In one tribunal where I sat, the internal loo had a sign on the door: ‘This door is alarmed.’ I had to stop asking myself who had done what to alarm it. Have you noticed that people who accuse others of being ‘activists’ are also prone to accuse others of being ‘alarmists’? I say ‘accuse’ because the word is used as one of denigration. Well, for much of the 1930’s Winston Churchill was alarmed about the rise of Nazi Germany, and he was widely dismissed as being ‘alarmist.’ The consequences of that dismissal could well have been fatal – because there was something to be alarmed about.
The problem came in the sixties when people invoked that history to shrug off suggestions that they were being ‘alarmists’ when the warned of the Yellow Peril and the ‘domino effect’ and we got locked into a losing war. So ‘alarmist’ is like ‘activist’ – it all depends on the object of the alarm or activity. ‘Alarmist’ is now used by those who lost the argument on climate change and are now seeking to cover their retreat with such dignity as they may command. It will continue to be invoked as a banal label by those who accuse others of ‘groupthink’ and who give every appearance of being incapable of any other kind of thought.
The woman I went to hear confirmed that personal desks had indeed disappeared at her firm after an office move, as is so often the case. A small alarm went off in my head as she began to list the alleged benefits of ditching dedicated desks: employees could ‘work fast and more agilely’ to give a ‘better experience to customers’. The alarm grew louder when she revealed the phoney slogan her company had used to describe the new system. ‘We didn’t call it agile working, we called it ‘fresh working’.’ Most regrettable of all, though, were signs of a mentality I can only describe as correctional. Hot-desking apparently goes cold when workers try to cling on to a desk by sticking a family photo on it or draping a coat over a chair, moves she described as ‘signs of encampment’.
Financial Times, 29 July, 2019
The writer showed uncommon kindness in describing the mentality as ‘correctional’. To describe an employee as showing ‘signs of encampment’ summons up images of the S S.