Perhaps the strangest thing about this story is that it is not the first time it has happened. In 2008, residents of another Romanian town elected a dead man as mayor: “I know he died, but I don’t want change,” a pro-Ivascu resident told Romanian television (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/jun/17/1).
This is an interesting example of a problem caused by a hard technology that could simply be averted with common sense. The situation is apparently possible because of the rigid rules of Romanian elections, which require that the candidate name cannot be removed from the ballot paper. It is just a rule, made by people, and people could choose to ignore it if it leads to absurd outcomes. And yet they don’t. I find this very weird. Though this is very bizarre indeed it is not as weird at North Carolina dealing with the problem of global warming by legislating against it (http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/jun/01/north-carolina-sea-level-rises) but it is part of the same family of collective insanity.
Why do apparently rational people place such enormous credence in legislation to the point that they take precedence over the laws of physics and what any sane person would recognise as common sense? These kinds of legislation are classic examples of hard technologies but, unlike a manufacturing process or restrictive computer program, they are enacted by human beings who could very easily behave differently.
While these examples make such craziness plain to see, we constantly do the same kind of things in our institutions and businesses. I wish I’d kept a track of the number of times someone has objected to a sensible course of action in a committee meeting because it is not in accordance with the regulations. I’ve seen students fail courses despite clearly demonstrating their competence because work was submitted one minute later than allowed or because the rubrics are too inflexible to accommodate what they have done. I’ve been told that I cannot use a particular form of assessment because the system cannot record it. I’ve watched rooms full of very intelligent people make ridiculous decisions because they are hamstrung by some earlier decision they or someone else made. The legal profession has become an industry for those who can operate the machinery to make it do stupid and evil things. I’m far from immune to it myself: I recently failed a student (in both senses of the word) because of my unwarranted adherence to a set of marking criteria that I had actually devised myself. Because of such craziness I recently had to take a basic English Language competency exam despite being not only a native English speaker but actually having taught English, having won awards for my skills, being an experienced reviewer and editor, and having scores of English publications to my name.
If rules and regulations are too inflexible to accommodate logic and common sense then a) the rules should change and, in the interim, b) we should ignore them and do what we know to be right. OK, I know, that way a different form of madness lies, but at least we should be aware of when we are bending to the machine and try to remember to act mindfully as human beings, not just as cogs in a machine.
Address of the bookmark: http://austriantimes.at/news/Around_the_World/2012-06-07/42178/Dead_Heat