This is a blog primarily about language and politics. In his 1946 essay ‘Politics and the English Language’, George Orwell wrote that
In our age there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics’. All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia.
This is as true today is it was back then. Perhaps even more so. After all, we’re living in an era where politics and entertainment have all but merged; where party politics have become a mixture of celebrity culture, soap opera and reality TV – but with real jeopardy involved. An era where identity politics play a part in pretty much anything you do, and a huge part of life online is spent defining yourself in opposition to those you disagree with.
Despite its title, Orwell’s essay isn’t really about politics and the English language at all. Except for a few trenchant remarks such as the one above, it’s a call for an approach to writing that concentrates on clarity and directness. But politics is at root about persuasion and coercion. And those who practice it professionally employ whatever resources they think will best accomplish this. In a democracy, where force is a last resort, rhetorical persuasion becomes the principal means of controlling power. ‘Lies, evasions, folly’ et cetera are all part of the everyday arsenal that’s used to achieve this. While we may lament the fact that this is how language is used in politics, calling for reform – for clarity and directness – is unlikely to have much effect. Instead, what we can do is try to shine a light on how language is used by those in power. Highlight the effects it has and the type of society it’s creating. In other words, we can call out the bullshit when and where we see it. That, at least, is the idea…