Ranting on Reading

This originated as a note over on Facebook, and it occurred to me that it would work as a post here, though it is a bit personal. Ignore it if it makes you uncomfortable, we often do that anyway… Here it is:

I may have made a terrible mistake in dropping out of high school. There are a few holes in my education. I noticed some of these holes, and initially, I started filling them with famous books I’d seen mentioned in the paper or news or movies… and discovered a disparity in the books’ content and the content in the media where I’d discovered the book. Reading Mamet’s new book, The Secret Knowledge,  reminded me in some ways of my own conversion.

I am not, by popular measures, a towering success. I live a pretty much average middle class life. The only worthy successes in my life are not my own. In fact, these successes are what my children have become despite my meddling and failures. This is largely due to my one towering achievement… being smart enough to recognize the valuable person that is my wife.

Still, there have been some achievements. I have filled a lot of holes in my education over the years. Having read many of the books that my children’s teachers claimed to summarize for the children’s benefit, I’ve found that the teachers are either ignorant of the content in these books (e.g., they may have uncritically accepted what some college professor fed them ~ I am being charitable) or they are just plain lying about the content. I noticed the same mischaracterizations in our media/entertainment as a young adult, and now, as a curmudgeon, it’s really starting to piss me off. What to do…?

Agitate. “Challenge the dominant paradigm.” Do what the current purveyors of our culture claimed was honorable back in the sixties and seventies ~ be active in your community. Exercise your right to assembly with like minded folks. Recognize that they are the establishment… the establishment media that is. Make the finding of truth more important than searching for it. Get involved… especially in the making of our culture by influencing our entertainment, who entertains us, what we choose to be entertained by, and of course, exercising our franchise boldly, intelligently, and thankfully. My wish, or prayer if you prefer, is that our citizens will take the time to fill in the holes of their education where they find them… more important, search out those holes.  And Read.


  1. John
    June 12th, 2011 at 11:30 | #1

    (snip) “Make the finding of truth more important than searching for it.”

    You do realize that depending on their viewpoints, two people can read the same thing and come to different conclusions about what they read? People to the right of your viewpoint (I don’t consider you a right extremist) will reject your interpreted truth as a liberal slant of the “real” meaning of what they read.

    It’s like the George Carlin bit, people who drive slower than you are idiots and people who drive faster are maniacs

  2. June 13th, 2011 at 20:39 | #2

    (snip) You do realize that depending on their viewpoints, two people can read the same thing and come to different conclusions about what they read?

    Really? Why no, at 50+ years old, that thought has never occurred to me… Seriously John, I think most reasonable people realize that perspective colors perception. Another snippet from the post:

    I’ve found that the teachers are either ignorant of the content in these books (e.g., they may have uncritically accepted what some college professor fed them ~ I am being charitable) or they are just plain lying about the content.

    Since I didn’t make it clear, let me try a different route. You see, I’m not talking about differences in viewpoints, I’m actually talking about either outright lies or people accepting as gospel something they have never verified. An example: one of my daughters’ teachers was teaching something about Socrates and claimed she knew this because she’d read Socrates’ book… I told my daughter, that perhaps, she might ask the teacher which of Socrates’ books she read so we could look it up.

    Long story short, the only real reason we know about Socrates is because his student, Plato, wrote about him. There are no extant books by Socrates. Now, this teacher was either lying outright, or had been misled and was passing that ignorance along. The good part of this story is that the teacher did a little independent fact checking and corrected the error.

    Which, for the most part, is what I’m advocating here ~ read! Know for yourself what it says in “Democracy in America.” Read. Don’t let a teacher, newscaster, or blogger determine your knowledge for you… especially if something about the knowledge just doesn’t seem right. Read! Then we can argue about perspectives and what it all really means 🙂

    Your first question points to my primary contention “…two people can read the SAME thing…” Absolutely! If they’ve actually READ the same thing. So unlike the George Carlin bit, I’d have to say, “Hey, I’m on I5, get off 99W and get on I5 (if you actually want to join the conversation we’re having) so I can call you an idiot or maniac instead of a complete and utter moron.” 🙂 If we actually take the time to read, or verify our knowledge in some way, then the dialogue becomes more meaningful ~ then, agitate, assemble, discuss quietly with friends, argue vehemently with friends and opponents, and …vote, of course!

    In Mamet’s book, “The Secret Knowledge,” a major thrust is that there is no secret knowledge… we can find it and reason it out for ourselves. When we do, there is a right and a left, and as Mamet says in his VillageVoice article, Why I Am No Longer a Brain-Dead Liberal:

    The right is mooing about faith, the left is mooing about change, and many are incensed about the fools on the other side—but, at the end of the day, they are the same folks we meet at the water cooler. Happy election season.

    There truly is something wonderful about “Democracy in America!

    Cheers buddy!

  3. June 13th, 2011 at 21:53 | #3

    Speaking of perspectives… I do notice that as I’ve grown older there are far fewer “idiots” on the road than there are “maniacs.” 🙂 (Unless I’m on my Harley…)

  4. John
    June 14th, 2011 at 20:11 | #4

    I’m sorry if you didn’t catch the friendly sarcasm in my opening statement. It wasn’t meant to be demeaning, but your reaction still qualifies you as a curmudgeon 🙂 Is there an emoticon for a sarcastic smile?

    Getting back to the topic at hand, let me elaborate a little on my point. A skilled writer can write something that isn’t a lie, but still misleading. I know I’m not telling you something you don’t already know, but that is what I was trying to say. An article can be written about the same topic by left and right wing writers, there may not be any actual lies, but you can hardly believe they are describing the same topic. People of opposing viewpoints can read these and have different conclusions of what was the truth. Many times there is no truth, just opinion.

    I fully agree with the fact checking aspect of your point, but sometimes it’s more subtle than that.

  5. June 16th, 2011 at 15:03 | #5

    Well, I wasn’t sure what route to take with this, so I’ll go for the short & sweet… of course, with as long winded as I get that will be a challenge. Still, I’m aiming for the short sound bite 🙂

    First, no need to apologize as I caught the sarcasm in your opening statement, which is why I answered what appeared to be a rhetorical device with my own sarcasm. Perhaps I should have written it this way:

    Really? *rolls eyes dramatically* Why NO, at 50+ years old, THAT thought had NEVER occurred to me…. *smirk* (Perhaps we need a sarcastic smile emoticon).

    It’s also why I followed up with, “Seriously John….” to indicate most reasonable people do realize that perspective colors perception. You see, I do not disagree with your first comment, nor do I disagree with the second.

    Second, my point was that “perspectives and spin” is NOT what I’m talking about in the post, which is why I used the story of my daughter as an example. I’m not talking about spin, perspective, or skilled writing ~ I’m referring to verifiable facts. Things that are either true (accord with reality) or they are false (do not accord with reality). Situations in which one can say, “I call bullshit.” Hence the example of the teacher “reading a book by Socrates.” Verifiable, since no such book exists.

    Perhaps an example from work would be better. Someone, I don’t remember who, sent around an email about the Quran chapter 9 verse 11, or Quran 9:11. It had to do with an Arab pissing off some “eagle” that would reek havoc with Islam… It smelled fishy to me because I’d read the Quran. It smelled fishy to you too so you looked it up on Snopes, and Snopes clearly labeled the email FALSE. They even gave a reasonable translation of what would pass for “9:11” from the Quran, i.e., Sura 9:11. If people opposing Snopes’ conclusion (and indeed, the ACTUAL Quran) can decide that this is some version of “truth” then the word really has no meaning. That’s why I wrote my response to your comment, because I apparently did not make that clear in the post.

    Hopefully, that makes it clear that while I agree with your comments about spin, perspective, and creative writing, that was not the issue I was addressing. Nope, and this ain’t short as a sound bite either! And that’s the truth 😉


  6. June 16th, 2011 at 18:10 | #6

    Oh yes, I forgot, I do wear the title “Curmudgeon” proudly 😀

  7. John
    June 16th, 2011 at 21:43 | #7

    Since we’re ending up agreeing on so much lately, that must make me a conservative too 🙂

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