Tinkering with heavily charged nuclei

I’m not the world’s best wordsmith by a long shot, and in no way am I as qualified to use words as this, but this pretty much sums up how I feel about politics, journalism, news outlets, television, economics, advertising, Facebook, and myriad other things. Dorothy Sayers’ advice is timeless.

“It is as dangerous for people unaccustomed to handling words and unacquainted with their technique to tinker about with these heavily charged nuclei of emotional power as it would be for me to burst into a laboratory and play about with a powerful electromagnet or other machine highly charged with electrical force. By my clumsy and ignorant handling, I should probably, at the very least, contrive to damage either the machine or myself; at the worse I might blow up the whole place. Similarly the irresponsible use of highly electric words is very strongly to be deprecated.

“At the present time, we have a population that is literate, in the sense that everybody is able to read and write; but, owing to the emphasis placed on scientific and technical training at the expense of the humanities, very few of our people have been taught to understand and handle language as an instrument of power. This means that, in this country alone, forty million innocents or thereabouts are wandering inquisitively about the laboratory, enthusiastically pulling handles and pushing buttons, thereby releasing uncontrollable currents of electric speech, with results that astonish themselves and the world. Nothing is more intoxicating than a sense of power: the demagogue who can sway crowds, the journalist who can push up the sales of his paper to the two-million mark, the playwright who can plunge an audience into an orgy of facile emotion, the parliamentary candidate who is carried to the top of the poll on a flood of meaningless rhetoric, the ranting preacher, the advertising salesman of material or spiritual commodities, are all playing perilously and irresponsibly with the power of words, and are equally dangerous whether they are cynically unscrupulous or (as frequently happens) have fallen under the spell of their own eloquence and become the victims of their own propaganda. For the great majority of those whom they are addressing have no skill in assessing the value of words and as are helpless under verbal attack as were the citizens of Rotterdam against assault from the air.

“When we first began to realize the way in which the common sense of Europe had been undermined and battered down by Nazi propaganda, we were astonished as well as horrified; yet there was nothing astonishing about it. It was simply another exhibition of ruthless force: the employment of a very powerful weapon by experts who understood it perfectly against people who were not armed to resist it and had never really understood that it was a weapon at all. And the defense against the misuse of words is not flight, nor yet the random setting off of verbal fireworks, but the wary determination to understand the potentialities of language and to use it with resolution and skill.”

-Sayers in “Creative Mind,” Letters to a Diminished Church, pp. 46-47

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