Sometimes, I’m convinced that some piece of common knowledge is completely wrong. Frankly, a lot of it falls apart under any degree of scrutiny.
And never have I been more suspicious of a vaunted truism than I am for a neat little phrase that gets rolled out time and again by people who think themselves intelligent.
Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.LORD ACTON
Not only does this trite proverb ignore all positive uses of power (constructing a home, creating life, and sheltering one’s children all come to mind), but it implies a sinister nature to power as a whole, with a scaling correlation between power and moral degradation.
Such an unsympathetic view towards power, if taken seriously, will always lead one to oppose its use. Which is ludicrous, as power is necessary to accomplish anything good or virtuous at all.
Furthermore, nearly all the examples of power violating moral strictures are associated with one specific use case: the consolidation of power. Tyrants commit their greatest atrocities not in how they acquire their power but in how they preserve it. This obsession with retention causes them to pre-prosecute any potential enemies.
And such extravagant methods of power retention are only necessary because power is rare. Scarcity of any substance leads to hoarding and suspicion. A world where power is universal and abundant would never see power-hunger lead to corruption and violence (humans in that world would certainly find something else to fight over, though—perhaps rare Beanie Babies).
And all of this is important because, naturally, it leads back to me.
Good Writers are Powerful
Or, put another way, you can tell how good a writer someone is by how powerfully they write.
One piece of common knowledge that I do agree with is that good writing is powerful writing. And anyone who believes he is a good writer but who cannot exercise power over their audience is lying to himself.
I’ve covered this topic before, and I must say this philosophy has led me to become powerful, in my writing and in my approach to life. It’s been successful enough that I am able to create immersive experiences for readers. Through the careful placement of words and ideas, I have become a magician who conjures feelings within my audience. I engineer their conscious experience.
And I am firm in proclaiming that such power need not engender any kind of corruption. Though I have to admit, it has become easier to hurt people.
The Sharp Tongue of a Great Writer
I am certainly not the first person to observe this.
From ancient times all the way up to the present, authors have been caught using their power to insult, denigrate, and even dehumanize whatever target they wished to destroy. Such power lay not only in the platforms these authors controlled but in the language they employed.
Recall how much Bite was employed by Oscar Wilde when he wrote, “Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.”
Remember the sweet fire employed by Dorothy Parker as she quipped, “If all the girls attending [the Yale prom] were laid end to end, I wouldn’t be at all surprised.”
Or, from Shakespeare: “Thou art a boil, a plague sore, an embossed carbuncle in my corrupted blood.”
And those were quotes from those authors’ works of fiction. The barbs they used for real people were far less charitable. H.G. Wells called G.B. Shaw “An idiot child screaming in a hospital.” And Charles Baudelaire declared Voltaire “the king of nincompoops, the prince of the artificial, the anti-artist”.
Now, not every example of authorly venom is evidence of corruption. Some of it may even have been accurate and necessary, but it goes to show how the sharpness of language, wielded so effortlessly by those who construct sentences for a living can ruin friendships and cause all manner of strife.
We Are Worse than They
The problem of people running their mouths to instigate all manner of friction has become amplified in this, the era of mass communication.
Now that everyone has a platform, the only difference in playing field comes from the level of language mastery practiced by each opponent. The most refined writers find themselves wielding weapons-grade verbage.
And this, more than anything else, behooves us to be gentle. The temptation to amass scalps has the potential to destroy all public discourse. And a timid, young, or inexperienced soul who finds themselves at the point of a seasoned writer’s dagger may find their sacred reputation in pieces, and left with few options.
It is for this reason that I call on all competent sentencesmiths everywhere to be gentle. More than gentle, even: be forgiving. There is nothing less helpful than trying to score points, and real discussion and exploration of ideas is in dangerously short supply.
In other words, there is a deficit of constructive energy within our communications. The jobs board is full of vacancies, yet few are signing up.
Please note that I do not call for an end to friction. There will always be a need for disagreement, even vehement disagreement. But even such opposition could do without all the vitriol. Surely, we have the power to plant our own standards without defecating.
Fair writers, be gentle.
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