Thursday, 21 June 2012

Because I'd rather be ashes than dust. On work, elections and the power of values

The pleasures and sorrows of work have taken me on some notable adventures in the past year. I’ve schmoozed at Westminster receptions, dined with MPs and taken pictures as rioters took it upon themselves to destroy the streets of Tottenham. If anything typifies the existence of a political intern it’s faux glamour – worrying, on a fairly regular basis, if you have enough money on your card to get the bus home as you desperately try to get a room full of millionaires to remember your name.

Interning is now behind me and the self-imposed poverty that overshadowed that chapter of my life is now fading. The glitz is also fast disappearing – as I write this I am in an office at 10.30pm for the fifth time this week, I stink of cigarettes and the smell of takeaway hangs thickly in the air. I sit in silence with my fellow party apparatchiks - two glassy eyed men, tired, unwashed and kept half insane by the constant humming of the machines day in, day out.

Work, for now, consumes everything - and I’ve never been happier.

Selling one’s values to a largely disinterested electorate is both draining and disheartening. A personal intellectual commitment to a world view is met by a loud, discontented almost donkey-like sigh. They squawk “They’re all the same!” from a seat of moral authority exclusively reserved for those without the belief or desire to change anything. This unfortunately is an accusation almost entirely vindicated as all three main parties try sticking their variety of coloured flags in the Holyland of British Politics – the centre ground.

This wall of inactivity and disinterest is perhaps the biggest hurdle for everyone on the campaign trail. When apathy is king the creeping viziers behind the throne have to put in 100 hour weeks to cajole even the most miniscule percentage of people to remember that we have elected representatives worth voting for.

As the reality of 16 hour days set in and spouses get ignored, friends get forgotten and the outside world becomes a misty half remembered before-time, the human cost quickly becomes apparent. People cope with this isolation in a variety of ways. Me and another immediately went for the easy option - anxiety and depression. Some went with flat-out anger. Others simply regressed into various levels of delusion and paranoia.

An ironic bi-product of Parliamentary democracy seems to be the time when people are least connected with the world around them is during an election.

Elections are a deeply emotional business and even an emotarded android from the overly repressed Anglesphere isn’t immune to its effects. Certainty of winning and losing flipped so rapidly in the last days I failed to remember where we even were on this issue by polling day. The mood in the committee room changed almost by the hour. It was like being stuck at a party in the Hotel California where everybody suffers from severe bi-polar manic behaviors.

The power of values brings a special kind of unity to those under its spell. I have no doubt that despite the collective madness elections imposes on its victims I have made some friends that will last me for years to come. The bond that is formed when people come together to inflict imposed collective misery upon themselves for an objective greater than themselves is a far less common experience than you might think.

This is when the values you hold become something you can take pride in – because you worked hard to make them a reality.

I’ve been asked to draft a report on what I learned in Portsmouth. My unofficial take on this is as such -

In an age defined by its political apathy burning the candle at both ends becomes an election neccessity. Luckily for me, I'd rather be ashes than dust.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

The tutti-frutti loins of Skeletor. On rhetoric, language and the digital landscape

Many, many moons ago when I first decided to take up the virtual pen I decided to blog about my first love - language. Linguistics is and will always be interesting because it is an extension of our identity. All emotions have a tone, every region a lilt, every single syllable indicates education, background, temperament and age. Being shot in the face with that much information just transports me to nerd heaven. The argument that followed was if language is going to be part of your identity you might as well have fun with it - break rules, be inappropriate and talk incongruously about the tutti-frutti loins of Skeletor. Convention is for conservatives and the aged. My frutti-loins are for everyone else. My initial endeavor didn't cover one aspect of the language landscape - we are changing the way we communicate. Since leaving London I have migrated onto Skype as much as possible simply because I find Facebook chat such an abysmal way to relate to other human beings. It's not so much conversation as it is reducing the rich tapestry of my soul to binary code then asking a data analyst to explain it using pie-charts. Telling jokes on messenger feels like self harming at the farmers market for the amount it amuses people. I am now fairly certain Facebook chat has lost me friends. As far as social media goes, that's pretty fucked up. If you are going to commit violent linguaphilia you should probably learn from the best: I personally recommend Cicero. The Roman PR maestro had 3 elements for a good speech: logos, pathos and ethos. Logos (logic) is the basic need for language to make sense. This is important but most communication isn't just about transferring information. We need to give information meaning, depth and personality. If language is part of a person then personality is an essential part of language. This includes all their gripes, needs, emotions and wobbly bits. Strip out the personality in language and we're just left with dead symbols - this invokes the vacant eyed take-me-on-a-cyanide-binge conversations that are getting fast becoming the norm on this text-based, no-frills, Tesco-value online conversation culture. That's where the rhetoric of ethos (character) and pathos (emotion) come in. When we talk to people, in the usual oral tradition, we express ourselves (our ethos) and try to make people laugh or empathise with us (our pathos). It's so natural it's only ever noticeable by its absence. Those conversations we loathe with THAT weird guy probably just lack ethos and pathos. If it feels like you’re talking to a walking excel spreadsheet he's probably just a pathophobe. He may also be a Quantum Leap fan. Or find Katie Melua moving. Maybe all three. Humans tend to do well at loving other humans. Similarly language must have human characteristics for us to love. Language needs humanity as much as humanity needs language. Without it we become as sterile as the black mirrors we type on. As social learning is little more than visual theft therefore the habits of the cybernetic age are beginning to dilute our pleasure of language. Whether it be t3xting, 3/\/\/-\1l or ROFL @ FB convo's - in the cybernetic landscape convenience is king. I may be a language libertarian but my frutti-loins still have standards. It’s just a little hard to see the logos sometimes. I’ve come a long way in three years but the message remains the same - value the pleasure and beauty of language. With one added sci-fi proviso: Don’t let the machines take your humanity.