Reading in an Age of Barbarism*
I’m continually struck dumb by the question of the value of reading. It is as if folks have forgotten how we all became participators in an incredible, albeit flawed, experiment known as “western civilization.”
Many will say that civilization is founded upon the myth of violence. I suppose this has to be true in one sense: societies do not emerge independently very often without picking up the proverbial sword. And everything that fortifies the legitimacy of the State is done through force. We agree.
Nevertheless, I’m beginning to suspect that the foundation of what we now call “civilization” was orchestrated by the written word. So – why should we read? If we don’t, we will go through another revolution. In fact, I think we are in the midst of a great de-centering for western civ, and I am feeling the weight of it all around me. Kids look to Youtubers for moral direction. Parents ask google for advice on how to raise their kids. And schools are now putting screens in front of children instead of competent instructors.
Truly, not unlike the introduction of the written word, we are in the midst of a cultural revolution. The pixels are taking over. Run for the hills…by picking up a book. Perhaps God will raise up intellectual St. Benedicts to overwhelm a disheveled future with grace, hope, love, and the birth of a new civilization, tired of the tribalism that is so prevalent in our time.
Fascinating quotes on the subject:
Emerson: “If we encounter a man of rare intellect, we should ask him what books he reads.”
P.J. O’Rourke: “Always read something that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it.”
Haruki Murakami: “If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.”
Oscar Wilde: “It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.”
Thomas Aquinas: “Beware of the person of one book.”
*Barbarism is not “Savagery,” rather, it is the notion that groupthink and groups should be defended, even at cost to the truth.