Leftists, being human beings, generally don’t want too much friction with their neighbors, even if they don’t necessarily care for their neighbors’ political and social views. The tendency toward resentment and hatred between left and right-wing civilians is often driven by the parties for which these two groups vote, both for the purpose of distraction and for preventing social alliances that exclude the parties’ financiers. This aim is achieved through propagandist articles and other presentations, although cultural incompatibilities* also play a role.
*Notice that instead of calling me a liar, Todd Scheller calls me basically an idiot—a conservative friend once explained that that is common among conservatives when disagreement arises—Scheller is playing nice! Notice how grating we as leftists find his style of communication—we need to get used to it, if any alliances are to be sustained (whether with him might be another matter from whether with certain conservative or libertarian groups).
Despite the tendency of parties to stir up fear and loathing of their selected opponents, most people lack a will to fight their neighbors—the morale necessary for such fights is usually low, so the elites of the parties turn to using fear of their selected opponents to keep their followers in line, while ‘fighting’ those opponents on their followers’ behalf. For example, the Democratic Party leadership dehumanizes poor people whose proclivities are conservative, and their base is expected to feel grateful. Likewise, when the targets of such abuse respond, usually in anger and disgust, further opportunity arises to sustain fear and loathing. To oppose this dynamic of fear and loathing, we must write our own articles and if needs be, counter-propaganda. Unfortunately, we often lack the confidence and ability to write effectively, and we have little introduction to good writing technique, especially with the weakening of education (I’ll put my rants on whole word reading aside for now).
Successful writing can be considered as a technology, which provides a measure of social power to the person ‘wielding’ it, as the person can more readily influence others, i.e. communication. By spreading good writing practice, we make it harder for cults, parties, corporations and states to concentrate their power.
The aim of this article is to provide a framework of methods of writing, so that bad writers can improve their writing, and successfully address people and get them to think. I am at best a middling writer, but this material has improved my writing, according to other people who frequently read my output.
Practical Considerations: Writing as Communication
We have three main media through which to address or communicate with other leftists, namely comments on articles, full articles, and video presentations. Comments on articles are good opportunities for practicing writing, but are not usually useful for changing peoples’ world-views or practices, except where special trust exists. Articles and video presentations are usually more successful at changing opinions than comments, especially when the presentations are clear and contain much relevant and organized information. When the presentation allows people to join a community where further information may be had and shared, that is likely to lead to greater change, especially when the community is not an echo-chamber, but a source of real and verifiable information. But first, the information must be communicated.
Whenever communication happens, three ‘elements’ of the communication interact to allow (or prevent) the communication—we have the ‘speaker,’ who provides the ‘message’ to the ‘audience.’ These three elements interact along three lines in the communication:
1. The speaker’s status affects the audience. Is the speaker someone well-known, or does the speaker seem to share the audience’s concerns? Is the speaker someone the audience can trust?
2. The content and presentation of the message affects the audience. Does the message resonate with the audience’s prejudices? Is the audience willing to hear a message with which they might disagree? Granted that the audience accepts the message, how are the audience’s friendships and acquaintanceships affected? What changes are needed in the audience’s conduct?
3. The content and presentation of the message affects the speaker. Does the speaker really believe the message? Does the message make the speaker happy or upset? Is the speaker sober and phlegmatic about the message, or enthusiastic and manic? How much thought has the speaker put into the matter? Doe the speaker give practical suggestions to act upon the message?
All these questions are relevant to communication through any medium. We will later make use of these considerations, in writing a piece, but now we can concentrate on the message we wish to transmit.
Steps for Writing a Comment or Essay
First, write a clear statement of your message. This is your message, addressed to yourself. Tell yourself, in your own terms, what you wish to tell your audience, and what you want your audience to accept. A small essay will work great for this purpose—get a writing block and a good quality pen. If your mother tongue isn’t the language in which you need to address your audience, use your mother tongue for this part—the availability of familiar phrases will speed this first draft, and make your thought clear. After completing the small essay, take a break, that is, go do something unrelated for half an hour or longer; this will give your mind opportunity to reflect on what you want to say. Daydreaming is a symptom of this process (the mind mulling over the subject matter) getting underway—cherish it.
Upon returning to what you’ve written, check for reasoning errors (I’ll try to post an article on formal logic, for this purpose, this week). Make a list of the factual claims you make, and check the likely contentious claims. If the factual claims involve your previous conduct, e.g. on DISQUS, go check that you remember things correctly—it takes five minutes, but can save you a lifetime of embarrassment. If you check frequently, you’ll notice that human memory is a dubious beast, thus making eye-witness testimony a questionable practice. And, yes, those mistakes are not due to someone hacking DISQUS—I’ve had to make apologies that were thoroughly humiliating, because I didn’t check DISQUS first. Do it.
Now your first draft should be to your satisfaction.
Ask yourself who your audience is. Is it an individual, a group of commenting individuals, or a large collection of people? If your audience doesn’t know you, you might have to establish your credibility, e.g. by introducing yourself, your political commitments, and the like. Avoid annoying your audience at this stage (and generally, unless there is a very specific value to annoying your audience), e.g. by calling them out on how many protests you’ve attended, and the like. Such details should only be furnished when necessary. Make a list of concerns that your audience might have with you as a source of information. Likewise, make a list of concerns that your audience might have with your message, and list the provisos that you hold with your own message. I shall refer to these three lists as your communications triangle (speaker-audience-message) lists.
Make a list of your main arguments or claims in your first draft. For each point, make a list of the following:
Who are the actors, victims, organizations and individuals that are relevant to that point?
What is being or should be done, and what methods are/should be used?
Where are events unfolding, or are events expected to unfold?
When is the point expected to be relevant? When did previous events happen?
How did things happen, or how will things happen? What are the underlying principles to which you are making reference?
Why did/do the actors conduct themselves as they do? What are their apparent motivations for their conduct? What motivated other agents to set up the systems that impact your point?
Call this set of lists your W5H lists.
Now compare your communications triangle and W5H lists—are there items from the one that belong also in the other? Make the necessary additions to both lists. If necessary, adapt your message with the new information, by rewriting it—the ‘who-what-why-where-when-how’ is the context with which you may motivate your claims.
If you have thus far been writing in a language other than that of the intended presentation, now write/type up a translation into the intended language, or otherwise merely type up what you’ve prepared. Next you edit what you’ve written, but take a break first.
Edit your writing as follows.
1. Make sure that your paragraphs and sentences are coherent. Clear sentences and paragraphs lead to insight. Sentences should contain one main thought each; you should be able to identify the main verb in each sentence. Paragraphs should each deal with one matter. Take another break.
2. Write up a page, with each paragraph replaced by its focus, e.g. lack of majority:tea party support for social security. If a paragraph has multiple focuses, list them, and draw a box around them. Now look at the page—does the story structure make sense? Do paragraphs need to be broken up? Do so now.
3. Look at each paragraph, one by one. Does the final sentence of one paragraph lead to the first sentence or the theme of the next paragraph? How about relating to the theme of a slightly later paragraph? If the content of the paragraphs lead to an automatic transition, a transitional sentence can be avoided.
4. Make any lists in a paragraph clear, e.g. by using parallel construction. Parallel construction involves using the same starting words or closing words for each item in a list, to remind the reader that the list is ongoing.
5. Add an introduction and a conclusion, if you haven’t already. The introduction should state the motivation for the article, and perhaps hint at the conclusion. The conclusion should include a clear statement of the actions sought, leaving the audience gunning for action (unless you want something else).
Take another break.
Reread your piece. Do you insult your audience, perhaps unintentionally? Do you insult your audience’s intelligence, especially by claiming something that they might find preposterous, without justification? How about the ethnic affiliation of some of your audience’s members? Rednecks are Scots and Irish protestant descendants, not rural conservatives per se (and many are urban; they are quite willing to insult people back by playing the part, though).
Did you exclude contextual information that might be useful? Is your punctuation solid? Spelling? Does your writing guide the reader somewhat through what you want to say?
If you are satisfied, publish (send that article or comment). Come back in half an hour, and reread your writing; chances are that you will find mistakes. If you made a comment, mark the comment where you changed it (e.g. with ‘edit: was “…”). If you wrote an article, note any changes in the comments below, when such a facility is available, otherwise mention the changes at the end of the article as an errata, if the changes are made after the public has seen the first version.
A person’s second article or comment is usually the most ambitious, and consequently these second attempts lead to failure. Continue writing, after these failures, and your writing will improve.
- Notes on Propaganda Against the Left
- Notes From Steve Keen on “Lending Reserves” and “Debt Jubilees”; Mish Proposed Starting Point For Real Solution to Debt Crisis
- Counterpunch Fare Open to Comments: July 02, 2012
- Counterpunch Fare Open to Comments: July 03, 2012
- Counterpunch Fare Open to Comments: August 08, 2012