Monday, July 20, 2015

Reading Is Power

I was having one of those thought things recently, and I want to point out that it was just a thought thing. A thing like "I wonder if there's a connection here" kind of thing. Of course, since I'm about to talk about it, I think there is a connection, but my wife tells me I'm wrong about this one. But, hey, it's my thought, and she's just telling me that because I don't have any data to back it up. And, it's true, I don't have any data to back it up (she's a real data person), but, what's more, I'm not going to do the research, right now, to figure this one out, because it was just a thought thing.

However, it all makes sense to me, so I'm going to go with it. I mean, I'm going to go with it at least as far as I'm going to talk about it as an idea. It's not like I'm putting this forth as law or, even, as any kind of fact.

It does make me wonder if there's any data out there about this, though, or, even, how one would go about figuring it out. It doesn't make me wonder enough, though, to do the research.

So, anyway, here's where the thought began:
Reading Is Power

As someone who reads, this seems like a pretty obvious statement to me, but let me re-frame it by walking you through a bit of history.

For centuries (at least) only the wealthy have been able to read. Well, the wealthy and the priests, but there was wealth in the priesthood even if not controlled by the individual priests. And not just the wealthy but, more specifically, wealthy men. I'm not just talking about European culture; this has been prevalent across all cultures for thousands of years.

Now, an argument could be made that it's the wealth that created the power, but I think it was the ability to read. I think the reading created the wealth and the wealth was used to maintain the power. Books were expensive, so it was, then, easy to keep reading out of the hands of the "common man."

Over time, the power base expanded as reading was taught to those few who became successful enough, or wealthy enough, to be able to buy the knowledge. Remember, for hundreds of years, schooling only went to those who could buy it.

Eventually, though, education had to become more widely available because of a growing need for skilled professions (doctors, lawyers, even skilled laborers). And, then, an American guy had the startling idea that education should be available for all, and thus was born the public education system.

An interesting thing happened after that: Women started reading. I'm not trying to suggest that no women ever read prior to that, but, after public education, reading became available to women en masse. And, not long after that, women began to demand the right to vote. With the ability to read, women gained power.

Likewise, when under privileged minorities have learned to read, they have gained power.

When people in countries of oppression have learned to read, they have gained power.

It's through reading where ideas like "freedom" and "democracy" are spread.

Ideas are power, and ideas come from reading.

And here is where my thoughts lead me:
It is often widely bemoaned how boys don't read anymore and, when I say "boys," I mean white males in the USA. Reading has fallen out of fashion for white males and, as such, the white male power base has been eroding for years. Or decades. White men in power are gnashing their teeth about all sorts of things that are undermining their power. Like women. And "minorities." And "gays." And whoever else they complain about.

Well, I think it's their own fault. The white males, that is. It's their own fault that power is slipping from their grasp, because they have largely given up on reading and learning and are doing all they can to foster a society that thrives on ignorance, "faith," and a lack of education (the ability to read). White male leadership continually undermines the power of reading and science by clinging to... well, all sorts of things that have no factual basis.

Why?

Because they don't read.

So I don't feel bad for them that they are all fearful of losing their grip on power, because people who cling to ignorance don't deserve to lead.

16 comments:

  1. It's a shame that reading has fallen out of favor in our public education system in general, especially here in the south. I agree reading is power!

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    1. JKIR,F!: I think it's related to the fall of science amongst conservative quarters. If you don't read, you don't believe science.

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  2. Not sure when young men stopped reading. I read all the time as a kid. Perhaps we can also blame it on the distractions that do the thinking for us.
    You're right, reading is power.

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    1. Alex C: I think it probably happened in the 70s and 80s, but that's just a guess on my part.

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  3. Never thought of it like this, but you may be onto something. When Brandon and I went to that elementary school to give our talk, we were just blown away by how many of those kids love to read - answer, every single one of them. They thought we were rock stars, and they were hanging on our every word. So many of them were genuinely disappointed they couldn't read our own books. And this was an all black/hispanic school in a poor neighborhood.

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    1. ABftS: Yeah, I think this particular avenue probably deserves some study. I wish I had the resources for it.

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  4. It's an interesting thought. I do wonder why reading has fallen out of fashion for that demographic. There must be some underlying issue that is making it so. Solve that, and maybe we'll have them reading again!

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    1. Alex H: I think the underlying issue is this: For white males, reading is no longer a path to success. Not just is it not "the" path, it is not even "a" path.

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  5. I agree, reading is power. It expands minds, gives options. Too many people have lost patience with books and reading in general. They'd rather stare at a TV screen and be inundated with visual imagery. No real thinking for the viewer.

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    1. dolorah: Well, most people don't want to think. Even most readers don't want to think, which explains the kinds of things that become mega popular. (cough 50 Shades cough)

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  6. It used to be that reading and writing took too much time for the common people to be able to do it, especially with the only reading material being hand copied books. But then the printing press came along and suddenly reading and writing became useful ways for them to communicate, and of course those in power don't like that. They've been trying to regain that edge ever since.

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    1. Jeanne: Yeah... It's very unfortunate.

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  7. Ignorance, unfortunately, is powerful, too.

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    1. TAS: It is! Which is horrible.
      In so many ways.

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  8. I think you're on the right track here. A couple of points: Priests were powerful because they alone could read the Bible, and everyone else was dependent on them for what it said, let alone what it meant.

    Plus the ability to effectively mass-transfer information from generation to generation depends on literacy; oral traditions are harder and more limited.

    Some of the limits on reading came from priests not allowing things to be learned/read, and some from economic reasons: hand-written books were expensive. Gutenberg's press allowed books to become cheaper, and people wanted to read them. A lot of literacy-growth is entwined with the battle between church and state for control of education, as well.

    But the general thesis: that the ability to read and a love of reading equals power (or access to it) seems sound. It's interesting to think how much reading (as a means of acquiring information, rather than entertainment) might differ from lectures, television, movies, etc. If the brain absorbs information the same and retains it the same, reading per se could die out.

    Reading as entertainment is different than other forms, though, so I suspect that reading as communication affects the brain differently. I spent 20 minutes going and reading stuff about literacy though so that's for a different day.

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    1. Briane: Yeah, I wanted to talk about the religion stuff, but I thought the post was long enough already. That could be a whole post.

      And reading does affect the brain differently. I think I've talked about some of that before, but I'd have to go back and look. There are huge differences, though.

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