“The Centrality of Reading and What Can and Will Happen When Our Young People and Citizens Cannot Read,” by Andrew J. Schatkin
First, let me say that reading in general and the reading of books I see as important and essential, even indispensable. Reading is something I cannot do without and some books are indispensable to me, such as Bowell’s Life of Johnson; Milton’s Paradise Lost; St. Augustine’s Confessions; The Bible; Dante’s Paradiso Inferno and Purgatorio; The Dialogs of Plato; the Poems of Keats and Shelley; Bertrand Russell; John Stuart Mill; and the more recent authors C.S. Lewis, Dickens, and Henry James. These and many other minds I cannot do without; although I do not read them every day, when I have time to dip into them I am uplifted and improved in my thinking and in my soul and spirit.
I have to say that many in our population do not read. I can give reasons for this but I track the failure to read and read the books I mentioned to the quick fix electronic culture we live in, which consists of fast little messages, whether text messages or emails. These messages demand no thought and so I think there is the result of the inability to focus on more complex written work. There is a vast gap in complexity and the demands of focus between Tolstoy’s War and Peace and Anna Karenina and Harry Potter. And so our present culture militates against reading perhaps at all, and even not being able to read with the focus required the complex works I have mentioned. Television, radio, cinema, and computers, and these sources of information that surround us in our daily lives are props where our minds are not truly engaged. These stimuli are like drugs and at some point have little or no effect. If we grow to depend on these media, we eventually intellectually die a slow death.
So what must result when a society exists where people do not read, or read only in a limited fashion, whether the headlines of a newspaper or signs and advertisements? I am told the medium of reading has altered and changed to audio books and reading on phones, but I am not convinced of this, particularly with respect to the older books of the western canon which not only are not being assigned in our school systems, but, even more deadly, the only books assigned are those written within the last five to ten years, reflecting current fads and modernism and politics.
When books, and the important books I mentioned here, are no longer read and known, the result is twofold. The creative faculties of the mind no longer trained and connected with the print medium leading to atrophy. People are no longer able to think independently and critically, but accept or may accept with no question or examination the system they are in and what the media puts or thrusts on them. When our population is no longer essentially able to think, our system must and will be brought down to a kind of gray haze of nothing more than quick little soundbites, a society without content and without thought.
There is a second and even worse and more deadly result. When our young people and middle-aged and old no longer read, they are ripe for demagoguery and being swayed by the forces of totalitarianism and dictatorial control. When people cannot read, they cannot think and they will take up what is fed to them by evil forces, whether fascism or communism or whatever forces and lies seek control and seek to fool and manipulate our worthy citizenry; and people are so often faced with slogans and political code words that they are unable, because of their inability to read, understand these forces and properly interpret what is happening.
An uninformed and essentially illiterate people are easily fooled in their political decision-making process and the result must be a voting process that is seriously compromised and to some extent not real and enables the forces that seek solely for power to attain their object and, having obtained power, proceed to consolidate their power and doing so most easily with a population that barely grasps what is occurring, leading to an effective dictatorial takeover of our system. Not to read is not to know, and not to know is to be blind to evil, wickedness, and those forces akin to these which can most easily fool and manipulate a people that cannot and are unable to know and grasp truth.
I add in understanding and explanation of the apparent decline in reading among our general population that before TV and radio, print was the only means of mass communication and mass entertainment. Hence people read more and widely as opposed to the present age which affords many alternative forms of entertainment, whether movies, TV, radio, and computers, and all sorts of phones. A very short time ago, when print was the only mass communication and mass entertainment mode, people read considerably more than now. Hence one reason here given for the decline in reading.
My dear readers, thinkers, and intellectually discerning, I do truly hope this essay has shed some light on what may be in store for us and what we must do to stop this chain of events where our society essentially becomes illiterate and the state takes over the minds of the people. In sum, I ask everyone to please heed my warning that a decline in reading is in fact a decline in freedom.
Please feel free to respond to this essay to my email address, email@example.com.
I owe a debt in my thinking in this essay to a wonderful book I urge you all the read entitled, “How to Read a Book,” by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren, pub. by Simon and Schuster, 1940, pp. 345 and 346.