Reading this anarchist communique gave me a lot to think about:
Confronted with those who refuse to recognize themselves in our orgies of destruction, we offer neither sympathy nor dialogue but only our scorn. It is necessary to commence for once and for all; not to dream of new ways to organize, but to make manifest the subterranean communes in the heart of each c-clamped pushbar. We must reject all mobilization—in secret. In the realization of zones of offensive capacity, we destroy those who would have us give up the singular ecstasy of rupture for the misery of impotentiality.
Isn’t it amazing? It really explains everything so beautifully, and–fine. It was created with a generator, though to my eyes, it is indistinguishable from the real thing.
There is a lot of literature from feminists, anarchists, theorists and combinations of the above that I simply cannot follow. I do not think that I am stupid. I do not think that I am too poorly-read and dull-witted to comprehend the intricacies of such pieces. I think they might be badly written.
Coming from a science background, it was beaten into me that good writing was something that anyone could understand–one lays out one’s points clearly. People can then act upon the points, understanding what has been written. While learning to write, I was taught that clarity was crucial, and that if something was written densely, the fog of long words and impenetrable prose was probably hiding a distinct lack of a point. So I am naturally wary of anything which is not easy to immediately understand.
Most of what is written in opaque prose probably does have good points and good ideas concealed within. The problem is, it is difficult to find what it is supposed to mean. And from that, it is difficult to act upon what is being said. Feminists and anarchists have long been accused of academic elitism. This is of course the case when half of our engagement with people is so unreadable.
I suggested the other day that we should stop worrying about what the mainstream media thinks of us, and that to counter this we need better propaganda. When our propaganda is so throughly arcane, how can it propagate?
Beyond the dense academic prose, two other problems often occur in literature and discussion in spreading ideas. First is gross oversimplification. This is, quite simply, insufficient for communication. The other problem is an excess of managerial language.
Adam Curtis argued that this shift was due to internalisation of neoliberal thought–that we became managers of a revolution. I would suggest, though, that at least some of it is a reaction to the use of florid academia in communication: at face value, managerial language is more readable, as it uses shorter, more common words. However, it is just as easy to disguise a distinct lack of point in jargonish manager-speak as it is to hide behind a barrage of long words. There is also the fact that it is much easier to communicate process rather than ideas in managerial language.
We are therefore largely stuck with business waffle communicating process, and impenetrable waffle communicating ideas, or a horribly simplified piece of writing which can communicate neither process nor ideas.
There are alternatives, though. It is perfectly easy to spread ideas and propose methods without falling into any of the above traps: speak plainly and clearly. These anarchist communiques showcase nicely how such a thing can be achieved. They lay out arguments about wage labour coherently, without losing anything to oversimplification. It is a complex message which is made easy to understand. It is the sort of communication which needs to happen more often.
I do not think this is a big ask. Better writing costs nothing intellectually, and has the potential to make a big difference.
I ask, clearly and concisely: write what you mean.