Writing

The best writing advice. Ever.

Sixty four years ago today, George Orwell died from tuberculosis in a London hospital.  Not only was he – in my opinion – the finest writer in English, in Politics and the English Language he left scribblers some of the finest advice.

Here it is…

George-Orwell-at-his-typewriter

George Orwell, doing what he did best. Changing people’s minds.

 

“A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus:

– What am I trying to say?
– What words will express it?
– What image or idiom will make it clearer?
– Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?

And he will probably ask himself two more:

– Could I put it more shortly?
– Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?

One can often be in doubt about the effect of a word or a phrase, and one needs rules that one can rely on when instinct fails. I think the following rules will cover most cases:

– Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
– Never use a long word where a short one will do.
– If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
– Never use the passive where you can use the active.
– Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
– Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.”

I shall be waiting at the bar in the Moon Under Water this evening with two pints poured ready.

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Musings, Writing

Aristotle, the web and modern citizenship

In early August 2011, the UK’s citizens got involved in politics in a very practical way.  They looted, burned and rioted their way across London, Salford, Manchester and Birmingham. Commentators will debate the reasons – and the ethics –  for years to come, but its clear that these were people who are not usually politically active.  We need to understand why and, at the same time, find ways to encourage them to be.  Without it, that August will not stand alone.

London riots, people in streets with burning cars and buildings in background.

Practical politics?

For Aristotle, being a Citizen is all about involvement.  Involvement in government, in decision-making, in the State.  Without active involvement in the decisions of the State, one was not a Citizen.

Modern thinkers, like Prof. Bruno S. Frey of the University of Zurich Department of Economics, agree.  Writing in Demokratische Wirtschaftspolitik, he says “We find that direct democracy is not only more efficient but it also makes people happier than in other countries.”  At the core of direct democracy is the concept of involvement.

Most of us cannot be involved, as Aristotle advocated, full-time in the State, so we  have delegated much of its running to civil servants and politicians.  But, as the decisions made at national and even local level become increasingly remote from us, we need to become involved again.  To take back the mantle of Citizenship.

We may believe we have chosen to delegate our Citizen roles, but in reality, many of us have simply abdicated them.  This leaves us disempowered, dispossessed and dissociated on the sidelines.  Once we’ve become sufficiently remote from any idea of civic life and Citizenship, what have we to lose by smashing a few windows, stealing a few TVs?

We now have the chance to get those roles back.  We need to, too. Because it’s only when we’re involved in the complexity of civic decision making that we understand it. We MUST become practically engaged in the decisions of Government again.We are better educated, more literate, more enabled through the internet than ever before.  So we have huge potential to be involved practically as Citizens.  Not through the binary, single issue protest of e-petitions and polls but with access to information and decision-making itself.

At the same time, rather than keeping us out, or fending us off, the State needs to use the internet to find new ways to let us in.  Practical, local, electronic democracy.

Imagine the power of the thought, initiative and ideas of 36 million citizens.  Imagine the innovations that are waiting to be unleashed at local level to resolve problems and remove controls.  All it takes is for the State to throw the switch from “broadcast” to “receive”.Through the internet we don’t just have access to information and a voice, we have the facility to once more become Citizens.  It will take a brave government – and a patient one – to harness that facility.  But the benefits for the party that chooses to change the way we are governed in this way are untold.

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Musings

Don’t vote. It just encourages them?

It’s election day 2015. Politicians are, depending on the colours of their allegiance, either about to start weeping into their espresso or taking a pull on another celebratory pint of bitter. In the European elections last year, Marine Le Pen’s Front National topped a nationwide poll for the first time ever. The UK front pages nearly all carried photos of Nigel Farage with a grin as wide as the channel tunnel. The political establishment had its arse very firmly kicked.

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Is this what people really think?

David Cameron said that voters are “disillusioned” with the EU. A Lib Dem commentator said that Nick Clegg needs to quit because voters are no longer prepared to listen to him. I fear they’re deluding themselves. This wasn’t about the EU or Cleggy, this was about people’s view of politics and politicians. It’s also, fundamentally, about who’s talking and who’s listening. Who’s talking? Who’s listening? The 36% UK turnout tells its own story.

People are giving up on conventional democracy because ticking a box once every few years doesn’t really constitute a conversation between equals. And that’s what they get in most other areas of their lives. Only the way they’re governed (and, less so, the way they’re employed) is still so autocratic. Politicians aren’t talking about what voters are interested in and voters aren’t interested in what politicians are talking about. And when people do talk, politicians don’t listen. Letters get batted back with delegated, form answers and the real questions unanswered. The results of consultations seem pre-decided. Protests are increasingly ignored.   Image

Traditional politicians are becoming an irrelevance

We don’t really need elected representatives. We are now better informed, educated and connected thanks to the internet. Direct local democracy is possible and indeed, becoming more common. People can contact their local representatives, take part in consultations and lobby as never before. But their participation is still very much for form’s sake and, because of that, only a minority take part. Worse, most politicians seem to either fear or ignore this participation.

We’ve moved on in so many other areas. We choose our own direct, fragmented media, the news we read, the subjects we engage with, the style of reporting we want. Why shouldn’t we do the same with politics? Labour, LibDems, Conservatives – even UKIP – are becoming as irrelevant and archaic as just four channels of terrestrial television.

Pre-internet politics in a post-internet world

Democracy still consists of a pre-internet model where a few groups of people give pre-determined answers to a set of vague, general questions and ask people to elect them on that basis. Doesn’t it make more sense to ask the people the real, live questions directly and let them answer?

If we don’t begin to do this and educate the electorate (that’s all of us) to do so, ‘four channel’ party politics will continue down its slope to irrelevance. If people believed their vote might actually affect their lives, we’d start to see people becoming engaged in politics.

Wouldn’t it be splendid to see Pericles’ quote turned around – “Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.”

So get out there and vote. We’re not going to change anything from outside the room.

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