The power of words

The power of words

This is a blog about the power of words.  

The reason?  The loss of someone close to one of our dearest friends.  It was with humour and incredible bravery that he stuck two fingers up at Death as it approached.  He just didn’t blink.  He used words to make people laugh, he used words to let folk know that they should celebrate who he was with him.  Pity and sadness were not allowed, especially the former.  The latter could, and would, come later as it has now.   

As Love Of My Life, LOML, and I discussed this delightful and loved human being it brought to mind the poem that was spoken at the funerals of LOML’s father and mother.  

Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep

Do not stand at my grave and weep 

I am not there. I do not sleep. 

I am a thousand winds that blow. 

I am the diamond glints on snow. 

I am the sunlight on ripened grain. 

I am the gentle autumn rain. 

When you awaken in the morning’s hush 

I am the swift uplifting rush 

Of quiet birds in circled flight. 

I am the soft stars that shine at night. 

Do not stand at my grave and cry; 

I am not there. I did not die. 

Mary Elizabeth Frye

An example of how beautiful words can be.  How moving.  How inspiring.  

A quick search on Wikipedia provides some background.  Mary Elizabeth Fry was an American born in November, 1905 and died September, 2004.  The genesis of the poem, written in 1934, was inspired by the story of a young Jewish girl, Margaret Schwarzkopf, who had stayed with the Frye household.  She was unable to visit her dying mother in Germany due to anti-Semitic unrest.  

Anti-semitic unrest.  A horrible phrase, created by an obscene philosophy that pilloried a discrete religious / racial group and, in the end, exterminated in excess of six million of them.  

An example of how words can stir up hate.  

An example of how words can result in the death of millions.  

You will have your own examples of these promoters of hate and populist manipulation.  They tweet, they (mis-)use Facebook, (that dreadful, irresponsible publisher with no moral compass at all), they lie in the press and on television.  Without any sense of guilt or responsibility.  

And yet, and yet, we know that words can inspire and bring people together.  So, let’s use words that counter the hate and vilification espoused by others;  let’s use words that create laughter;  let’s use words that move us to a higher level of our humanity.  

Just like the man I have written about at the beginning of this blog.  

J J Mitchell

‘No one left behind’ 

Isn’t nuance an interesting word?

Isn’t nuance an interesting word?

The dictionary definition is:  characterised by subtle shades of meaning or expression.  

Using a thesaurus, one comes up with :  fine distinction, subtle, shade, shading, gradation, variation, modulation, degree; subtlety, nicety, refinement, overtone. 

Okay, that works for me.  As an inkster who writes fantasy, I need to use language that, while still making a point, has shades to it so that it becomes believable.  To go extreme will merely turn the reader off and make the writer appear ridiculous.  

That’s what I was going to blog about.  

Then the attack in Christchurch, New Zealand happened.  

At the time of writing, fifty are known to have been murdered.  An almost equal number are in hospital, many of whom are suffering life changing injuries.  Let’s not mention those who love them and are equally traumatised.  Let’s not mention that this happened whilst the murdered and wounded were at prayer in their mosque.  Let’s not mention the hate speech that Twitter and Facebook enable.  Let’s not mention the legitimacy felt by members of the extreme right to feel it is ‘righteous’ to kill others due to the language of hate and division espoused by the populist leaders of this world whom they follow.  Let’s not mention the current occupant in the White House;  Steve Bannon;  Viktor Orbán in Hungary; Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil;  Italy’s far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, (‘the only extremism that deserves attention is Islamic’).  Let’s not mention that, eh?  

Well, dear reader, fuck that.  (Yes, I am angry.)  Let us mention it.  

Let us mention that their utterances have made opponents into enemies, (you kill your enemies).  Let us mention that their utterances have delegitimised civilised debate and called it weakness.  Let us mention that their ill-defined populist utterances have stoked fear where there should be trust.  

These ‘leaders’, (I use the term so very, very loosely), must be held to account.  There must be no nuance in placing the responsibility at their feet, their mouths and their sorry excuse for a brain.  

No nuance here.  They are responsible.  Hold them and those of their ilk responsible for creating the environment where this can happen.  Let us watch them try to scramble away from having any responsibility for what has been done in their name, their beliefs, their utterances.  (It’s already happening.)  

Finally, I’ll end with mention of an article by Frans de Waal, a Dutch primatologist and ethnologist.  In other words, he studies animal behaviour and is pretty good at it.  Makes for interesting reading.  

In his article, ‘What animals can teach us about politics’, (herehe wrote about the link between our biology and culture, ‘no humans ever existed without biology, nor any without culture.’  

He also made numerous points about leadership, bullying and using fear as a coercive leadership tool.  Leaders that use the latter tend to reign for short periods of time.  Those using more enabling approaches tend to last longer.  It is within us all to wish for peace, to be able to get on with our lives without causing harm to others.  However, when people feel disenfranchised, powerless, they tend to respond to those who promise to deal with the society that caused that disengagement.  

Civilisation is not some outside force: it is us.  Social life is very much part of our primate background, as are cooperation, bonding and empathy. This is because group living is our main survival strategy.  

Primates are made to be social, made to care about one another and made to get along, and the same applies to us. Civilisation does all sorts of great things for us, but does so by co-opting natural abilities. It works with what we have to offer, including an age-old capacity for peaceful coexistence.

Peaceful coexistence.  Lovely phrase that.   

Couldn’t be clearer.  No nuance there.  

J J Mitchell

‘Never leave anyone behind’ 

It is this, this humanity that makes me retain hope.

It is this, this humanity that makes me retain hope.

Last week, the love of my life, LOML, and I were watching a television programme about the Lockerbie disaster.  Thirty years ago, on 21 December, 1998, Pan Am Flight 103 was blown out of the sky killing 270 people, (243 passengers, 16 crew, 11 on the ground.)  As was said in the programme, it was the largest number of people killed in a terrorist incident ever experienced by the UK.  

Now, this blog is not about who did this or who did that, (there’s still debate as to who was responsible), no, this is about the people of Lockerbie and what they did.  How they opened their doors and hearts to those affected by this dreadful incident.  

The programme had softly spoken people talking about what had happened, what they had seen.  All said in an understated way that made what they were saying even more powerful.  No emotion apart from some once or twice having to stop talking as grief washed over them yet again.  You could sense their anguish and regret.  

The people of Lockerbie went further.  Once there was no further need for the clothing found scattered around the countryside to be retained for forensic purposes, everything was washed, ironed, packaged, and sent to those still grieving relatives.  It was all about respect and compassion.  

It is this, this humanity that makes me retain hope.  

Then there were the people who queued for hours to donate blood after the attack on the Twin Towers, September 11, 2001.  Their wish to show they cared, were involved.  

It is this, this humanity that makes me retain hope.  

The reaction of people after the two bomb attacks in London.  How people risked their own lives to save others.

It is this, this humanity that makes me retain hope.  

The response of those in London in 2017 doing their best to save lives, even if it meant risk to themselves, when a van deliberately drove onto the pavement, killing and maiming people.

It is this, this humanity that makes me retain hope.  

There are so many other examples since that dreadful event on 21 December, 1998.  Where people have given their own lives to save others.  Where people have done so without thought of their own survival.  Many have died unsung.  Unknown.  

It is their humanity, and those of us who care, that makes me retain hope in these troubling times.  

We must never, never, ever, allow those who wish to capitalise on our differences, (race, gender, belief systems, colour, whatever), for their own purposes to succeed.  We must needs see through the lies and fabrications used on those two irresponsible, immoral and shameless publishers, Twitter and Facebook, for what they are.  A mechanism for control.  A mechanism for creation of hate and discord.  We must needs see through all of this misdirection to the humanity that connects us all.  

Once we have done that, then my belief in the humanity of those around us will no longer just be a hope, it will be a reality.  

Continuing to show, to share, our common humanity is my (retained) hope for 2019 for you and yours.  

J J Mitchell

‘Never leave anyone behind’ 

Mixed feelings

Mixed feelings

I started writing this on 11 November, the day the Armistice was signed which brought the end to the First World War.  After millions of human beings, note the term, human beings, were killed, maimed, disfigured and mentally scarred.  For what?  A home fit for heroes?  Most went back to the same poverty they’d left when they’d joined up to protect their country from the enemies they’d been told they had.  

However, this isn’t about politics, this is about mixed feelings felt by the individual.  

The mixed feelings people have when they remember those who have died in war.  The First World War, the Second World War, Vietnam, Iraq, Israel, Egypt, Yemen, the list could go on.  And on.  And on.  The mixed feelings people have when they think about why people went to war and died.  The relief that people feel when they heard the loved one had died quickly.  The regret.  The anger at the waste.  The loss of someone you loved, knew, cared about.  All of that.  The relief when that person comes back apparently unharmed.  It needs to be remembered that the wounds might be hidden, sometimes for years.  We call it PTSD…

Then you have people having mixed feelings at a personal level.  When their Mum dies, or their Dad dies.  Or a friend you cared about lost a battle against an unwelcome ‘guest’ – liver cancer <here>  (Semper Fidelis, Bill.)  I find it with everyone I know, the mixed feelings they have when someone they love, or have known for what might be decades, is dying or suffering a lingering illness.  They love, care, respect them to the extent that they don’t want them to suffer.  They love, care, respect them to the extent that they want them to stay.  To remain and make them laugh.  To allow them to care.  To remain and continue to make them whole.  To complete, maintain the balance of their world.  

Then the person dies.  

It leaves those left behind feeling guilty that they wanted them to go and go quickly, with no pain, because although the body was there, the soul, the essence as it were, is no longer present.  And that’s where the mixed feelings come in.  Relief that the suffering is over;  anger at the person dying before you were ready to let them go;  guilt at wanting them to go because them staying was causing them physical and mental pain.  

Mixed feelings, eh?  Such a pain.  Such a load of confusion.  Such a maelstrom of emotions.  Good.  Bad.  Never indifferent.  

So very human.  

J J Mitchell

‘Never leave anyone behind’ 

I’m merely writing fantasy…

I’m merely writing fantasy…

I’m coming to the end of my second book, ‘Kold Kronicles Book Two:  Defiance’ and am in the middle of writing a big battle scene.  As always you need to balance being descriptive with not glorifying violence.  Can be a difficult balance as I know from my own experience and reading comments of other authors.  However, I need to remember, I’m merely writing fantasy…  

The other thing about coming to the end of something that, in this case, has taken almost two years to write is that you begin to feel a sense of loss.  Y’know, guilt, sadness, but most of all, what the hell am I going to write about in the next book?  That’ll be ‘Kold Kronicles Book Three:  Deliverance’ then.  

As you would imagine, research is important in any writer’s work.  For Book 2 I looked at the impact of a laser guided bomb exploading near a human body.  So, what effect would that have?  Answer – it ain’t nice.  What would be the result of gene splicing a Brazilian Banana Spider with a Camel Spider, aka Wind Scorpion?  Answer – somewhat frightening.  How dangerous would a group of gene spliced super beings be, i.e. the Schlachten, as a war-fighting unit?  Answer – you don’t wanna know.  Seriously, you don’t.  They even frighten me.  However, I’m merely writing fantasy…

Let’s then consider the world your characters inhabit.  You can look at the works of various political writers from throughout history for help in devising what you might create, (remember, I’m merely writing fantasy.)  I’ve found Montesquieu’s philosophy that ‘government should be set up so that no man need be afraid of another’ quite interesting.  Look him up, quite a guy.  Obviously good points as well as some that are questionable, but he was a writer of his time, 1689 – 1755.  Context again.  He talks about the distribution of power.  About not linking the three elements of judicial, legislative and executive power because if you do:  There would be an end of everything, were the same man or the same body, whether of the nobles or of the people, to exercise those three powers, that of enacting laws, that of executing the public resolutions, and of trying the causes of individuals. (‘Montesquieu:  The Spirit of the Laws, Book XI Chapter 6)

He also defined three types of  government:  republican, monarchical, and despotic. In the first the people is possessed of the supreme power; in a monarchy a single person governs by fixed and established laws; in a despotic government a single person directs everything by his own will and caprice.

So, I’m thinking this could be the basic scenario for the next book.  The Connectome, (the über bad, rich group mentioned in Book 2), are after a world which will bend to their will and allow them to accrue even more wealth.  To succeed requires a puppet head of state.  They make use of what I laughingly call ‘social media’, (I’ve written about that misnomer here); ‘dark money’ and a browbeaten, morally corrupt, bicameral system;  add blackmail and violence and the result is the placement of a head of state who has, by using all of the above, been able to conjoin all three elements of the society concerned into one person’s hand – his.  

This, as Montesquieu wrote:  … would be an end of everything…  Since you’d have a despotic government, where ‘a single person directs everything by his own will and caprice.  Yep, that’s worth thinking about as a framework since, as I’ve already mentioned, I’m merely writing fantasy.  

Let me build on that a tad further.  In the next book I’m considering a scenario where a key character is someone whose business background and personal appetites make him puppet to an enemy power; who uses ‘social media’ to direct foreign and domestic policy utilising dog whistle politics; who alienates foreign countries who have been allies for decades;  responds to opponents with vitriol and spleen;  and who, finally, is unaware of those manipulating his strings.  He thinks he is successful because he knows his base believe he can do no wrong – no matter what he does; whilst others cannot believe that their country is sleepwalking into tyranny.  That is until my ‘good guys’ take him on. 

Hmmm, could work.  Needs some character development and fleshing out a bit though.  

Obviously, this scenario can never happen since I’m merely writing fantasy.   

Phew!  What a relief, eh?

J J Mitchell

‘Never leave anyone behind’ 

And she had such nice shoes too…

And she had such nice shoes too…

So there we were, the love of my life, LOML, in this city of life, laughter and mellowness.  Amsterdam – it was a birthday theng.  My birthday.  The weather was hot and sunny, people wandering around, taking photographs, smiling.  A beautiful and historic city.  Suddenly the sky darkened and it looked as though it was going to rain.  When Amsterdam does rain, it does rain!  Seriously, it rains.  Bouncy type of rain.  You know, the kind where the raindrop hits the ground and it bounces up, in this case about six to nine inches.  As I said, bouncy rain.  

Rather than be soaked, LOML and I decided to go to the same place we’d visited the day before for something light to eat and something to drink.  We sat outside under the awning and watched the show as the heavens opened and the rain did its dance and bounced around on the cobbles.  Fascinating.  People running for cover, others laughing and letting the rain bounce off their upturned face and outspread arms.  Joy.  

At a table near us, a very elegant man and woman.  Him, stylish, quiet, observing the impromptu show in front of us.  Her, hair drawn back, elegant with bright intelligent eyes.  However, it was her shoes that caught my eye.  Glittery, obviously expensive, resembling sports shoes, but sports shoes that you rarely see.  She saw me looking and smiled.  

‘Madame, I was just admiring your shoes…’  I said.

‘Thank you, they’re,’ and she mentioned a luxury brand.  ‘You are here on holiday?’ she asked.

‘I am, it’s my birthday.’  

‘And where are you from?’  

‘Edinburgh, and you?’

‘Washington.’

‘Ah.’  Silence, erm, reigned.  

‘We have lived there for some time having had to leave Iran.’  

‘Ah.’

‘We have loved it there.  The generosity of the people, their welcome, but now…’  She tailed off.

‘Ah.’  (I know, I know, I can be quite articulate sometimes.)

‘He is changing the country, that man.  We have seen this before, creating fear, enemies where previously there were none.’  

‘He is,’ LOML and I said together.    

We were all quiet for a while.  Thinking, pondering.  She sighed, finished her light meal and tonic water and they left nodding their farewells.  

Both were obviously sad.  Sad for a world that was changing in a way that they thought was not for the better.  So was I.  And she had such nice shoes too…  

J J Mitchell

‘Never leave anyone behind’ 

Power without responsibility, the prerogative of the harlot, Facebook and Twitter…

Power without responsibility, the prerogative of the harlot, Facebook and Twitter…

Social media, eh?  An oxymoron if ever there was one.  Social:  from Old French, or from Latin, ‘socialis’ allied; from ‘socius’ friend.  Media, ‘the main means of mass communication…’   Well, they got one right.  With the current state of things, the hatred both have helped create, perhaps they should be renamed.  How about, Trolls-r-us?  

Troll:  1. To fish for by trolling.  2 a: to antagonise (others) online by deliberately posting inflammatory, irrelevant, or offensive comments or other disruptive content.  3 b: to act as a troll. (Merriam-Webster.com, 2017)

Seems apposite.

Both, Twitter more than Facebook, enable anonymity that many hide behind.  These, ‘the anonymous’, are able to rage against an individual, a race, a religion, sexual orientation, or whatever their hot button is, without any penalty.  Anonymity allows them to threaten others with being attacked, raped, killed, have acid thrown in their face.  Without penalty.  Let me repeat that, without penalty.  Free-speech anyone?    

To avoid criticism, both organisations define themselves as platforms rather than publishers because, well, publishers have a responsibility for what is written on their pages / sites.  Not Facebook, or Twitter, though, no, no, no.  ‘We’re a platform so don’t have the responsibility for what people write.’ Well, dear reader, that’s bollocks.  

Both enable people to demean the language of debate and social intercourse; both allow many to conflate disagreement with being an enemy, not an opponent, (I’ve already written about this);  both allow people to rage and say the most outrageous things, most of it without proof, and have their cant believed by those whose views replicate their own.  Then let’s add that both can be used to target specific groups with disinformation.  All this without responsibility.  Thank you, Twitter.  Thank you, Facebook.  Thank you, Cambridge Analytica.  

Both epitomise the modern day ‘prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages, power without responsibility.’  And we allow these two publishers to get away with it.  And we allow these two publishers to make money from what we view and from the dysfunction they have helped create.  The word obscene comes to mind.  As does immoral.  As does unforgivable.   As does harlot.  And it impacts all, and I mean all, areas of our world.  Even sport.  

Rita Panahi, an Australian journalist and social commentator, in an article in the Herald Sun, February 7, 2013, headed ’Soccer trolls abuse proves how right I was’.  

Online anonymity gives users a power without responsibility. They tweet what they would never dare say to your face and in forums inhabited by like-minded, asinine souls they egg each other on. The lack of accountability results in misogyny, racial abuse, threats of violence and insane rants posted without fear of repercussions.’ 

This is about football for God’s sake!  She continues:

The philosopher Plato argued that without accountability for our actions, we would all behave unjustly. One wonders what he would make of a modern world in which the internet affords users almost complete anonymity.’

Yep, that about nails it.  Definitely power without responsibility.  

So, it’s up to us to decide whether we wish to continue contributing to the coffers of these two organisations.  These two powerful, irresponsible, publishers.  Your choice… 

J J Mitchell

‘Never leave anyone behind’ 

So, why do we write when it can be such a pain in the bum?

So, why do we write when it can be such a pain in the bum?

I have a Twitter account as well as Facebook page.  Twitter allows me to touch base with other, in the main, like-minded folk and Facebook generally with friends and family.  Today’s blog is about the former.  I’ve already written posts about some writers, e.g. Lexi Lefevre (fabulous poet) as well as Doug Wallace (great SciFi inkster).  I’ve left feedback on the latter’s book on Good Reads here.  It’s a good book and worth reading if you’re into fantasy.  

It’s the quality of the poetry, the use of words and the imaginative worlds they create that so impress me.  Read more

On the generosity of other writers.

On the generosity of other writers.

In my last blog I wrote about the generosity of other writers.  There are so many who are willing to share their points of view, what they’ve learned and how others can learn from their mistakes.  I like that.  

Currently I’m setting the scene for a battle between the good guys and the bad guys.  The thing here is that you simply can’t just launch into something and say, battle ensued.  Where’s the context?  Where’s the development of expectation?  Where’s the satisfaction when battle does commence and your bad-ass good guys go against the bad-ass bad guys? Read more