I offer a brief continuation of my main essay on post-literacy. My old graduate school buddy “Ivar the Midwesterner,” who teaches humanities on faculty at a “nondescript state college east of the Left Coast and west of the Mississippi,” inveterately asks his freshman composition students on the first day of class to respond in writing to the following prompt, one of the aphorisms from the extant fragments of the Archaic-Age Greek philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus (the “Logos Philosopher”):
All men should speak clearly and logically, and thus share a rational discourse and have a body of thought in common, just as the people of a city should be under the same laws.
Here are five typical responses, as Ivar assures me, to the prompt:
01. “I do agree that people should speak logically. I don’t, however, think that everybody should think the same way. For if everybody shared common thoughts, laws would not have to be in place. While logic and sense is important, the world would be nothing without individuality. In my opinion individuality is what makes us human. If one looks at animals, they all have common thoughts and are all pretty much the same.”
02. “I disagree that all men should ‘share a rational discourse and have a body of thought in common.’ If everyone thought the same way, what would the world be like? It would be peaceful and there would be no tension or nothing to worry about. But, would this be a good thing? There would be a lack of creativity and diversity. It would be a monotonous place to be.”
03. “The same uniformity, or logic, of thought when shared by all men does not breed diversity. Diversity is necessary for expression and leads to more avenues of advancement in the arts and in culture. A shared and clearly expressed language fosters both enforcement and creation of laws as well as allowing for an exchange of ideas. A shared language is vital for a city while undiverse logic and argument lead to stagnation.”
04. “This seems to have a negative feeling. It seems Heraclitus didn’t want people to think for themselves. Not everyone in a city like all the laws opposed on them. Not everyone should vote or go for something if they don’t like the outcome. Heraclitus quote makes it seems like they should.”
05. “The majority of individuals have a distinct way of living. Everyone is different and unique in their own way but societal pressure drives an organized group in a similar direction. There is a way the world has designated persons to act, where Heraclitus of Ephesus has portrayed the image of all men being in common with each other, just as laws.”
Notice how the student respondents interpret the idea that all men “should… have a body of thought in common” (that is, share an ethos and an education) as a hostile attempt to impose uniformity of opinion on everyone. Ironically, it is the near-uniform opinion of the student respondents that this is what Heraclitus is saying. Their attitude towards their misprision is, moreover, one of censure. Notice that the students regard the philosopher’s precepts as hostile to “individuality,” “creativity,” and “diversity.” Notice the phrase (from student respondent No. 03), “undiverse logic,” which comes close to Newspeak. Notice that the philosopher’s statement strikes one of the student respondents (No. 04) as being in the character of “a negative feeling,” an appeal to emotion rather than to reason.
The five responses are not absolutely wretched from a grammatical or syntactical perspective, although some show more competency than others, but they all give voice to fairly strong resentment against what is – logically and self-evidently – a true proposition. One student respondent (No. 4) writes, for example, that, “Not everyone in a city like [sic] all the laws opposed on them [sic]”; and “not everyone should vote or go for something if they [sic] don’t like the outcome.”
In the perfect unreasonableness and undeniable petulance of the iteration, we have a good instance of the mental and moral dispositions of the post-literate person. The diction error (“opposed” for imposed) and the number discrepancies (see below) are signs that the moral confusion is intimately related to the verbal inadequacy.
Another student respondent (No. 5) writes that, “The majority of individuals have [sic] a distinct way of living,” a contradiction in terms; and that, “everyone is different and unique in their [sic] own way but societal pressure drives an organized group in a similar direction,” which is nothing more than the predominant narcissistic cliché of our times. Again, the grammatical errors show that resentfulness and incompetency are interrelated.
The epidemic use of the third-person plural they or them as the back-reference to a singular subject (e.g., “everyone” or “a majority”) possibly indicates that post-literacy and post-numeracy are two sides of the same catastrophically inflated coin.
I draw the following conclusion: Even where post-literacy does not reduce the writer to a producer of illiterate and indecipherable gobbledygook, it instills hostility towards if not rejection of reasonable thoughts and propositions; post-literacy collaborates with ideology in motivating students to invoke topoi such as “uniqueness” and “diversity” to defend themselves against the internalization of a genuinely literate, a non-personal and non-emotional, point of view.