A Defense of Illiteracy & Critique of Books

How literacy and literature are degraded by replacing outcomes with symbols of identity, status and virtue.

As a writer, voracious reader and bookstore employee, my entire life revolves around literacy and literature. I point this out so that the reader can understand that I am not against literacy or literature. However this level of familiarity has helped me view things from many angles, and sometimes books and reading do not come out on top. It is not my intent to suggest an end to literacy and printed products, but to recognize the limitations and pitfalls – and to prevent books and reading from slipping away from their actual merits into empty symbols of identity, status and virtue.

To begin to understand this we must first untangle the false equivocation that literacy and intelligence are the same. There are many types of intelligence and many of them do seem to correlate with literacy, but not all of them. Whether we are discussing psychological concepts like emotional intelligence or something more vague like ‘common sense’ or ‘street smarts’ we all have some general idea of how intelligence can take different forms. Yet even the ability to command reason seems to occur outside of the sphere of literacy.

Charlemagne and Genghis Khan are two historical examples of individuals whose achievements must have required great reasoning skills that were employed without the ability to read and write. However these examples predate the age of enlightenment, during which time literacy became far more widespread and has been equivocated with intelligence since; while great minds that couldn’t read and write have graced us even after that revolution in literacy.

Sojourner Truth was one of America’s first great champions of the equal rights of women and African Americans, as well as an abolitionist and former slave. Her ‘Ain’t I A Woman’ speech…

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