"The fundamental problem with this kind of public discourse is in the language. The language is full of assumptions. The language assumes all sorts of things about the reader. It assumes the reader is not only literate but has a high level of literacy. It assumes only those with a firm grasp of the subject will be interested in reading about it. Indeed the language itself makes a statement about the writers and the spheres they inhabit. Spheres, which in reality, have no real meaning to the public and so no real meaning to the discourse. I propose that under such conditions the discourse could be more appropriately termed ‘private’. How can I make that assumption you may ask? It’s actually very simple. I’m watching and listening to it all the time.
Language developed naturally through evolution to bring humans together so that they could solve common problems collaboratively through verbal communication. In today’s world however, I fear those who have been fortunate enough to receive a thorough education have unwittingly allowed something as common as language to become a barrier to a more open, inclusive and essentially democratic public conversation. Lucky for me I’m not intimidated by office jargon, statistical data, historical in-jokes or acronyms, for if that were the case…I may have left this conversation 10 years ago…aged 18.
I tend to pop up around tables I’m not really supposed to be at. You know the tables I’m referring to surely…the ones at which my life is usually being discussed by experts and professionals? I sense their dis-ease as they fumble over this new phenomenon for which there is no protocol or precedent. The political curve ball that is: If decisions are being made about my life and my community around this table….then this is a table I’d quite like a seat at. (I’m also prepared to stand if there aren’t any spare, which has often been the case.) If you were re-mortgaging your home, wouldn’t you like to be at that meeting?
Let me cut to the chase. If we want to challenge apathy in our society then we must first challenge our own activism. We must ask ourselves why people are not responding to our call to action. Basic educational principle dictates that if participants are not responding to the material it is for one of 3 reasons:
1. The material did not originate from them and so they cannot relate to it
2. The context of the workshop was ill conceived either in form, content or location
3. The facilitator hasn’t developed a deep enough understanding of the learning needs and social aspirations of the participants and so cannot engage them in a meaningful way
That’s it in a nutshell as far as I’m concerned. We as ‘activists’ have wandered off up a hill for a private chat and at the mountain top we feel frustration that nobody has followed us. Of course we only looked to see who was there once we reached the top instead of looking over our shoulder occasionally throughout the journey to see who else was coming along and indeed…if they were ok. We as ‘activists’ are falling into the same trap as the politicians we criticise. We are getting lost in the language of our own little world.
Many years ago I attended a discussion/debate about the aluminium industry and it’s plundering of India. Personally, I wasn’t that interested in the subject. Environmentalism is a concern afforded to those free from the day to day constraints of poverty. My reason for going was simply to survey the scene. I wanted to know how these types of ‘open’ meetings operate. Who attends them? How are they formatted? Are they merely informative or do people make a pledge to act on what they have just learned? Naturally I became engaged once the talk began.
I’ve always been intrigued by the word ‘Globalisation’ and how it has been cunningly devised as a synonym for Hostile Corporate Takeover of Planet Earth. At the end of the talk the academic took questions. Once again I saw this as an opportunity to observe. I was frustrated by the lack of depth or critical thought in many of the questions but remained hopeful that the dialogue would eventually transcend the subject itself and somehow become grounded in a more tangible reality. It fell to me and so I raised my hand. “This is all very interesting and it’s really made me think more about the environment and how I’m not an observer of it, but instead part of it. My question is…how do I take this information and make my community care?”.
The academic looked shocked. He clearly hadn’t thought about the implications of his information. His soul task was to amass it and communicate it to a small group of like-minded people as opposed to relating it. He is what is known as a ‘repeater’. A well-meaning, unconscious, pseudo educator. His purpose is not to think critically about the information but simply to gather it and then relay it to other repeaters. He is a hapless victim of an outmoded education system and as a Professor in his field….he has clearly been thoroughly remunerated for his compliance. And so I left the talking shop a little more enlightened.
You may think me scathing. I make no apology for it. My language is laced with the wrath of a generation sick to molars of being misrepresented at best if even listened to at all. I have no constituency and no line to toe. I earn no salary and am answerable only to the call of my own conscience. I am dangerous. And I am not alone.
I hope the crux of this article is clear. There is no real meaningful future for the people of Scotland if their participation in the conversation about their own lives is tokenistic. The most well-meaning activists have to face some hard facts. All discussion and debate is rendered meaningless when plagued by the same subtle elitisms that hold the status quo in place. I don’t have a degree in Education but I feel I have a certain degree of understanding where such matters are concerned and so this is the time I have chosen to speak. At this moment I make my move. And there are people like me everywhere and everywhere they are getting more organised in preparation for any event. Please let the Scottish spring blossom in the spirit of an awakening. Some on these shores are naïve enough to think Revolutions only happen on the pages of a University reference book or on the 24 hour news cycle. That’s the blind side that gets them thrown out of office, literally! For now, we only want you to listen to our ideas. This is our country too and although we have no professional titles we are in fact the leaders of our Communities, the articulators of the message the majority can easily understand. We have something you lack….but we’re willing to share it with you unconditionally.
How are we to tackle the scourge of poverty at its source when we are not willing to hear the testimony of those who face it day by day? How is it possible to challenge the tired stereotypes surrounding the poor if the poor aren’t given the chance to speak for themselves and be heard? Representative democracy has had its day my friends. It became a breeding ground for career politics and special interests. The disconnects between the public and the policies that affect them are structural and require a deep, psychic attitudinal change on mass scale, lest we remain at the behest of our overly romanticised history and the old ideas that led us to be dominated by Empire. To achieve this we’re going to need to have a meeting about getting some bigger tables for the kind of meetings we really need to be having.
As we draw ever closer to the referendum we must ask ourselves: What kind of Scotland do we want to be? We are on the cusp an incredible adventure. We can see the mountain on the horizon. And so as we plot our journey this time round…perhaps we should think about who is coming along with us. It’s not the economy stupid…it’s the language."