The arrest of a couple in Melton Mowbray for shooting at four burglars, wounding two of them slightly, drew the following comment from Pam Posnett, councillor for Melton North:
I feel sorry for the residents who were put in this position, I also have sympathy for the people who broke in, in so far as how the situation was handled…
Was Pam Posnett thinking of her electoral chances when she said this, calculating that there were at least as many criminals in Melton North as ordinary householders, and that therefore it was advisable for her not to come too firmly down on the side of householders against burglars?
Even more alarming, however, was the manner in which she expressed herself. It was thoroughly representative of the moral and intellectual degeneration of public life in this country. At the same time, of course, I have personal sympathy for Pam Posnett: it must be terribly boring to have to live with thoughts such as hers.
Nothing corrupts (or bores) so completely as the passive voice, and Pam Posnett speaks of people being put in situations, and of situations that were handled, as if no one were doing either the putting or the handling. Thus there is nothing to choose, morally, between the putters and the handlers, for all is a matter of fate, not action.
There are, of course, other forms of corrupt and corrupting language. A friend of mine, a distinguished doctor, was recently thrown out of his office in his hospital by the management and provided with no replacement. The ward opposite was closed down and renamed The Corporate Suite. The announcement of his eviction stated:
The move represents the first stage in of the wider agile working plan, an element of the transformation plan’s estates rationalisation work stream.
The announcement went on:
The move is an exciting but challenging opportunity for the Executive Team, who will be relocating in the area with the Transformation Support Office staff and the Communications and Engagement Team…
Opportunity to do what? No answer supplied or even implied.
So my friend is now working agilely, without a place to sit down, think, work, or write. He is agile as the homeless are out in the fresh air.
I was reminded of the passage in Shostakovitch’s memoirs in which he writes of, in Stalin’s time, ‘a great cultural event, like the closing of a theatre.’ Who, really, won the Cold War?
First published in Salisbury Review.