Knowledge is power. Francis Bacon made this powerful statement in his Meditationes Sacrae (1597). If this statement is true, it follows that reading and writing bring power to literate societies. These abilities enable the transmission of knowledge with far greater accuracy and context and in far greater quantity and detail throughout the world.
Of course, some leaders (most notably our current President) have managed to come to power without reading and writing. Literate (civilized) people don’t always defeat post-literate (barbarians) as Roman armies facing the Huns learned. A post-literate people is that in which multimedia technology has advanced to the point where literacy, the ability to read or write, is no longer universal.
But if you are a reader of history, you know about the European conquests of the Americas, Siberia, and Australia which herald a far more typical outcome. And this knowledge gives hope for a civilized reckoning of the barbaric leader who presently rules America.
Reading and writing make the transmission of information more accessible, more detailed, more accurate, and more persuasive. It enables literate people to determine truth for themselves. These facts are why a post-literate Trump hates a free and literate press. His untruths are instantly exposed by those who can write and they are disseminated to all who can read.
This hatred of responsible journalism vividly illustrates the paradox of literacy versus post-literacy. A gullible twenty or thirty percent of America’s post-literate people (aka Trump’s base) are susceptible to the genuinely fake news and conspiracy theories that have been propagated by Russia, tabloid television such as Fox News, internet propaganda, and the American politicians currently in power.
As my hermeneutics professor repeated time after time, “Text without context is pretext.” And unfortunately, the conservative predisposition to post-literacy throughout history bears out that powerful phrase. Post-literacy promotes pretext. Pretext means a reason given in justification of a course of action that is not the real reason.
Hopelessly conservative illiterate and post-literate people are inward-looking and hostile to change. They tend to promote populism, nationalism, racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and authoritarianism. If you don’t know what all these words mean, please look them up and memorize them now.
How else can one explain certain people’s continued defense of our current President? These people (many of my friends, followers, and family) seem perfectly intelligent as individuals, but the problem seems to lie with their slow or obstinate receptivity to the dissemination of knowledge.
Where have all the readers gone? Could this be the central problem of the United States of America? Could it answer the question of why truth evolves at different rates to different people?
According to a 2016 Pew Research survey about a quarter of American adults (26%) say they haven’t read a book in whole or in part in the past year, whether in print, electronic or audio form. So who, exactly, are these non-book readers? Could they be Trump’s base? The numbers are ironically similar.
Given the share that hasn’t read a book in the past year, it’s not surprising that 19% of U.S. adults also say they have not visited a library or a bookmobile in the past year. The same demographic traits that characterize non-book readers also often apply to those who have never been to a library. For example men, older adults, those living in households earning less than $30,000, and those who have no more than a high school diploma or did not graduate from high school are the most likely to report they have never been to a public library.
Do these demographics sound familiar?
On the other hand, college graduates are more likely than those who have only attended high school to read books in general and are more likely to vote against a post-literate such as Trump.
A friend shared a colorful and seemingly well-cited infographic she found on Facebook, Surprising Book Facts that at first blush seems to provide shocking facts such as “80% of US families did not buy or read a book last year”. But when I put my reading skills to work, I soon found that the citations and the statistics were false or as we call it in today’s world “fake news.”
These “facts” prompted me to do several impromptu polls on Facebook, and the unscientific results were much more in line with documented research. The readers are still alive and well. And most journalists (except for the tabloids and right-wing sources mentioned above) are writing with integrity and disseminating the facts.
It is a chilling symbol of our times that the actual journalists are called fake by Trump, and he lauds the counterfeit tabloids as truth. But the truth is still the truth. At least for those who can read and write and care enough to contextualize the text in their lives with other news and with history. As I often say, it is important to read deep and wide.
It is even more troubling that a small percentage of America (his fellow post-literates?) prefer to take Trump at his word rather than read, research, and verify the truth for themselves. And it is fascinating that the percentages of non-readers so closely aligns with Trump’s base.
I began with a quote so let’s conclude with one. Edmund Burke said The Only Thing Necessary for the Triumph of Evil is that Good Men Do Nothing. Perhaps we could paraphrase Mr. Burke’s excellent quote for the context of this post. The Only Thing Necessary for the Triumph of Evil is that Good People Quit Reading and Writing Truth.
What are your thoughts?