The Path to Peasantry
It is an unavoidable truth that most people in history have been members of the peasant class. Reading has often been a skill used to uplift the masses. Reading provides the knowledge required for a person to pull themselves out of the muck. People who don’t read seal themselves in their own subjugation. The best way to become a peasant, or to remain one, is to allow others to read things for you.
Perhaps some of the best-known peasants are those who toiled away during the Middle Ages. These people lived in a time when the prevailing intellectual attitude was, “anything anyone ever needs to know can be found in the Bible.” Unfortunately for the peasants, none of them could read. They had to be content to be told what the Bible said: be good to others, have faith in God, and to do what the king tells you or else the devil will torment you for eternity. That last part took some liberties with the actual language of the text, but how were the illiterate peasants supposed to know?
Other groups of people have been subjugated by allowing others to tell them what was in an important book. In 1917 a new superpower, the Soviet Union, was born out of the ideals of communism. However, the last thing the government of this new superpower wanted was for its people to actually read the communist manifesto and decide for themselves what communism means. So millions of people marched under the flag of Marxism, often to lives of unfulfilling labor and premature death, and many of them without ever actually reading a word of Marx. It is easy to control people when they don’t investigate things for themselves. Of course, having an army, secret police, and tanks doesn’t hurt either.
People are not immune from becoming peasants in the modern era. How many modern people have strong feelings about Christianity but can’t honestly say they have read the Bible for themselves? How many people have steadfast opinions of communism but have never actually done their own research on communist writings? The Medieval and Soviet peasants had a good excuse for not reading things for themselves. Twenty-first century folks do not.
In the modern world technological innovation, a phenomenon that once liberated the masses, now poses a threat to their independence. With the proliferation of smart phones, people have access to video wherever they go, making written words less prevalent. It is one thing to make movies out of books, but does every single news story really need to have an accompanying video? Not to mention voice and touch commands for computers. These are really cool, but they trick us into devaluing the importance of actual text. Reading might not always be convenient, but there is more to life than everything being easy.
The wisest among us know that people are meant to be independent thinkers. This is why important documents like the U.S. Constitution were written down, to remind future people of what they are supposed to become. These documents can’t do anyone any good, though, if people refuse to read more than forty characters at a time. Someday, someone powerful will come along and claim these ancient writings say he is the rightful king. Not knowing any better, there is a good chance the non-readers will actually go along with it.