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What is the Price of Experience?Writers Rebel

XR Writers Rebel
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Today Writers Rebel took action against the Institute of Economic Affairs. We made this statement about why we did so.

We choose the Institute of Economic affairs because its work is encouraging those politicians and fossil fuel companies who are right now leading us to a cliff edge. Its utterances constantly deny the seriousness of the situation we are facing, and deflect the need for urgent action. Its members display a misplaced faith in the continued pursuit of economic growth, whatever the cost to our fragile planet. Right now, we invite everyone who cares about the future of humanity and nature to stand with us and call out this dangerous extremism before it is too late.

We have taken this action today as writers and as readers. As the writers we are, but also as readers and admirers of the writers who have come before us. William Blake and William Shakespeare.

We have acted out of a simple thought: If you were to transport any of those writers whose work we love, in a moment, from their time to ours. Mary Shelley or Mary Wollestonecroft. And if you were to show them the state of our countryside, our wildlife. William or Dorothy Wordsworth. And if you were to explain to them why the familiar air is almost empty of insects, and why they are not hearing much birdsong, or seeing the dazzle of many flowers, and why the soil is now grey and dusty, why the rivers smell of shit, and the salmon don’t leap, and why the seasons feel so strangely warm. Emily Brontë, Christina Rossetti, George Eliot. And if you were to show them the proven causes of this degradation – the continued mining and drilling, the refining and burning. Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. The incessant burning. Imagine their shock. Imagine their sorrow. Imagine their horror. Imagine their anger. What would they say? What would they say to all of us?

As writers and as readers, we can hear them. We can hear their sorrow about the loss of the nature that inspired them and nurtured them. We know they would say nothing else but, How did you let this happen?

And after we had done our best to explain, giving our good economic and social reasons, they would say, And why – if something can still be done about it – do you let this keep happening?

And after we had described the whispered arguments for inaction and the publicised lies of denial and delay from the institutes and lobbyists, they would say, Why do you not show all of this for what it is – ?


Death of hope. Death of meaning. 

Death of most of what makes life liveable, makes life wonderful.

And they would say, Why do you not cry out against this? Why do you not act?

As writers and readers, we are acting as they might have us act. We act in full awareness of our fallibility. We act, as much as anything, out of despair.



We cannot cry out any more powerfully than William Blake, who wrote:


What is the price of Experience? do men buy it for a song ?

Or wisdom for a dance in the street ? No, it is bought with the price

Of all that a man hath, his house, his wife, his children.

Wisdom is sold in the desolate market where none come to buy,

And in the wither’d field where the farmer plows for bread in vain.


It is an easy thing to triumph in the summer’s sun

And in the vintage & to sing on the waggon loaded with corn.

It is an easy thing to talk of patience to the afflicted,

To speak the laws of prudence to the houseless wanderer,

To listen to the hungry raven’s cry in the wintry season

When the red blood is fill’d with wine and with the marrow of lambs.


It is an easy thing to laugh at wrathful elements,

To hear the dog howl at the wintry door, the ox in the slaughter-house moan;

To see a god on every wind & a blessing on every blast;

To hear sounds of love in the thunder-storm that destroys our enemies’ house;

To rejoice in the blight that covers his field, & the sickness that cuts off his children,

While our olive & vine sing & laugh round our door, & our children bring fruits & flowers.


Then the groan & the dolor are quite forgotten, & the slave grinding at the mill,

And the captive in chains, & the poor in the prison, & the soldier in the field

When the shatter’d bone hath laid him groaning among the happier dead.


It is an easy thing to rejoice in the tents of prosperity:

Thus could we sing & and thus rejoice: but it is not so with us.


Writers Rebel.


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Read more about the Institute of Economic Affairs here.