Theatre in Wales

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Falsity in Public Discourse

Arts Policy Report

Sounding Good Valued Over Rigour & Reality , Public Life of Wales , September 1, 2020
Arts Policy Report by Sounding Good  Valued Over Rigour & Reality This is not an easy piece to put together. But it fits with the notion that has gone before. The nation is deep, while the state is not. In part devolution, more under the spotlight in 2020 than at any other time, is not federalism. The second is the enclosedness of public debate, almost all commentators signed-up to the corporate state. The state can plan itself into prosperity, if there is more and better planning.

Discomfort with, and a lack of knowledge of, micro-economics runs deep. There is a lopsidedness in an insufficiently diverse ecology. Banality regrettably runs through public documents.

Cognitive development stops at 25. The years of age 14 to 24 are the ones that make the mark for life and, short of crisis, go little unchanged. A language teacher, with whom I was close, went off-topic to mention an essay by George Orwell. I read “Politics and the English Language” then and I read it again in these days of disease where our social existence has been curtailed.

Ever since the Northcote-Trevelyan reforms of 1854 the culture of the civil service has placed high value on the quality of its language. Public documents comprise three elements. There is description. Description leads to diagnosis. The third level is the prescription to action or choice of actions. A skim of official documents, although perhaps unrepresentative, suggests that a devolved Wales has untethered itself from the qualities of the United Kingdom in terms of concision, application and rigour. Slackness of thinking must inevitably lead to slackness of policy-formulation.

Take the opposite. The Bevan Foundation gave this evidence to the CWLCC in its enquiry on poverty.

“The number of adults aged twenty and over in either full time or part time further education in Wales dropped by a quarter between 2012/13 and 2016/17, due to cuts to adult learning. Cuts to music education in schools and to the support offered to those who need help in buying equipment such as music instruments and cameras has also created a new barrier for children growing up in poor households.”

Or this from the WLGA:

“Libraries have experienced a cut of 35% since 2009/10 whilst culture and recreation has been cut by 42%.”

These are clear statements on aspects of culture that have occurred in recent years. Take by contrast these examples:

“Students now, whether young or old, are faced with an increasingly complex and complicated world. And you could argue that in some respects they are not necessarily being prepared adequately to cope with this complicated world. Many university courses still concentrate on single disciplines but life isn't that simple any more. So this is a way of perhaps introducing a more multi-disciplinary and more holistic approach to learning that could well stand students in good stead when they graduate as a graduate attribute. This is something that employers are looking for more and more. That students can cope with change, with complexity, with uncertainty. And in many senses his this is what sustainability is having to deal with.”

Each statement is false. The round-up to sustainability is a non sequitur, a longer way of saying nonsense.

The second:

“The top-down model that we have here in Wales, with the Arts Council given funding to administer, with that trickling down is not our vision; rather, we put the emphasis on building from the bottom up and feeding our institutions. The arts are one ecology in Wales, with the various elements reinforcing and strengthening each other.”

The institutions that make art for Wales have no income in 2020. The Arts Council has an accumulated body of knowledge possessed by no other organisation. This is language without action; its intention is to sound good.

Lack of empirical data is crucial for assertion. This is from a supposed centre of knowledge about literature.

“When you don’t see people like yourself in what you’re reading, you’re far less likely to pursue other works or see value in creative writing"

Reading books is a regular habit of around 1% of the population. The above is asserted without evidence and is probably false.

“The arts have always been at their best when they’ve patrolled the front line of tolerance, social justice and freedom of expression, inspiring us as global citizens to challenge discrimination, xenophobia and small-mindedness in all its forms.”

This is not history. It is not art history. The uplift to be “global citizens” means that the political class has learned nothing from the political upheavals of these years.

The following appear in a report from the Future Generations organisation.

“Early retired, gap-year students, activist citizens, gamer-geeks and ancestry buffs – cannot be overlooked. Engaging such people, on a voluntary basis in children’s learning, appropriately managed, would bring richness and authenticity to the new curriculum, as well as potential resource and time benefits for teachers. “

“The cross-cutting digital, numeracy and literacy elements should be supported, and in many cases delivered, by in-school dedicated and highly trained professionals.

“There are thousands of early retirees, gaming geeks, ancestry.com buffs and others who can help deliver authentic learning, not just sit on governing boards. Their social capital cannot go to waste.”

The second contradicts the others. Schools are either the province of amateurs or professionals. It is written because it sounds good.

So back to Orwell in 1946:

“The slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts...If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration...these passages have qualities that are common to all of them...lack of precision...This mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence is the most marked characteristic of modern English prose, and especially of any kind of political writing. As soon as certain topics are raised, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated hen-house.”

The more that language is congruent with the real the more it can translate into action. Words in these documents and interviews are not used for description or denotation.. Sustainability, holistic, top-down are used because they denote virtue. All have a result, to thin the culture of Wales for ideological purpose.

“Attention must be paid” was a line that Arthur Miller gave to Linda Loman. Indeed, attention must be paid. Attention was the heart for Simone Weil. “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.”

None of these quotations are intended to be read by the public. Their readership is a small group. Before there can be attention there must be care.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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