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How to be a PC creep

Theodore Dalrymple

There was a time in my life, many years ago, when people were not expected to boast about their accomplishments: indeed, they were expected not to boast about their accomplishments. Self-praise was regarded as no praise; indeed, someone who praised himself was thought to be a bad character.

These days, however, boasting and the expression of self-satisfaction are essential to getting on in life, to climbing a hierarchy, in medicine as elsewhere. You have to recommend yourself, not wait to be recommended by others (which might never happen); you must hide a bushel under your light.

Recently I went through a pile of last year’s British Medical Journal that had been reproaching me, unread, in my study. They all contained an interview with a doctor, in the course of most of which the interviewee is asked to summarise his or her own personality in three words. In my opinion, this is a question that should not have been asked, indeed that is almost obscene, being an invitation either to self-congratulation or to arch self-deprecation, the higher and slightly more acceptable form of self-congratulation. To adapt slightly the final sentence of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus, whereof one ought not to speak, thereof one ought to be silent.

The answers given to the question were for the most part odious, and not even odious in an interesting way: they spoke of a dull flat hinterland of political correctness. They said they were:

Energetic, enthusiastic and dedicated;

Happy, enthusiastic and committed;

Honest, fair and compassionate;

Energetic, determined and compassionate.

One had the depressing feeling that the interviewers had been given, and accepted, a buzzword generator of self-praise: no one demurred, no one was, for example, bad-tempered, mean-spirited or egoistic. There wasn’t even a gossip among them, let alone a writer of poison-pen letters. Perhaps they were all of the things that they said they were, but one could not help wishing that it was someone else who said it of them; moreover, they made ditch-water seem like champagne.

Interestingly, and perhaps significantly, the only answer that broke the mould came from a man who was described as the oldest active researcher, at 104 years (he had worked with Alexander Fleming), in Britain. He said of himself that he was lucky, long-lived and loquacious: an answer much superior in every way, including the literary, to that given by those who were a third his age. Could this tell us something about the changes we have wrought?

4 Comments on How to be a PC creep

  1. Well said. I’ve had to “assess” myself in exactly this way and it has always felt squalid. Either one opens a flank to criticism, disguised as “support”; or one offers this mindlessly boastful cant. I actually believe that what is being sought is less “assessment” than abasement, before a number of concepts, linked by convention (or conspiracy) to the most frequently recurring words. “Compassion”, for instance, has long been a buzz-word for “socialist” – as if loving kindness consists exclusively in larding other people’s money over variously deserving cases, whatever the merits of doing so. We are genuinely living through a period of soft-totalitarianism; but one day it will ossify, with precious little opportunity of evasion or escape. However, not wishing to end on a note of hopelessness, there are surely ways in which these developments – increasingly recognised for what they are – may be countered. So much of what is happening is now and at last becoming clear: “virtue signalling”, the “deep state” and “PC” are all tools of the totalitarian elite and its clients – many of whom are as yet only loosely affiliated to the project. Should we not found a society – more than a think tank, less than a party – to continue the exposure and analysis of this process in the hope of stopping and reversing it?

  2. You don’t need to found a society, instead subscribe to the Salisbury Review, in the left’s eyes the first magazine they would shut down if they had the power.

  3. Related to all this is the requirement for people wishing to be voluntarily involved in the NHS – say on advisory committees etc, to claim and demonstrate their “passion” for the service. Retiring from a reasonably successful Civil Service career I looked at various such opportunities where I thought my professional skills and experience might allow me to make a useful contribution. In each case the applicant was asked to demonstrate this “passion”. Not my style I decided.

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