Manual labour

Screen Shot 2015-08-08 at 23.18.56Many staff in state organisations and large commercial concerns are in the habit of substituting activity for work, or rather, placing their unproductive or antiproductive activity in the way of your work, activity in this context being defined by Dalrymple as

doing things for pay that one would not do unless paid to do them but which conduce to no useful end except filling time and giving the appearance of busyness to superiors. That is why bureaucrats don’t saunter down corridors, they scurry. A lot of what goes on in offices (and not just in the public sector) is activity in this technical sense rather than work. It is designed to give a false impression and to fill an existential void.

It would not matter so very much, writes Dalrymple, if such activity were a form of bureaucratic masturbation, of self-pollution, only.

But alas, it is not so.

Screen Shot 2015-08-08 at 23.35.42

A manager in the UK’s National Health Service plans his day

Others, and the work of others, must be polluted also. Activity

in my technical sense has a knock-on effect, imposing obligations on people with real work to do, for example by devising new forms for them to fill in the course of their work, slowing them down.

The information gathered on such forms

is rather like old holiday snaps, never looked at again.

However,

if bureaucrats are told to work even harder, they indulge in meta-activity; they devise procedures to discover whether their previous procedures are being complied with. This becomes a labyrinth from which there is no extrication, the bourn from which no traveller returns.

...and let us get on with some real work.

…and leave us to get on with the real work.

Therefore Dalrymple would prefer it if municipal and state bureaucrats (other than rat catchers, hospital porters, and street cleaners) were idler.

They get in the way enough as it is; to insist that they fill every minute of their time with activity is to court further useless paperwork and obstructionism.

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