The absurd questionnaire Dalrymple was required to complete after his submission of a recent article to an American publication causes him, in the August edition of New English Review, to consider the motivations for and effects of such forms:
During my annual appraisal, itself a procedure of doubtful value, my appraiser asked me whether I had any concerns about my own probity. The appraiser was a colleague for whom I had some regard as a man, and he asked me this question only because it was prescribed for him to do so by the form about me that he had to fill.
‘I will answer the question if you answer two questions first,’ I said, and he asked me what they were.
‘The first is, “What kind of man would answer such a question?” and the second is, “What kind of man would ask it?”’
‘Oh, I know,’ he replied, ‘but just answer it to get it over with.’
Of course it was a formality; no dishonest person would reply, ‘Now that you come to ask, I am a little worried by my own dishonesty.’ But to comply with absurd formalities only because compliance is a condition of continued employment is to lose a little of one’s probity, as is to ask so absurd a question because it is required. Hume said that it is seldom that liberty is lost all at once, and the same might be said of probity. It is eroded rather than exploded: death by a thousand procedures.