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Writing, Reading, and Propaganda

Sonal Panse,

Writing is one of those complex skills that can be taught only so far and no further. Once you know how the grammar works and have a fair amount of vocabulary in the arsenal, you are on your own as regards to how you put everything together and create what can credibly be described as good writing. By good writing, I mean a work which, along with an elegant turn of phrasing, shows clarity of expression and clarity of thought, makes the precise point it wants to make, and can be reasonably understood by a knowledgeable audience, should they choose to read it.

One of the ways you can pick up the fine nuances of writing is by reading extensively. There is much to be learned from studying the technique and style of other writers, past and present. What do they think and how do they think and why do they think what they think? How do they put forth their point of view? How do they set up and describe a scene? How do they describe a character and why is it effective or not effective? What kind of vocabulary do they use? Every individual has his or her own distinct style, and the more styles you are exposed to the better you will become in your own writing, because you will see how many different ways there are of expressing something.

In addition to improving your writing skills, reading widely is essential for developing a broader mental perspective. Most of us, on our own, are only able to view part of the bigger picture, the part that we are accustomed to and limited to by social, physical, and geographical conditioning, and it takes exposure to the viewpoints of others, especially those that are very different from us, to extend our outlook and give us a better understanding of things. This is especially important for a writer, because in order to write something worth reading, you have to have something worthwhile to say, and in order to say something worthwhile, it helps to be eclectically well-informed.

And just how well-informed you can truly be, however, it must be mentioned, does depend on your individual capacity for enlightenment, tolerance for enlightenment, and acceptance of enlightenment.

You see, it is possible to be well-read and to not be a coherent thinker. It is possible to know quite a lot and yet not be able to connect the dots and see the bigger picture. It is possible to wear the mantle of the public intellectual and yet be quite uninformed about the extent of one's true ignorance.

There are people who believe and accept whatever they read or hear, without really questioning the veracity of the matter or wondering if the informant had any ulterior aim in pushing the story. It is enough for them that the story appeared in a 'prestigious' media outlet, reported by an 'influential' person. They then go on to write about it and are read and believed by like-minded masses and everyone ends up becoming an echo chamber for propaganda.

To avoid this fate, it is essential to develop an inquiring, critical mindset. Which is, of course, easier said than done. It is difficult to go around with the critical faculties on the high alert all the time, and a good deal of tailored misinformation already comes at us insidiously through so many different and unexpected channels. You might be reading a romance novel, a thriller, a magazine article, or even a poster on a wall, for instance, and there will be a snippet about an event or an issue included in there, quite innocuously, as though it is a factual truth that doesn't require any questioning, and since you are not in the questioning mode anyway, you swallow it and continue on, and the little snippet remains embedded in your memory as something that is true, more so if you happen to encounter it repeatedly thereafter. And then you may use it, unwittingly and ignorantly, to base your assumptions on later and maybe even build an entire edifice on the basis of what may actually be an out and out falsehood.