To Know How Their Laws And Sausages Are Made

In a quote that is commonly, but mistakenly, attributed to Otto von Bismark [1], it was said: “Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made.” Even though this quote was apparently not made by Otto von Bismark, it is still a worthwhile quote to ponder and reflect on, especially since it relates to one of my more serious and dangerous fascinations with processes and systems. I am aware that most people are not profoundly interested in systems as a whole except insofar as those systems relate to them. This is a somewhat narrow view, but it is also a generally safe view. It can be dangerous to have an interest in larger and overall patterns in certain areas of life.

Earlier today a coworker told me about a video she saw about pork in the Tyson slaughterhouse [2]. It is not necessarily a pleasant matter to know where all of our food comes from (not just meat, but plenty of other foods as well) and how it is processed. The systems between where food is grown and how it ends up on our table and in our bellies is not often a pleasant picture. Even knowing the ingredients of food can be scary enough, before we get into situations involving cruelty to animals and the wanton destruction of land or the exploitation of the people who live and work on it. These matters are not pleasant to deal with, and they cause us to lose faith in those companies who have the responsibility to feed us.

Knowing how laws are made is also a dangerous matter, dangerous not because it does harm to us directly, but because knowledge makes us trust in government less. When we know that our Congressmen do not even read the laws they pass, or that the vast majority of law that is generated is administrative law that is not even passed by our Congress, but rather is written and enforced by the gears of a massive executive bureaucracy, and that lobbyists and special interests of one kind or another have a massive influence on the way that laws are written and enforced, this sort of reality makes us trust our government institutions less. Increasing knowledge tendto make us think that others are behaving corruptly, and this decreases our respect in authority, which can have serious consequences.

Life is full of process and systems that are somewhat dangerous to know partially and incompletely (or even completely). Part of this danger is that knowledge of what others are doing (or not doing) correctly tends to encourage others to transgress the boundaries of their own tasks to pick up the slack to try to help the overall process. This temptation, which I am not immune to, is a hazardous one. Whether we are dealing with work processes, laws, or constitutions, a large part of effort is spent in setting boundary lines and learning how to respect the boundaries of others, letting others be accountable for their failures within the process. It may not be a good thing to know how laws and sausages are made, but if we know, we have to act in ways that protect ourselves from the consequences of that knowledge.

[1] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/09/22/what-would-otto-von-bismarck-do/

[2] https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10152075598507140

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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