The Insolence of Office

From Theodore Dalrymple:

A friend of mine recently gave a lecture at a university and sent his bill for his (modest) expenses. He received by return a form asking him, in order for him to be paid, for his race, religion and sexual ‘orientation’.

Not surprisingly, he was displeased by this. He demanded to know why the information was needed, and requested the race, religion and sexual orientation of the person who sent the form and also of the vice-chancellor of the university. In reply, he was told merely that ‘Human Resources’ needed the information before it could settle his bill. No other explanation of why or for what purpose this information was ‘needed’ was offered; presumably, it was deemed self-evident to the writer of the reply.

My friend persisted in his refusal and in his demand for the same information as that that demanded of him. Eventually he received a further reply informing him that Human Resources no longer required the information, and that he would be paid forthwith. There was no explanation, much less apology, in this reply for the change of what Human Resources would no doubt call ‘policy’; nor was there the faintest hint of shame or embarrassment.

What brought about the change in Human Resources’ attitude? Why was information thought essential one moment for the payment of a small bill deemed completely unnecessary shortly afterwards? Had legislation or society changed in the meantime? Had Human Resources had a crisis of conscience, realising that their questions were intellectually stupid, psychologically aggressive, and morally against the commonest of decency?

Of course not. With the instinctive cunning of dullard bureaucrats, they realised that if they persisted in their questions with this particular man, they might cause a lot of trouble for themselves. He would kick up a fuss and draw public attention to their activities, as welcome to them as kitchen light switched on to nocturnal cockroaches. Best, then, to retreat into the cracks. Most ‘difficult’ customers, that is to say those not automatically intimidated by a form into filling it, are satisfied by such a retreat, and make no public comment.

If any semblance of our freedom is to be preserved, the dictatorial idiocy (and, I fear, wickedness) of our bureaucracy should be constantly exposed to public mockery and reprehension, before it becomes too powerful for us to dare to do so.


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