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.