Saturday, March 7, 2009

Ignorant and proud of it!

Karen De Coster reports an encounter with typical, bibliophobic Americans:

Thursday I went to my orthopedic surgeon, and like anywhere I go, I took along a book. It was Mises: The Last Night of Liberalism [sic], which I am just finishing up. It's 800+ pages. I set it on a chair in the waiting room and went in the hallway to jump on a conference call on my cell. I came back in, sat, grabbed the book, and began reading. A fairly nice, older man in a full-bore leg cast chatted me up. "I figured that was your book when I saw you in the hallway. How can anyone read a book like that?" I looked up and smiled...what can I say to that? He went on and on about how he would never be able to read a book, any book (because it bored him to sleep), let alone a book that size. But he said he liked newspapers like the USA Today. A couple sitting across from him chimed in and agreed that reading a book was a complex task that was not appealing to them. A similar reaction has occurred in other waiting rooms, and also, when I've been waiting in the service queue at Verizon. My point: reading a book has become a groundbreaking event in this time and place. No one reads anymore. If you have ten pierced things stuck in your face, and your body has been assaulted by a tattoo artist, no one notices anything unusual. If you read a book, people are wonderstruck. You become an object of curiosity.

I've had the same experience many times, and I'm always struck by the lack of shame in these confessions of willful ignorance. Public schooled Americans virtually boast about their intellectual helplessness. They are the Eloi as depicted in the 1960 film version of The Time Machine:

As night falls, George is surprised to find out that the Eloi have no government, no laws, and little curiosity. Wanting to learn why, he asks to see their books. When he finds them all covered in dust and rotted by mold, he is outraged:

"What have you done? Thousands of years of building and rebuilding, creating and recreating so that you can let it crumble to dust. A million years of sensitive men dying for their dreams, for what?!!! So you can swim, and dance, and play."

My compliments and heartfelt thanks to all of you who are homeschooling your children, and giving them a chance to become something better than Morlock fodder.


  1. One of my strongest memories from those years I worked as a substitute teacher is the huge number of kids who admitted they hated reading. When I brought books to my classes, they reacted much as the story quoted above. But when you see what their assignments were, and what they had to read, it was easy to see it was designed to make them hate reading.

  2. I was often assigned unreadable crud and then forced to answer stupid questions about it.

    The intellectual discipline gained by the habit of reading difficult books is often a good thing. It can be taken to harmful extremes.

    For years I was a compulsive book-buyer. I almost always read the books quickly. In retrospect, a consumeristic society was exploiting my natural curiosity.

    I would encourage young people to read books, but also to write and to debug difficult computer programs. The mental persistence required by debugging is at least as valuable as the mental qualities required by difficult books.

    That reminds me ... I have to take my Mandarin comic books into the office to practice my Mandarin. Comic books are something I have always enjoyed!

  3. I drew public attention recently for reading a hard-bound book. The observer was more astonished to find the title "The Annals of Tacitus". SHeesh. It's not like I was reading it in Latin.

  4. HG Wells' 1895 novel "The Time Machine" is a very good book for all ages. It is quite readable also. I commonly compare some of fellow planetary inhabitants as Eloi, and have done so for decades. The imagination of HG Wells is timeless, and sometimes a bit more accurate than we might wish.

  5. HG Wells creeps me out. "The Time Machine" may be a good novel, but with works like "The New World Order" which openly advocated world government, I don't believe he can be trusted as a friend of liberty.