I confess, I don’t know how to define ‘the Left’. Not really. I mean, what is it? All I know of it, its living beingness, are the words I’ve read, and the ‘lefties’ I’ve met at and through Overland, on Twitter, in the street, café, pub, in chance conversations or impassioned disagreement (generally with ‘the Right’, and who are they?). ‘The Left’ seem like an argumentative lot, and yet they offer a glimmer of hopeful politics – a socio-political worldview that celebrates the possibilities of humans finding ways to look after everything: ourselves, our children, animals, plants and planet and offering the same generosity of care in cohabitation to every person in community – nurturing and harvesting community resources to provide each other with a system of social provision and management.

But, alas, ‘management’ has become an Orwellian profanity. ‘Managerialism’ of the English language (I’m not sure about other languages but I suspect many are also being subjected to the sufferings of this viral infection) has stripped our public language, and therefore our public figures of their poetry and with no poetry in the soul, a human being forgets about the spiritual self (that self beyond the corporeal. And I’m not talking about ‘God’).

How stirred we were by Obama’s speeches when he first came into the spotlight. Well, I was. A great orator shone out from the dross and, unless it was just me, we wanted to believe him. Increasingly, the president of the United States, now in his second term, sounds less and less like he can stomach his own words. His actions and those of his insane government prove the rhetoric of ‘freedom’ and ‘human rights’ to be worse than empty shadows: thin shells for organised murder, terror and a Hollywood-worthy military bid for world domination.

But still, in comparison, our politicians seem like middle management addressing a captive audience of dispirited supervisors. The two things aren’t unconnected. In his terrific book, Death Sentence: The Decay of Public Language, Don Watson suggests the managerialism of the English language is a disease we caught from the military.  A military language. My heart quails at this thought because I love language, its poetry, and because the militarised human being is a dangerous automaton brainwashed into following orders regardless of their moral realities, paying homage to a higher necessity: no longer ‘king and country’ but the agenda of corporations with a vision only for the personal wealth of themselves, their inner circle and, one presumes, the cronies.

I am in no way meaning to suggest some inherent glory in the purposes of imperialism. What makes the language of the new capitalist military junta – managerialism – even more pernicious, however, is that its vanity is hidden, and it has nothing of the great rhetoric to stir the human heart: the speakers and writers know it is empty, as do the audience, the report readers. Pageantry, both moving and entertaining, was at least offered as some poor compensation for enslavement. We’re no longer bedazzled. Under the ruling corporations, we are numbed, exhausted, beaten down by the banality, the inexorable self-referential inner logic that is unassailable and quite, quite mad. The new empire is the human soul and with public orators reduced to obfuscation and trite, meaningless phrases such as ‘moving forward’ or worse, deeply immoral euphemisms such as ‘refined interrogation techniques’ – the soul is deadened, dying, severed from the creative fount of the spiritual self.

I guess it’s the chance at ‘winning the lotto’, of becoming part of this elite, that is the underlying madness that seduces those whose lives would be immeasurably improved under a ‘leftie’ kind of government into coalescing for ‘the Right’ – including the police force and military force who sacrifice themselves (their integrity, sense of justice, kindness and compassion and even their lives) to protect the agenda of the ruling corporations’ wealthy few.

The Lottery, with its weekly pay-out of enormous prizes, was the one public event to which the proles paid serious attention. It was probable that there were millions of proles for whom the Lottery was the principal if not the only reason for remaining alive. It was their delight, their folly, their anodyne, their intellectual stimulant. Where the Lottery was concerned, even people who could barely read and write seemed capable of intricate calculations and staggering feats of memory.
– George Orwell, 1984

And if we will not lie down and die, those who serve the agenda of selfishness are quite willing to knock us down and kick us to death.

Naomi Wolf brought us the news of the collaboration of the corporations, government, police and FBI to attack and destroy the Occupy Wall Street movements – that beautiful American peaceful protest that had the eloquence to name what militarised, managerialised language lulls us into forgetting. Pithy, funny, heartfelt and clever, the collective word-message was loud and clear in the medium of print-on-cardboard. Many a poem among them, it was not surprising, then, that those most steeped in the murdering of English – the exoteric media – could not make head nor tail of it. Where was the mission statement? What were the expected outcomes the protesters were committed to? What was the strategy?

Historically, we humans have revered the archetype of ‘the teacher’. From the great teachers who instructed humanity on how to co-exist with peace, compassion and respect that most religions are founded on to To Sir With Love, the teacher is recognised as a blessing – the great inspirer. To apprentice was to learn from the master. In 2013, we seem content to allow our teachers to be forced into mind-numbing administrative shackles – a servitude that bleeds into speaking in this unnatural, militarised, poetry-less English to our children in learning environments where the enlightened one is required to provide strategies for client-based learning outcomes (or is that provide outcomes for client-based learning strategies?); where knowledge, question, action and wisdom are thrown over for information.

The heart to will a vision: this is the province of the human being who is truly alive. Curiosity, wonder, mistake, risk, experiment, creativity, imagination to play, to build together, to look after each other, to acquire knowledge and transform it into wisdom and community largesse – now that would be something! That would be an education system worth fostering. But how can teachers share the wonders of culture: of language, of the body, of mathematics, of arts and sciences, the history, the envisioned futures, the territory and its agriculture, healthy trade, innovation, industry and technology, the moral conundrums, the place of service; games, songs and other pleasant entertainments, the great celebrations, the rituals of grief and mourning – how can any of these things be addressed with any poetry at all if they are reduced to policies to govern the implementation of strategies for developing client-based learning outcomes? And it’s everywhere – in our hospitals, universities, theatres: in places where it does not belong, stunting our capacity to resist, to imagine a different way, to remember that spiritual side.

Materialist capitalism; neoliberalism; whatever it’s called (but please, not ‘democracy’) requires that we give up our hope for an equitable world in which everyone and everything is considered with gratitude, care and generosity. It requires instead that we think of ourselves and our children as products; of education, health, nurture and creative pursuits as commoditised services of which we are clients or customers. Not only requires, but will browbeat with pepper spray (or worse – imprison, torture and kill) any who resist this market-driven requirement; even for merely mentioning out loud that there might be a saner way.

The point is that the process is reversible.
– George Orwell, Politics and the English Language

We could stop doing it – the militarised management twaddle. We could stop using it, stop believing in its necessity in order to be ‘professional’ and ‘accountable’. Accountable! Are we kidding? What a fraught suggestion! Just because one is accountable and/or brought to account doesn’t mean that individual is responsible or even culpable – it just means the account-bearing falls to them. The persons who are responsible and culpable are the least likely to be brought to account – as the US farce of bringing banking to ‘accountability’ so clearly shows.

Those ‘accountable’ would rather shoot me and you (or anyone) in the head than take responsibility and seek to redress the wrongs inflicted – but they will be very happy to commit to writing policies for implementing strategies of accountability. I believe the reports have already been delivered.

Everyone who writes can be a critic of writing. Everyone can take some responsibility for the language … people seeking a more creative solution might propose in their workplaces a twelve-month moratorium on selected words and phrases. This will improve the public language, first, by ridding it of some dull and stupid pests; second, by obliging writers, speakers and researchers to rediscover good words that have fallen into disuse; and third, by encouraging those responsible for what the rest of us have to read and hear to respect our most precious cultural inheritance.

Don Watson, Death Sentence

How shall we rescue our earthly and spiritual selves – and the selves of our children – from enslavement by those who materially profit from the awful fruits of such language, such willful obscuring of the horizon of what’s humanly possible?

On a more mundane level, with the Labor Party no longer a socialist institution, who is Left?

Clare Strahan

Clare Strahan is a two-time novelist with Allen & Unwin publishers, long-ago contributing editor to Overland, and teaches in the RMIT Professional Writing & Editing Associate Degree.

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  1. Just a few issues in terms of the issues you raise, Clare. The left is actually facing a range of challenges in terms of its own accountability. For example, there are issues in terms of do we offer a meaningful critique of the status quo. There are some serious downside risks in terms of trying to move to a post-activist model of organising. There are also some serious downside risks in terms of trying to move to a post-organising model of activism. I guess the traditional union movement has bequeathed us all a rather quaint silo mentality, but at the end of the day do we want to replace those old silos with just some granular derivative of the identity politics mindset. I guess there are some big challenges there, and there are some issues the left needs to keep working through.

  2. Thanks for reading, Tom.

    In the spirit of Don Watson, I’ll have to challenge the word ‘issues’ – one of the primary tools of managerialism 😉 Are the issues historical-theoretical, factional, regarding agenda, personality clashes … all of these things. One of the qualities of Occupy was that it didn’t have a ‘leadership’, which could be seen as something both wonderfully urgent and (perhaps) ultimately inhibiting.

    Perhaps the Right don’t need great leaders because the ‘great leaders’ are happy to remain in the background, pulling the strings while the puppet-managers placate the masses with dull and petty squabbling?

    What does post-activist and post-organising mean?

  3. Clare, I sat in a union meeting once where both those terms were getting a pretty good run, and it caused me to ask the same question. I remain loyal to my union, though, irregardless.

    1. Hey Sheryll, thanks for reading from across the seas 🙂

      I do think people are interested in something different – they’re taking to the streets all over the globe, shouting for it. The Occupy movement would have been quite vocal and organised by now, I think, and attracted a lot of ‘ordinary people’ if it hadn’t been so viciously attacked. That’s one of the reasons it was so comprehensively shut down.

      Please share, that would be great! xxClare

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