American Consequences - January 2018

communication was first developed are estimated to have been less than 1%. You’d take your grocery list to the grocer and he’d say, “That’s just a bunch of cuneiforms. We’re out of cuneiforms. But have you tried the figs?” Over the next five millennia, things did not progress quickly. In 1550 in Western Europe, arguably the most advanced and developed part of the world, the literacy rate was less than 20%. In 1950, the global literacy rate was still only about 56%. I have a copy of my Great Grandfather O’Rourke’s marriage certificate with an “X” where his signature should be. Although, maybe Great Granddad had been drinking. People would rather drink than read and write. People would rather do anything than read and write. People would rather thump on a tub, blow into a bottleneck, listen to a banjo, and sing 96 verses of “Old Stewball.” Folk music is a perfect example of how desperate people are to entertain themselves by any means other than reading and writing. Reading rubs us the wrong way because to be human is to be dyslexic. Which direction does what chicken scratch go? What squiggle sounds like which squawk? Have I got my hangers where my pothooks ought to be? It’s a problem we’ve had forever. Look at the ancient Greek alphabet: Γ , Λ , Ω , and Ψ , for Then the computer arrived and mankind’s long journey up from mental darkness came to an abrupt halt.

example. The ancient Greeks had the “L,” “V,” and “U” upside down and the “E” sideways. No wonder nobody could read. Reading is as hard as thinking, and people hate to read just as much as they hate to think. Never mind that reading and thinking are good for them. The world would be spared a lot of trouble if people read and thought more. Take the invasion of Mongol hordes, for instance. What if Genghis Khan had thought it over and read up on the subject? He would have said, “Wait a minute... I’m invading Kazakhstan? For what? I think I’ll stay in the tent with my 500 wives.” To read is to think. Higher thought is impossible without a means of transcription. How could Albert Einstein explain “E = MC2” without writing on a blackboard? He’d have to tell the physics class, “There’s a stick sticking straight up with three more sticks pointing out of it this way. After that two flat lines, one on top of the other. Then a picture of a mountain range and a silhouette of a breast plus a mark that means one-two, but little bitty and up where the breast’s shoulder should be.” With the spread of reading and writing, mankind’s long journey out of mental darkness began. From the middle of the 19th century to the middle of the 20th century, there was a golden age of print media. People would read anything. People read poems. People read really, really long books. An empty ship bound for Australia could use the weight of one copy of an average George Elliot novel for ballast.

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