliance.” Think Claude will go for that?
Cleo: Ooo! That sounds important. It also sounds complicated. Do you really think that Claude can do that job?
Mark: A chimpanzee could do that job. You see, the only thing that he would really have to do is look at a bunch of pieces of paper and make sure that there is a check mark in every box, and an initial on every line. If the paper is filled out okay, Claude gives it to a secretary who will file it away, never to be looked at again. If there’s a check mark or something missing, the paper goes back to who it came from, to be completed, sent back to Claude, and filed away, never to be looked at again. I do believe that even Claude could handle a job like that.
Cleo: Wow! That sounds like a job for a complete idiot. It’s perfect!
Mark: That’s what I thought. And you know, this could also be good for me. Yeah, I suppose that I’ll need to come up with a few more useless forms for Claude to look at, But that’s fine. You see, the big bosses love to know that there is lots of paperwork flying around, as long as they don’t have to read it. Gives them the illusion that something meaningful is going on. And when they see that I’m so concerned about quality control that I brought in a new expert, my standing at Seven Hills will rise. And since the job actually doesn’t mean anything, even Claude ought to have a hard time messing it up. I just have to find an office for him that’s so remote that the bosses will never be able to actually see Claude. Well, he is used to living in a basement, right?
Cleo: Yes he is. Okay, this is great. I’ll go downstairs and unplug Claude’s X-Box and send him to see you first thing in the morning. And while he’s gone I can find a cheap apartment to send his stuff to.
Mark: Good. Oh, but make sure that before he shows up here, he gets those metal studs out of his face. And that purple stuff out of his hair.
Cleo: I’ll pull those things out with pliers myself, if I have to. And hold his head in the washing machine, if that’s what it takes.
Mark: Oh, and he’ll need a suit and tie. Does he have those?
Cleo: Well, I’m pretty sure the the suit he wore at his high school graduation still fits. And it should be in good shape, seeing as how it hasn’t been worn in over a decade.
Mark: That should be fine. After all, Claude only has to make it from the basement in your house to the basement in my office. So it’s settled.
Cleo: Yes it is. Thank you so very much.
Mark: No problem. So, you are coming over for Thanksgiving dinner, right?
Cleo: Wouldn’t miss it.
Mark: Wonderful! It will be great to see you. And don’t feel obligated to bring Claude with you.
Cleo: I understand. One turkey in your house is enough.
Followed, of course, by thunderous applause and chants of “Author, Author.” What, I can’t have a bit of a Caesar complex?
So there it is. The Proconsul has added another centurion to his legion, and made the Thanksgiving get-together a little less unpleasant. His sister has her sewing room. And young (well, not so young) Claudius has set out on a journey that will lead to … who knows? But I can tell you what he sees as he dozes at his desk, waiting for the next stack of meaningless paper to arrive. He sees himself in larger-than-life bronze, his body draped in a loose toga, the better to display his imaginary muscles. His head is adorned with golden leaves, instead of horn-rim glasses. He gazes across his empire, his jaw firmly set, his lips tight, to conceal any evidence of his buck teeth. All hail Claudius Maximus, Prince of Paperwork Perfection.
The only ones that don’t win in this situation are the plebian masses, who, upon filing, unwashed, into the Seven Hills Coliseum, daily find yet another reason to scratch their heads. Besides the fleas in their hair.
So how long will this empire stand. Beyond the next Ides of March? Oh, even after he screws up, and they hire the chimpanzee, don’t worry about Claude. He’ll be fine. He is now ensconced in the bureaucracy. They can find a place for him. I do believe that Seven Hills, Inc. has a branch office in Kabul.