The Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle by Chris Hedges book touches upon a real issue facing our culture. OR it is an hysterical rant against the normal transformation of a culture (like when kids quit memorizing entire histories of their peoples, because books became available so we didn’t have to keep it in our heads anymore).
I hesitate to make comments for fear of digressing into a “kids these days” diatribe. I do not want to make generalizations about other people. I refuse to predict the downfall of civilization based on the overall decline in reading within our culture.
What I know is what I see everyday. As a teacher, I work with students who fit the above descriptions. Many (certainly NOT all) abhor books, avoid anything remotely challenging and crave media that provides predigested and familiar themes coupled with vivid graphics and rapid transitions.
Many are unaware of the world around them, the issues of the day or the challenges facing society. Most concerning, is the fact that they are not bothered by their own ignorance. What does not provide an immediate financial or material return is of no value. Morality is often negotiable. Many have been scarred by the adults in their lives and have developed callus’s that do not allow for empathy. Life is a battle, do what is necessary to survive.
As an avid reader, this is troubling to me and I struggle to understand the mindset. I was not a reader until my freshman year of college. A single professor succeeded in revealing to me my ignorance and inspired my lifetime affair with books. If I can change, anyone can change, so I do retain some hope. However, it is not just books, the seeming race to the bottom pertains to most media and the arts.
Mr. Hedges touches upon the emergence of two world’s. This reality is frightening to me, for I see it as well. I see an entire segment of people who pursue their ambitions, achieve at a high level, prosper and thrive.
I also see, and work directly with, the other group. They are being left behind. As technology accelerates. As the need to be able to use information transcends simply knowing, those resistant to learning are left confused, frustrated and left out. It is not personal. They are not bad people. They have nothing to offer an economy that does not value labor, but requires insight and imagination to fuel growth.
I’m not sure how all of this will play out. I only know what I am seeing develop within our society. I see this separation growing and wonder how far apart we may become. How will we get along when we are two completely different culture’s – with values, ambitions, needs and expectations that are in opposition? Unfortunately, Mr. Hedges does not offer solutions. He clearly and succinctly defines the problems and envisions its progression. This is meant to provide a motivational scare to those who still value the contemplative learning process found only in books.
Be Strong. Stay Hungry. Walk Tall.