Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The What, The Why, and the Ugly.

George Orwell once wrote an essay called Politics and the English Language. It's an interesting essay, about the use of language to distort and hide meaning. Orwell focuses mostly on politicians and professed experts, though the idea can easily be more broadly applied. The point, really, is this: that people have a really unfortunate tendency to be deceivingly hesitant, in life and politics. And that's bad, for our language and political dialogue, alike.

So let's be direct, for once. This is a blog about those two things: politics and life. If you're not interested in either, maybe you shouldn't read it. On the other hand, if you're not, maybe this isn't such a bad place to start reading. I'm going to try to write for everyone who wants to read, from the most basic level, upwards.

This blog is named after the Athenian figure Themistocles, who many of you probably remember from academic texts of years past. If not, I'll refresh your memory: Themistocles was an Athenian general and politician during the Persian Wars. His chief contribution to the war effort, and maybe all of Western civilization, was to encourage the embattled Athenians to fortify their navy. This move eventually led to the Persian defeat at Salamis, and the triumph of Athens.

I chose Themistocles not because I'm a proponent of naval expansion, or a professor of military strategy. I chose him because of his foresight. That's, essentially, what I hope to accomplish in this blog - not in the future-seeing sense, but instead, by seeing beyond the fog of daily life, be it the cacophony of tabloid political news or the latest fad. I don't think I know everything, but I'm going to try to be measured in my analysis; I'd like to try to put events in their context, not in their individual moment.

Orwell ends his essay with six rules on how to write with clarity and purpose; here are the first five:

(i) Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

(ii) Never us a long word where a short one will do.

(iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

(iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active.

(v) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

These, I swear to uphold, as much as possible. The sixth rule is more interesting:

(vi) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

I do not promise to uphold this rule. This is probably on account of my own arrogance; I'm assuming, if you're reading, that you want to know what I have to say, barbarous or not. I will attempt to be polite, but not to the point of concealment. This has gotten me into trouble before, and it will likely do so again.

Interestingly enough, Themistocles was also known for his arrogance. Eventually, it wound up getting him exiled from the very city that he saved. I would ask that you give me more time than that, and if, in fact, you choose to exile me from your browser, I'm sorry, but at least I know that I've done what's right by me, and you likewise.