Let’s Be Clear About Obfuscation

Merely using the words “obfuscate” or “obfuscation” is an act of obfuscation because most people don’t know what those words mean!

Wikipedia says, “Obfuscation is the hiding of intended meaning in communication, making communication confusing, willfully ambiguous, and harder to interpret.”

The word came to mind when I was doing my daughter’s tax return and noted that certain instructions were not clearly written. Some of the required calculations make little sense to my logical mind, but I perform them as instructed without question.

Would you believe that the instruction booklet for the 1040-EZ (also know as the “short form”) runs 46 pages? Of course, part of the booklet explains rights that the IRS has and does not have, based on legislation passed by Congress.

One of those legislative measures is called the Paperwork Reduction Act, a name that, I’m sure, has provided millions of bemused chuckles and groans for over three decades. And, look, here comes some serious obfuscation: “You are not required to provide the information requested on a form that is subject to the Paperwork Reduction Act unless the form displays a valid OMB control number.”

That sentence raises several questions which remain unanswered within the instruction booklet. What is an OMB number? Where is it displayed? And how do I know if the number is valid? (Among other questions.)

I don’t know the name of the accounting industry’s trade organization, but it’s obvious they’ve lobbied long and hard to make sure the IRS obfuscates tax forms and instruction booklets. The makers of TurboTax must rejoice each year when the updated forms and instruction books are released. The IRS obfuscation also sends many Americans to H & R Block where staffers enter your info into a TurboTax-like computer program to generate your returns. Obfuscation is great for the tax-preparation biz!

Sure, there are times and places where obfuscation can be useful in one’s personal life. Like when you’re caught taking the last piece of pie and you say to your husband/wife/partner/roommate, “Well, yes, it’s the last piece of this pie, but, technically, there is ‘more pie’… um, at the grocery store.” Now, that’s some real crisis communication!

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