Monday, 21 December 2015

3 things about writing and 7 of the best articles on the internet

Things I see

We're all Facebook pundits now, offering our wisdom and commentary on world events as they scroll vertically past our eyes. Some days it's habit that guides our fingers to the keys and taps out a message for the masses, some days it's the weird assumption that people will be waiting to see how we have reacted to the latest outrage that has us racing to reassure them with an update.

On my best days I have a more realistic view on the whole thing; an activity that costs nothing but the time it takes to regurgitate a few sentences, and can be done by anyone with an internet connection and a Facebook account (or if they invested five minutes more, a blog), is not usually going to have the impact on the world that the tone of our posts suggests it was expected to.

So how do we write the unusual article or post that establishes a new idea or a new way of looking at things?

I want to write something huge. Something that forces people who don't agree with me to re-think in fear of looking stubborn and foolish for continuing to repeat what they used to say unreformed. You do too. And we know articles and posts like that are out there, screwed up £50 notes camouflaged against the huge pile of rubbish. Not always very well written (in the boring sense of what that means) but so forceful and so persuasive as to go down as instant classics.

* Links to a few of mine at the end.

Orwell cleans up

In 1946 George Orwell wrote this essay Politics and the English Language in which he sprayed his post-war bleach onto the windows of the English language and tried to wipe away the mold and grime. He invited the clarity of the light of day to beam in; everyday words to wash away the slime of pretentious bullshit, meaningful real-life imagery to replace crusty metaphors and a defiantly active tone, implicating the writer in what is being said shoving aside the weak passive voice of the detached observer.


1. Metaphors are good but if you want them to work people need to understand them and think about them for a moment. That means you can't use old ones where the meaning has become irrelevant for people's everyday life and there is no point in using ones where they've just become a phrase that no one has to think about anymore. If you're writing it and you realise you're just using a popular phrase delete it and come up with your own one.

2. Stop sounding like a pretentious dick. In my opinion you should minimize Latin based words, they entered English through the Norman language. English is actually two languages. Notice how there are two words for almost everything, help/ assist, welcome/reception, buy/purchase etc. etc. other languages don't have that. The one that sounds a little bit colder, more precise but also more detached, that is the Latin based one. The difference between a "hearty welcome" and a "cordial reception" is obvious, the first makes me think of beer and fire, the second makes me think of cold marble and wine. The working class still use mostly Germanic words but we've become bilingual, we can understand the upper class' Anglo-Norman and we can fake it a bit in their company but it's not how we naturally talk. Unfortunately left-wing academics and writers have embraced upper-class ways of talking and writing in an effort to be taken seriously which alienates the rest of us. I try not to do it and I encourage you to do the same. If you get stuck just type etymology + 'the word' into Google and it tells you where it came from. There is a rather eccentric website where they write in 'anglish' (only Germanic root English words), I'm not interested in doing that but when you read their stuff it's surprising how warm and immediate it feels (Google Anglish). There is nothing inherently more scientific or precise or academic about Latin words, the idea that there is, is 100% classist.

3. Stop using jargon for every article/ post. If you only learnt the word/phrase once you learnt about the political movement then it's jargon. You probably need jargon to write in-depth theory which is intended to be read by other insiders but it just signals to everyone else that they should keep scrolling or click the next link because your stuff isn't really for them.

Articles which I consider true classics which changed the way I think and get me coming back for a re-read:

Your Politics are as boring as Fuck - Nadia C

Speaks for itself. Stopped me from sinking too far into a swamp that would have been hard to claw my way back out of.

On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs - David Graeber

Pretty much speaks for itself. That thing where you know you could fit the actual work you do into half the day, and everyone else knows it, even the boss probably knows it. One of the first articles that really got me thinking critically about capitalism.

The Iron Fist behind the Invisible Hand - Kevin Carson

There is no free market, whether you wish there was one or not is irrelevant, just in case you didn't get the telegraph, there is no free market. The best short(ish) piece that I have ever read on this subject.

Revolution and American Indians - (transcript of a speech) Russell Means

Marxism, and even anarchism, are European. It made me realise that they are the theories and practice of Europeans and whilst everyone is very much welcome to join in we shouldn't impose them on people from other cultures who often have their own ways of resisting domination.

Caring too much. That's the curse of the working classes - David Graeber

So well written it's almost beautiful in places, transformed my view of the working class from something I was technically part of but tried to distance myself from a bit (you know, stuff like refusing to watch sports on TV because it's "bread and circus for the masses") to something I wanted to embrace.

Anarchism's Ungovernability, and What it Means to Be a Mutualist - Shawn P Wilbur

So good. I'm just going to quote my favorite line: "As an Ideal, Anarchism runs on ahead of us as we chase it, constantly revealing greater freedom and unchallenged forms of authority, provided we pay close attention". This post keeps reminding me not to get too complacent, or to dig a trench around an idea and spend years trying to defend it.

The Great Forgetting - Daniel Quinn

Started a line of thought in my head that I still haven't fully worked out. Something to do with meta-narratives, spirituality, eschatology, Christianity and anarchism. When I've finished it will probably be something that really helps me understand the world but will simply confuse and annoy other people.