The Literate and the Illiterate

Article in ZeroHedge on American illiteracy:

We live in two Americas. One America, now the minority, functions in a print-based, literate world. It can cope with complexity and has the intellectual tools to separate illusion from truth. The other America, which constitutes the majority, exists in a non-reality-based belief system. This America, dependent on skillfully manipulated images for information, has severed itself from the literate, print-based culture. It cannot differentiate between lies and truth. It is informed by simplistic, childish narratives and clichés. It is thrown into confusion by ambiguity, nuance and self-reflection. This divide, more than race, class or gender, more than rural or urban, believer or nonbeliever, red state or blue state, has split the country into radically distinct, unbridgeable and antagonistic entities.

I don’t think this is really about America, or even about illiteracy. US literacy rates are probably 99%, like most of Europe. It’s just that people watch movies and TV much more than they read books or newspapers. Theirs is a world of images and symbols rather than texts.

And is it really true that only literate people are uniquely able to “separate illusion from truth”?

I think you can actually make a good case that it’s the literate people who are least able to separate illusion from truth, because the literate inhabit a richer environment that provides far more abundant opportunities for illusion. The literate can get fooled in lots more ways than the illiterate. If nothing else, a great deal of literature is fiction that conjures up illusory worlds – like Alice in Wonderland. And even the non-fiction has fictional elements – e.g. histories that have been written from some ideological perspective. And is it any different for any other non-fiction? Books of philosophy construct new ways of looking at the world. So also do works of science. What is Newton’s law of gravity but a fiction that mirrors the real world very accurately? It’s a useful fiction, but still a fiction for all that.

And aren’t the most dangerous people very often the most literate and educated? Like Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, Leon Trotsky. Che Guevara could recite Kipling’s “If…” from memory. China’s Mao could recite Shakespeare. Almost all Britain’s spies in the post-war era were graduates of Oxford or Cambridge.

Isn’t it much more likely that it’s illiterate people who just grow plants and herd sheep and plough fields who are much more embedded in reality than any literate person who has read Kipling or Shakespeare? Aren’t such people extremely unlikely to come up with or get captivated by funny ideas?

I doubt if any illiterate man who has spent his life smoking or chewing tobacco could ever begin to imagine that smoking caused lung cancer. No, to believe ideas like that you have to be educated. You have to be literate, and able to read and absorb all the health warnings.

I also doubt that any illiterate man smoking a pipe and cooking over a wood fire could even begin to believe that there was something called carbon dioxide in the smoke that was causing something called global warming. No, once again you have to be educated – literate – before you start believing stuff like that.

These days I’m less and less inclined to to put any faith in the literate, educated elites who have all been taught – and completely believe – that smoking causes lung cancer, or that carbon dioxide causes global warming. I tend to put greater faith in relatively uneducated, ordinary people with simple common sense who never got swept away by these illusions.

And in some ways the current US presidential election is a battle between the educated, literate, US elites and the uneducated, illiterate masses, represented by a Donald Trump who speaks in the kind of 4th grade English they can understand.

Just yesterday, Barack Obama – literate, educated, one-time professor of law – said:

“I don’t think the guy’s qualified to be president of the United States and every time he speaks, that opinion is confirmed.”

For Obama, every time Donald Trump opens his mouth and speaks his 4th grade English, he reveals himself to be illiterate, uneducated, and unfit for office, unlike the likes of Obama with his 8th grade English or Abraham Lincoln with his 10th grade English.

I used to think that Trump’s problem was that he came from Brooklyn. But I now think that his problem is that, at least when he speaks in public, he uses simple English that more or less anyone can understand. Which is what you need to do if you want to reach a wide audience.

And there’s a lot to be said for simplicity. These days there’s something of a growing conflict between American English spelling and British English spelling. And even though I’m English, I’m often inclined to favour American spellings because they’re usually simpler. It’s actually simpler to write ‘honor’ or ‘humor’ than ‘honour’ or ‘humour’ because there’s one letter less in each word. And the only book by Ernest Hemingway that I ever really liked was The Old Man and the Sea, because it was entirely written in the sparkling simplest of English (and maybe not even 4th grade English).

And most of Trump’s positions just seem to me like simple common sense rather then than the (rather mad) politically correct globalist ideology of Obama and Clinton. Just yesterday Trump was asking “Wouldn’t it be better to co-operate with Russia than confront it?” Well, of course it would.

It’s very much like with Brexit in the UK, where half the country – the educated, literate half – wanted to stay inside the non-functional illusory EU, while the rest just wanted their country back.

It’ll be the same in the USA in November.


About Frank Davis

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21 Responses to The Literate and the Illiterate

  1. harleyrider1978 says:

    I predict a Trump landslide like Reagan and carter in 1980.

  2. harleyrider1978 says:

    Trump says what everybody has been speaking in private and thinking for decades. Its why he is so popular and has so much support. If they think its the illiterate then fine. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know or see grandmas smoked her whole life and is now 80 and still smoking. That alone destroys TC claims to those with no education or with education.

  3. harleyrider1978 says:

    All of us know including the lefties that this election is the end of their PC agenda driven world. That’s why they were so estatic over Obama getting in. He raped the taxpayer and our liberties and supported smoking bans and every green world objective out there. Trump seems to be the one who will abolish it and the money that financed it. No doubt obamas hoarding as much stolen money to his cohorts right now than anything so they can still stay in business after he is gone.

    • smokingscot says:

      Got a lot of time for this blogger. He didn’t write this post, however it’s the same considered style by one who knows the subject and makes it real simple for the common man to grasp.

      It throws some light on the reasons why Trump is where he is in the race. Well worth a couple of minutes.

      (Oh and Mr. Briggs also happens to agree that the climate change / global warming stuff is ever so slightly overblown).

      @ Frank. T’is the real neck ware guy.

  4. waltc says:

    Frank’s theory has a lot of merit. The sociologist/social philosopher Jacques Ellul, whose book “Propaganda” I keep recommending –12 bucks at Amazon–agrees. From the Foreword to that book–an overview by a soc prof:

    ” A central point in Ellul’s thesis is that modern propaganda cannot work w/o “education,” reversing the widespread notion that education is the best prophylactic against it. …Ellul follows through by designating intellectuals as virtually the most vulnerable to propaganda for 3 reasons: 1) they absorb the largest amount of secondhand, unverifiable information…, 2) they feel a compelling need to have an opinion on every important question and thus easily succumb to opinions offered them by propaganda, and 3) they consider themselves capable of ‘judging for themselves.’ ”

    That aside, Trump is from Queens, not Brooklyn, a sizable distinction but one that maybe only NYers understand

    • Frank Davis says:

      And ‘education’ these days usually means universities that are dominated by leftists teaching some unquestionable dogma or other, shouting down anyone who disagrees. If universities once were places where sons and daughters were sent to broaden their minds, they increasingly look like places where they’re (unwittingly) sent to close their minds. It was bad enough in my day back in the 60s, when the left were largely restricted to the social sciences. But now the rot seems to have spread everywhere. Everything has been politicised.

  5. Lepercolonist says:

    It seems more people are innumerate based on their gullibilty to anti-smoking and global warming statistical propaganda.

  6. nisakiman says:

    I read an article yesterday which seems to bear out your theory, Frank.

    This leads to the odd situation that people who are most extreme in their anti-science views – for example skeptics of the risks of climate change – are more scientifically informed than those who hold anti-science views but less strongly.

    It’s written with the usual BBC bias (which is quite amusing, given the subject matter), but is an interesting article nonetheless.

    • Frank Davis says:

      In the article climate change sceptics are quickly labelled ‘anti-science’, in the passage you quote.

      I don’t think that such sceptics are at all ‘anti-science’. They’re just sceptical of one particular dominant strand of scientific thinking.

      • nisakiman says:

        Yes, that’s what I found amusing. As I said, typically BBC slant on the situation, making the immediate assumption that if someone is sceptical of the AGW claims then they must be ‘anti-science’; ergo, they must also be wrong.

        It’s a rather splendid example of the very subject of the article!

  7. Manfred says:

    Fascinating read, thank you Frank. I am reminded of Alvin Toffler who suggested that the future in which we now live, would be divided not by class or money but by the ability to use information. His quote: “The illiterate of the future will not be the person who cannot read. It will be the person who does not know how to learn” captures this well.

    Indeed, the demise of critical thinking in favor of propaganda and politicized belief, coerced by institutionalized political correctness that draws upon Cultural Marxism has seen the erosion of Civilized Society. Now the UN happily and deliberately confabulates the term ‘civil society’ with ‘Civilized Society’ meaning their cohorts of UN sanctioned NGO’s. (some 1,300), to wit, “Civil society is the “third sector” of society, along with government and business. It comprises civil society organizations and non-governmental organizations. The UN recognizes the importance of partnering with civil society, because it advances the Organization’s ideals, and helps support its work.”

    The US election marks the beginning of righteous, rational push-back, a push-back from Progressive victimism, from a globalized eco-insanity. And in this regard Marcus Aurelius Augustus made the astute observation:
    “The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane.”

    Institutionalized insanity is surely becoming easier by the day to identify.

  8. Joe Jackson says:

    There’s a great quote from Orwell: “Some things are so ridiculous that only an intellectual could believe in them’.

  9. Pingback: A Little Bit of Franky Spanky – Library of Libraries

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