Monday, November 19, 2012
Posted by R J Ellory at 12:22 pm
HOW TO KILL A CULTURE My mission is very simple: I want to kill a culture. I have been thinking about this for a long time. It has engaged my thoughts and energies for a considerable number of years, and I think I have the key. I am sure it has to do with reading. It has to do with literacy. It has to do with the way in which we communicate with one another, the way we educate our children, the way we create the next generation. I think I shall begin with television. I shall ensure that the vast majority of televisual ‘entertainment’ is banal and unimaginative. I’ll create ‘reality’ shows that present the most mundane ideas as interesting and important. I’ll work my way into schools. I’ll incapacitate a teacher’s ability to just teach by overwhelming them with bureaucracy and paperwork. I’ll frustrate all their endeavours with rules and regulations designed simply to inhibit their natural ability and purpose as an educator. Then I’ll start to close the libraries. I’ll say it’s because of lack of funding. Everyone is already worried about money, about tax, about the rising cost of social needs, and it will be easy to convince them. After all, who’s using them nowadays? Certainly not the kids, right? Of course, I’ll keep on funding the manufacture of arms and drugs and other such vital things, but the libraries can definitely go. Then I’ll lower the price of books. That will be easy enough. I’ll talk about a fair marketplace, the necessity for competition. I’ll use business terms. I’ll put it all in the realm of finance and commerce, and most people won’t really understand it. I’ll devalue the worth of a book to such an extent that bookstores and publishers will go out of business and writers won’t be able to support themselves. It might be difficult at first. I might face some protest, some disagreement, but those that have the will to protest and disagree will be in the minority. You see, the longer my plan continues the less people will be reading anyway, and those that do read will be served a diet of ‘literature’ that does not challenge, that does not provoke debate, that does not raise intelligence or enhance their understanding of life. We wouldn’t want that, would we? I mean, there have been dangerous precedents, haven’t there? Upton Sinclair’s novel ‘The Jungle’, when read by Theodore Roosevelt, provoked a government-ordered enquiry into the way Americans were being fed. Sinclair used the proceeds of the book to build a socialist meeting house, and went on to write another one hundred books about industrial corruption. Edith Maude Eaton’s ‘Mrs. Spring Fragrance’ highlighted issues about racism against the Chinese in America that caused the Chinese Exclusion Act to be repealed in 1943. Conrad’s ‘The Secret Agent’ was the first acknowledged publication about the truths of terrorism. Fiction can powerful, provocative, contentious, impactful, unforgettable, and even when read for pleasure alone, there are few books that do not – even in some small way – change the perspective of the reader. Wasn’t it Helen Exley who said, “Books can be dangerous. The best ones should be labelled ‘This could change your life’”? So yes, I have to be careful of those who read, of those who encourage and promote reading, of those who would attempt to inspire others, of those who would seek to fire the imagination or lift the spirit of their fellow Man. And if I am successful in my mission, if I manage to reduce the population to unthinking, unquestioning robots who merely do what they are told, who believe what they hear on the radio or television, who never challenge or fight back or demand justice for wrongdoing, then what will I have? Well, I will have exactly what I want – a society without art, without music, without culture, without vision, without a future. It was accomplished by the Romans, you see? They brought the society down to a point where sex and violence became the mainstay of that culture’s ‘entertainment’. It was accomplished in Hitler’s Germany, where people became afraid to say anything at all that contradicted the ruling tyranny. It was the same in Stalin’s Russia. Yes, I am sure it has to begin with reading. If I can kill the desire to read, if I can stem the availability of books and literature, then more than half the battle will be won. Now, you will read that, and you will think, “This is not the same. This is not Rome or Germany or Russia. This is the modern west. This is not comparable at all.” Or is it? Since April of 2011, we have closed over one hundred and fifty UK libraries. A further two hundred and twenty-one static libraries and thirty-six mobile libraries are now under threat. If that threat becomes a reality, we will have reduced the number of UK libraries by twelve percent. That’s one in eight. As for independent bookstores, just today an article in The Telegraph reports that the number of UK bookstores has halved since 2005. That’s over 2000 closures in the last seven years – over two hundred and eighty a year, close to six a week. Six hundred towns now have no bookshop at all. The library at Thebes was considered to be the greatest in the world. There were four words inscribed over the doorway: “Medicine For The Soul.” That – for me – says it all. Telling stories is as old as speech, and no less important. Telling stories is a tradition, a heritage, a legacy…it is the past making its way toward the future in an effort to show us those things we have failed to learn by our own experience. Telling stories is a hope that magic can be restored to an age that has almost forgotten. Through the pages of a book we discover history, science, music, art, the collected lessons of the thousand or more years of thinking Man, and if the lessons for the future are not to be learned from the past, then were will they be learned? We are bound by rules and regulations. A society exists, due – in some part – to the existence of rules and regulations, but those rules and regulations can be viewed as lines within which to remain, or lines to cross. More often than not, any accomplishment of value flew in the face of considered opinion to the better. Without those who defied mediocrity and good behaviour, we would have no electricity or air flight, there would be no Michaelangelos or Thomas Edisons; we would not possess the technology to address the problems that exist in this world. I believe wholeheartedly that we – as a race of people – possess the wherewithal, the intelligence, the financial and technical resources to cure all of Man’s ills complete. If the minds of men were turned to constructive activities, as opposed to devising more ways in which they can kill one another faster, then we would cure cancer, world hunger, AIDS, ignorance and illiteracy, racism and prejudice. It has been proven that illiteracy relates to an inability to think, an inability to solve day-to-day problems, an inability to communicate, to work, to preserve and maintain a marriage, to raise a child. Illiteracy is at the root of anti-social behaviour and crime. Literate people can think, they can communicate, they can solve problems, they can hold down a job and get things done. Lower a society’s literacy level, and you kill it. It’s that simple. So, when you hear about libraries being shut down, when you see another independent bookstore going out of business, when you see someone promoting the need for a ‘competitive pricing structure’ that allows books to be sold at a fraction of their value, know what you are seeing. You are seeing the end of something priceless: the ability to think, to communicate, to express oneself, the end of one’s ability to solve problems, to preserve a family, a culture, a society, a race. As Kofi Annan said, “Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope. It is a tool for daily life in modern society. It is a bulwark against poverty, and a building block of development, an essential complement to investments in roads, dams, clinics and factories. Literacy is a platform for democratization, and a vehicle for the promotion of cultural and national identity. For everyone, everywhere, literacy is, along with education in general, a basic human right.... Literacy is, finally, the road to human progress and the means through which every man, woman and child can realize his or her full potential.” It has been said that the pen is mightier than the sword. Perhaps the reverse is also true: that once we have lost the ability to use a pen, all that will remain is the sword.