Category Archives: bureaucracy

How to get ahead in a state or corporate bureaucracy

The pseudo-poetic metaphors are about as inspirational as a cargo ship’s ballast

The vital quality, writes Dalrymple, is

the mastery of, and willingness to use, a certain kind of language that is opaque and almost meaningless to an outsider. The mastery requires dedication, and the willingness a lack of scruple. It demands a certain intelligence, but not high intelligence. Mediocrities do it best because others are impatient of it.

The language

is peculiar to itself, and makes a speech by the late Leonid Brezhnev seem like a soliloquy by Hamlet. Full of neologisms, its words have connotations but no definite meaning can be fixed to them. Vagueness is essential because only then can responsibility be denied when things go wrong. It is ugly and circumlocutory, but with occasional pseudo-poetic metaphors that are supposed to be inspirational but are as exciting as a cargo ship’s ballast.

This bureaucratese, says Dalrymple

is ever more widespread. It has left few corners of our world uninvaded. It is to be found almost everywhere. It is native to government, of course, but it is certainly not confined to government. Large companies employ it, as do educational institutions.

A question he has long pondered

is whether anyone, in the privacy of his mind, employs such language. I suspect that after a time those who employ it can use no other.

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Whited sepulchre

Marlowe-Dalrymple in Europe’s heart of darkness

Dalrymple once took a job in the tropics, and his employer sent him for a medical examination to check that he was fit for hardship. He writes:

My medical was just like the one that Marlowe underwent in Heart of Darkness, before he went out to the Congo.

Marlowe’s medical was in Brussels, a city, Marlowe says, that ‘always makes me think of a whited sepulchre’. And then Marlowe adds, ‘Prejudice no doubt.’ Dalrymple confesses to

a similar prejudice. Brussels shows us our glorious future: bureaucracy and sex shows.

The Working Time Directive

This legal act of the European Union is, writes Dalrymple,

typical of modern legislation, or perhaps I should say administrative fiat. It appears to confer benefits or rights on those who come under its purview (in this case, almost everyone). As such, it is seen by many of its supposed beneficiaries as benign.

But

the supposed benefits exert a profound and baleful influence on the character of the supposed beneficiaries, always in the direction of increased dependence upon the administrators.

A medical profession, says Dalrymple, that is composed of clock-watching shift workers

will be far easier to control and order around than one that is both self-regulating and has a sense of vocation. The independence of citizens or professions is what the modern administrator fears more than anything else, for it strikes at the heart of his raison d’être and threatens him with actual, rather than merely existential, redundancy.

Like a butterfly to an entomologist’s board

The essays of Simon Leys, writes Dalrymple,

often combine delicacy with irony—a combination that few writers, especially in our times of stridency and parti pris, achieve.

Dalrymple cites the opening of Leys’ An Introduction to Confucius:

If we consider humanity’s greatest teachers of wisdom—the Buddha, Confucius, Socrates, Jesus—we are struck by a curious paradox: today, not one of them could obtain even the most modest of teaching posts in any of our universities.

Leys goes on to explain:

The reason is simple: their qualifications are insufficient—they have published nothing.

In two sentences, writes Dalrymple, Leys

has pinned, like a butterfly to an entomologist’s board, the bureaucratic sickness that has overtaken our institutions of higher learning (and not only those institutions). There is no madness more difficult to treat than that which believes itself sane, and there is no irrationality greater than that which believes itself perfect.

It is no surprise that Leys

retired early from his university chair because the university no longer bore any resemblance to what it had once been, and misled students and the rest of society into believing it still was. A community of scholars had become an organisation of foremen on a production line.

Why it is practically a duty to lie to authorities

Irrespective, writes Dalrymple, of

the paperless world to which digitisation was supposed to give rise (though it does not seem that there is any less paper than there used to be), it has not reduced bureaucracy. The ease with which information may be gathered, or asked for, has brought inefficiencies and irritations of its own.

Any organisation, governmental or private,

may easily demand to know more about us than we wish to reveal. Our only defence against this prepotent intrusion is lying, which in the great majority of cases will go undetected and be without consequence.

Soviet rule is within us

Dalrymple comes across a sentence by Sergei Dovlatov:

There is no greater tragedy for a man than totally to lack character.

This, says Dalrymple,

is what I encountered every day, when the bureaucrats with whom I had to deal could not look me in the eye. Theirs was a kind of suffering, endured for the sake of a pension.

The French are on a higher plane

France, Dalrymple observes,

  • is well administered — many intelligent young people want to work for the government
  • has among the best-maintained roads
  • has excellent public transport
  • is clean. There is less litter in 100 miles than in 100 yards in England. Either the French do not drop litter or councils are more assiduous in picking it up, or both
  • provides markets everywhere, with local produce
  • offers proper bookshops. One cannot attribute the much higher cultural level in France to bookshops alone, but they help to maintain it
  • enjoys efficient roadside drain clearing services
  • has better small shops, with greater attention to detail
  • is more efficient: far fewer of the French working far fewer hours produce at least as much as the British

The failing unitary European state

Dalrymple notes that the European Union is

  • corrupt
  • bureaucratic
  • cumbersome
  • archaic
  • inhibitory of enterprise
  • economically dysfunctional
  • undemocratic

He points out that

its two most recent major innovations, the single currency and free movement across borders, have been disasters for many of its members.

The global health agenda

It is, writes Dalrymple,

an imperialism of good intentions, with its associated international bureaucracy (usually remunerated in Swiss francs).

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The English civil servant

screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-08-55-29It is never in the interest of the British bureaucrat, writes Dalrymple,

to solve any problem whatsoever. Indeed, he regards any solution as a threat to his job and therefore his mortgage repayments. His interest is in the multiplication of problems, not their solution. The Circumlocution Office has metastasised through British life.