Continuing from yesterday’s post from a 1997 essay from John Ralston Saul, there was a second insight from the following quote that I wanted to touch on:
“The evolution of language can be reduced to a series of breakouts in the direction of that clarity which allows ideas to be delivered and understanding promoted. Those are the moments when writers explode the established arguments and light up the obscurities of power. Nothing is more terrifying to those in authority whether their power is over a country, a factory or a child. They quickly launch hunts to recapture this wild language and, once successful, force it back into appropriate order. Two factors are constant: in its moments of freedom, language seeks clarity and communication; when imprisoned, the word instead becomes a complex and obscure shield for those who master it.”
Ralston Saul points out how the elitist or the authoritarian leader will intentionally make words and language more complex in order to create an “obscure shield for those who master it.” This points directly to a culturally accepted bias against amateurism in favour of forms of regulated or sanctioned professionalism. The amateur writer, painter, philosopher, mechanic, bee keeper is denigrated and the profession novelist, artist, academic or engineer is lauded. Regardless of their actual contributions or creativity, the person who has worked through the institutional system of their profession or of academia in general is more highly regarded than anyone else. In turn this incentivizes the professional cohort to create even more stringent or complex systems of validation or control to accentuate their prestige and skill-set.
If one was to take Ralston Saul’s assertion that complex language is primarily a method of information control at face value than we’d have to reconsider the ways in which we communication within our professions, communities and media. I know that I personally have a tendency to complexify my language – although I wouldn’t consider it a method of control but rather an assumption that there are nuances that need to represented. In truth, I probably make things more complex to sound smarter, fill content as well as deal with legitimate complexities. It is a very self-rewarding to feel like you’re the smartest guy in the room and attempting to position your language and words to enforce this assumption. It truly is the hallmark of communicators, novelists, essays and wordsmiths to continue to use as few words as possible. Brevity, simplicity and accessibility are the modes of language that have the greatest ability to influence and serve as catalyst for change. This is why – rightly or wrongly – speakers like Ronald Reagan and Albert Einstein were effective communicator in their fields…they were accessible and the everyman understood what they were speaking about.