Ignorance is The Parent of Fear


…So said Herman Melville in his classic novel Moby Dick. I felt compelled to write a post this week because of Mr. Steve Bannon, our new President’s chief strategist. I promise I’m not going to get all political on you here because, #1, this is a blog about writing, and #2, I could opine for days about this charming gentleman and not get finished with what I have to say.

Instead, I’m going to focus on something he said last week in a rare interview with the New York Times and how it relates to the importance of the written word. He told the media to “Shut up!” It’s quite a liberty really, considering he himself was, until recently, a member of the media himself; albeit a right-wing-nationalist-racist-one, but a member of the media, nonetheless.

Whatever happened to the 4th Estate? The free press that keeps the other three branches of society in check? The investigative journalists who exposed Watergate, and the Iran-Contra deal, and the Catholic pedophile cover-up? How did we get to a place of “alternative facts”? When the Oxford English Dictionary announces its 2016 word of the year is post-truth, you know something’s gone horribly wrong. Those with the power don’t like the masses knowing things. Unless it happens to be things those with power are saying. As author Aldous Huxley wrote, “Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.”

Bannon’s remark prompted me to search my favorite go-to place for intelligent thought at aeon.co, and there I discovered the fantastic essay Books are Dangerous by author and sociologist Frank Furedi. As Furedi tells us, reading has been considered dangerous for thousands of years. Greek philosophers believed it was as dangerous as poison, and the Roman philosopher Seneca believed reading could leave a person disoriented and weak. By the time the Catholic Church laid claim to most of Europe, unsupervised reading was considered heresy, and readers were told they would become morally contaminated by doing so.

As Furedi mentions, this fear of the written word and its potential power by the establishment continued throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, especially after the emergence of the novel as a narrative form. Critics of the novel claimed its readers became susceptible to mental illness, as its realistic nature failed to provide the reader with any type of moral guidance. But isn’t that what we as readers (and writers) really want?

We want to venture into a world with some trepidation and curiosity, wondering where we will be taken, whether on a literal or figurative plane. We want our emotions to be stirred. We want our senses to be awakened. We want to learn from the adventures we go on with the characters of the book. All writing is good, regardless of genre. Sure, some is better than others, but no one should ever be told to shut up; to stop reading; to stop writing. For in the in the words of the great Walter Cronkite, “Whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation.”

Fake news is only ever criticized by those who don't want us to listen to what is being said.

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