Some years ago I attended a lecture by metaphysician Frank O’ Farrell focussing on Helen Keller (right) who, struck blind and deaf in infancy, had only limited ability to communicate her wishes and feelings to those around her.
Helen’s teacher, Anne Sullivan, had a fruitless time trying to teach her to communicate by signs stroked into the palms of the hand – until one day Helen finally understood a particular sign referred to water. Frank’s point was that Helen’s understanding that a particular sign stood for water, despite sharing no similarities whatsoever with water, enfranchised her culturally.
The most widespread example of our ability to create and store symbols – identified by Ofer bar-Yosef of Harvard University as the one element of the Upper Paleolithic revolution that enabled culture to develop – is writing. The three letters "cat" instantly remind us of the feel, sound and haughty behaviour of the beast, although nothing about the written symbols or their pronunciation resembles any of these.The Book of Eli, the Denzel Washington post-apocalyptic fable recently shown on Channel 5, writing is almost totally absent. That’s the point, in more ways than one grasps until the denouement delivers a dizzying change of perspective.
Books have been burnt in the aftermath of a war that destroyed technology through electromagnetic pulses. Order has collapsed – and that’s undoubtedly related to the sun setting on literacy; most people can’t read.
Literacy’s long sunset has started in our real-life culture. Pictures still speak a thousand words, but less and less of them are transmitted through printed pages that cannot be electronically altered, eg as this page can be edited. As literacy declines, gullability rises: witness the cachet of "climate" scientists and related charlatans.
That sunset is not yet a done deed. Go buy a book, read it and give it to a friend.
About Helen Keller - Helen Keller International
The Upper Paleoloithic Revolution - Ofer bar-Yosef, 2002: " the storage of symbols...leads to the emergence of modernity", p16 of the .pdf