I recently posted about the work of Ivan Horabin and Brian Lewis on flow charts to display complex rules and regulations. Their 1978 book Algorithms includes some sharp observations about our attitude to rules that have become so complex we can’t possibly understand them (the bold emphasis is mine).
It is obvious that a person who cannot tell the difference between doing-correctly and doing-incorrectly is only going to be correct by accident. Increasingly in modern life, the ability to tell this difference depends on being able to interpret rules, regulations, and statements of procedure. License your automobile, select an insurance policy, borrow money, make tax returns, get service under warranty, or choose the best type of utility service rate. In areas such as these, rules and regulations affect the ability of every individual to perform correctly and efficiently. And the rules become progressively more complicated and less intelligible.
…The rule-makers increase the complexity of rules as they make revisions to overcome problems experienced in applying the rules. Examine successive editions of a set of rules and you’ll see sentences and paragraphs become longer, with more qualifying phrases beginning with words such as “except” “if,” “even if,” or “provided.” The reaction of people who are expected to conform to the rules is well known. As rules become more complex, people give them less attention, not more.
…As the body of rules becomes more voluminous, people are less likely to refer to them for guidance. As a result, we see people entering credit agreements that they do not understand, discovering what their insurance does not cover only when the worst has happened, or making errors in their work which simple attention to specified rules would overcome.
…Again, people tend to adopt a fatalistic attitude to conforming to rules. You can’t learn them, so use common sense and, if you find you have broken a rule, accept the penalty as a fact of life. The purpose of rules is primarily to prevent error, not to penalize the rule-breaker. The penalty is intended to encourage attention to the rules. What is happening is that people expect to be penalized from time to time, and there is a growing range of penalties which carry no social disgrace.
Source: Ivan Horabin, and Brian Lewis (1978). Algorithms. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications, pages 3-4.