Books, Reading and Tyranny in a Postmodern World

The dumbing down of our culture continues apace, and there seems to be little hope of turning things around in the near future. A generation that knows far more about the latest moves of the Kardashians than who is the current President or Prime Minister is in pretty poor shape – and one easily manipulated by mischievous leaders.

Keeping a people ignorant, dumb, uninformed, historically illiterate and intellectually deprived while allowing them to be steeped in pop culture, MTV, easily accessible porn, and all things trivial and meaningless is a great way to control them.

books-7When the masses succumb to intellectual constipation, then the job of any dictator or tyrant is made very easy indeed. No wonder keeping the masses sedated on bread and circuses worked so well in Roman times. A dumbed down populace is an easily controlled populace. Just think of the close connection between tyranny and book burning.

And the postmodern West has only made all this much worse. By delighting in images over content, we are getting even further dumbed down, and even easier to be led like senseless sheep. Over a decade ago Arthur Hunt penned an important volume on all this called The Vanishing Word: The Veneration of Visual Imagery in the Postmodern World (Crossway, 2003).

In it he lamented the fact that in the West we have a real decline in reading and a vanishing book culture, coupled with a rise of vacuous imagery and entertainment. This is a major threat to both freedom and to biblical Christianity. Indeed, the Christian faith is primarily a word-based religion.

Hunt warns that we are “entering a high-tech version of the Dark Ages.” Says Hunt:

The devaluation of the word and its hostile supplanting by the image is a direct assault upon “the religion of the Book.” In accordance to this thought, we are all in danger of becoming pagans. Not just pagans, but mindless and defenseless pagans who would prefer to have someone tell us how to think and behave. The possibility of tyranny still exists for us today because we have lost the biblical and mental defenses to arm ourselves against demagoguery. Our children are not being equipped to spot counterfeit leaders who would lead us astray with an overabundance of pathos. Kenneth Burke told us that one reason we should study Hitler is to “discover what kind of medicine this mad-man has concocted, that we may know, with greater accuracy, exactly what to guard against, if we are to forestall the concocting of similar medicine in America.”
I want to show in the following pages how Tomorrowland has the potential to become a total triumph for idolatry. Paganism never really died in modern western culture; it was only restrained. American Protestantism effectively suppressed many pagan forms up until the twentieth century; but the advent of image-based media has brought forth a revitalization of the pagan gods in popular culture. Sex, violence, and celebrity, which are so pervasive in the media, conform to a pagan ideal. Ignoring history’s warnings of technology’s tendency to change us, we have blindly boarded a glitzy train with a one-way ticket to Digit City. Like Pinocchio, we are being hoodwinked into making a journey to Pleasure Island, and we could, quite possibly, share the same fate as those laughing donkeys.

I write all this in part because of some recent research on the reading habits of Americans. It is somewhat sombre news, depending on what is being highlighted. The findings are one of those instances of a glass being half full or half empty. For example the researchers give it a more or less positive spin as they discuss their findings:

A Pew Research Center survey finds that the share of Americans who have read a book in the last 12 months (73%) has remained largely unchanged since 2012. And when people reach for a book, it is much more likely to be a traditional print book than a digital product. Fully 65% of Americans have read a print book in the last year, more than double the share that has read an e-book (28%) and more than four times the share that has consumed book content via audio book (14%)….
Americans read an average (mean) of 12 books per year, while the typical (median) American has read 4 books in the last 12 months. Each of these figures is largely unchanged since 2011, when Pew Research Center first began conducting surveys of Americans’ book reading habits.

Image of The Vanishing Word: The Veneration of Visual Imagery in the Postmodern World (Focal Point Series)
The Vanishing Word: The Veneration of Visual Imagery in the Postmodern World (Focal Point Series) by Hunt III, Arthur W. (Author), Veith, Gene Edward, Jr. (Author), Veith, Gene Edward, Jr. (Series Editor) Amazon logo

Another take on the numbers may be less encouraging. Eric Metaxas looks at the research in a more negative light. He emphasises the worrying fact that 27% of Americans NEVER read a book in any form in the past year. Yes that is indeed a matter of concern. He begins his new article on this as follows:

So, what are you reading these days? Actually, let me back up. Are you reading these days? In the developed world literacy is higher than it’s been at almost any time in history. And that is something to celebrate. But is it possible that even in our high-tech society where so much communication depends on the written word, we may be slipping back into a kind of pre-literacy?
New data from a Pew Research study has me wondering. It turns out that more than a quarter of Americans didn’t read a single book this year, in any form. And get this: One in three American men have not read one book in the last twelve months. And those with low incomes and no college education were even less likely to do so.

He continues:

So what is going on here? We spend more time than ever reading texts, social media, and email—so why wouldn’t we be reading books, too? Well, a recent survey by Microsoft concluded that the average attention span is now a vanishingly brief eight seconds, down from twelve seconds in the year 2000. As the New York Times memorably put it, we now have shorter attention spans than goldfish.
When it comes to reading anything longer than a 140-character tweet, our ability to concentrate has plummeted. Be honest, now: How difficult is it for you to get through a half-hour Bible study without succumbing to the urge to check Facebook? It’s gotten so bad that Cal Newport proposed last month in the Times that fellow millennials take a radical step to save their careers: and quit social media.
Services like Facebook and Twitter weaken our ability to concentrate, he writes, because they’re “engineered to be addictive. The more you use social media throughout your waking hours, the more your brain learns to crave a quick hit of stimulus at the slightest hint of boredom.”
Now, I don’t think quitting social media is the answer for most people, but Newport has a point. Joe Weisenthal at Bloomberg is also right to compare our virtual world of constantly-updated snippets with pre-literate cultures where information was transmitted orally. In a society without writing or books, he explains, ideas had to be short, pithy, and memorable—in other words, “viral.”

He concludes:

The written word and books changed all of that. They allowed people to move beyond the immediate and concrete to express more timeless, complicated, and abstract thoughts. A literate people can reason and debate with one another across the ages. And that knowledge doesn’t die with individuals, or change with the telling. In books, knowledge becomes practically immortal.
Which is why it’s disheartening to hear that so many Americans today—especially men—are ignoring these treasures.
As professor Allan Bloom wrote in The Closing of the American Mind, “The failure to read good books both enfeebles the vision and strengthens our most fatal tendency—the belief that the here and now is all there is.” It makes us not only more gullible but, as the recent consternation over “fake news” on both sides of the political aisle attests—easier to manipulate.

Yes quite so. A dumbed down, illiterate and entertainment-mad culture is one that can be so very easily controlled, manipulated and managed by a handful of clever despots. No wonder this dumbing down process is being so keenly encouraged and promoted.

Dumbed down masses easily become servile masses. Freedom however is much harder to take away from a people if they are well-read, historically aware, and consciously literate. So strike a blow against tyranny today: go out and buy a book and read it.

You will be glad you did.

[1417 words]

11 Replies to “Books, Reading and Tyranny in a Postmodern World”

  1. I like to read for entertainment rather than watch the “idiot box”. Unfortunately many recent novels intentionally add anti-Christian / pro-homosexuality themes into the book without really adding to the story.

    Intentional? I bet it is.

  2. There has been a sad and steady decline in reading books. I’ve seen in it my own children where reading is not a favourite pastime like it was in my childhood.

    In 2015, 43 percent of adults read at least one work of literature in the previous year. That’s the lowest percentage in any year since NEA surveys began tracking reading and arts participation in 1982, when the literature reading rate was 57 percent.

    We are losing a sort of psychic habit, a logic, a sense of complexity, an ability to spot contradictions and even falsity.” says Mitchell Stephens, a journalism professor at New York University and the author of A History of News.

    Postman, a professor of communication arts at New York University, believes this loss is now being felt in our cultural activities and in our politics, as well as in our children’s SAT scores, and that it could get worse. But of course such prophecies are delivered in print, so no one pays much heed.

    Very sad.

  3. “You are what you become through the books you read and the people you are associate with. And if you only read 1 book per year until you die, about 70 books in total, then that is around the limit of your knowledge, so choose well and read more.”
    That is roughly what I was told when I was around 12 ylds, by an off duty police officer. He’s right, I’m now 50 —- and outside of family, he’s largely responsible for where I’m at.[ He also added that you should play a team sport.]

    Like your article does for adults Bill, it gets kids thinking. Thanks and God Bless.

  4. Thanks Bill another good one to make us think,

    This year I must admit to not having read many books and have used the computer more than last when I didn’t have one. The other day I wondered while watching a video on google in which an adult filled some biscuits with toothpaste which a child then ate, whether or not Americans ingest toothpaste all the time and whether or not the toothpaste in America contains fluoride? Fluoride as we know is poison and is contained in our water supplies here in Australia, it is scraped from the insides of chimneys at aluminum smelters then added to prevent build up in pipes, to keep them from clogging or rusting as I understand. Fluoride also has the affect of lowering the intelligence of its consumers and making them more compliant it was even used in German prison camps.

    Hedonism, idolatry, sensationalism etc., are as rife today as in Biblical times, it is because of sin and it seems nearly everyone is falling for it because many people prefer to watch TV rather than read books even in the church, a lot of Christians, like non-Christians are not educated well enough to read books or to know what type of books to read. On google I also saw a video about fake news and the man named Mark who was reporting on the phenomenon you talk about made it sound interesting but I think I may spend time reading the books in my pile instead of searching for such subjects on the Internet or reading email, posting Scripture with images etc. for a while I think. Blessings and thanks Bill

  5. In the beginning was the Word, but today they say a picture is worth a thousand words which is something the cultural Marxists have tapped into, feeding us with a constant diet of TV, films and videos. In Britain the post of Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport has been dominated by homosexuals and queer lovers.
    Ben Bradshaw, homosexual, was the Secretary of State in 2009, who when addressing the launch of the LGBT history month in the British Museum said,
    “…we have a reputation as one of the most creative and culturally interesting countries in the world”. Furthermore, “in a large part it’s thanks to the cultural communities in this country that 30 years after Harvey Milk became the first openly gay man in public office that I am seen as politician who happens to be gay …”
    Bradshaw went on to say … “there are still a lot of battles to be fought……We have come a long way…..We now have to work on hearts and minds. We can do this through culture…..The cultural sector has traditionally swept the rest of society along in its wake on equality issues and LGBT History Month is a chance to put our foot down even harder.”

    The present British Secretary of State is Karen Bradley MP, another useful idiot.

    She said, “I don’t get as much time as I would like to enjoy reading nowadays, but when I do get the chance I usually turn to a crime thriller. I have read every Morse, Dalziel and Pascoe, Frost and Rebus that’s been printed, and have mourned the passing of far too many characters over the years – many of whom came to very sticky ends.”

    No wonder we have bred a generation who are incapable of either articulating or hearing profound thinking as in days of old. Anything before Charles Spurgeon would sound like Mandarin.

    David Skinner UK

  6. I read some articles about this reading problem late last year and began monitoring my own reading habits. I have always considered myself an avid reader but over the years I was unaware that I was no longer reading books, but had shifted to the ‘bite-sized’ article format of internet websites – albeit ones of quality (such as Culture Watch, of course). I decided it was time to get back to books and dusted off an old favourite from my shelves and was appalled to find I now had a poor attention span. I lost focus rapidly after about 2 pages. I took this seriously and decided things had to change. But I still didn’t take any action for a few months, until I came across yet another article (in my regular diet of them) proposing the idea of setting yourself a reading challenge – the idea being that at the beginning of the year, you set yourself a target number of books for the year and set out to meet it. I decided to set myself my own challenge this year as a way of turning things around, and restoring my declining attention span. I didn’t think much about what would be an ideal goal but decided that 100 books sounded like a good round figure, and so I began to read on January 1st, and met my target goal mid November. I’ve almost finished book 104, so have surpassed my goal. I have regained my ability to focus on something of length (my books have averaged out to 250 pages) and I have rediscovered the lost pleasure of sitting in one spot for a couple of hours sharing the mind of an author, over a range of genres – favourites being theology, philosophy and apologetics – the same subjects as my diet of article reading. But I mixed it up with some Agatha Christie crime and old childhood favourites such as The Famous Five, and classic children’s literature.
    It’s been a rewarding experience. I don’t plan to set a goal for 2017, as I have achieved what I set out to do, but now that the habit is established again I intend to keep it going. I motivate myself by keeping a reading diary where I record the books I read and the dates I finished them, which is wonderful to look back on, and I will continue to keep this as I read to motivate me to keep going.

  7. Just to follow on from my previous comment, this morning I found the link to the reading challenge that got me started this year (see below). It’s all up and running now to set reading goals for 2017. It’s a great way to start if you are a bit confused yourself about where and how to start and what books to read. I followed the suggestions on the list for a while this year but by May I had all but abandoned it and was selecting my own choices most of the time, but dipping into the list now and again.
    The only downside to the whole thing is that books have replaced food and clothing in my fortnightly budget. Can’t wait to dip into the pile of latest purchases spread over my coffee table during the Christmas/New Year break.

  8. Hi Bill
    My wife and I have a wonderful method to ensure we read a plethora of books every year. We both like biographies, so I read aloud to her while she crochets beanies for “Love in a Shoebox”. Over the years, we have read hundreds of books, enjoyed precious times with each other and with different authors, and blessed many hundreds of children with warm snuggly beanies. How good is that !
    God bless, Vic

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