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Frank1
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The Bugbear of Literacy by Ananda Coomaraswamy: have fun!
Oct 31st, 2017 at 4:36pm
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Excellent article, probably 75 or so years old.

Have fun gents!

http://www.worldwisdom.com/public/viewpdf/default.aspx?article-title=The_Bugbear...
  


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Limey
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Re: The Bugbear of Literacy by Ananda Coomaraswamy: have fun!
Reply #1 - Oct 31st, 2017 at 5:45pm
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Interesting.

Thanks.


You should read a Will Self novel, "the Butt", which deals with these themes.


And it's very funny too.
  

Under Capitalism, Man exploits Man.

Under Communism, it's the exact opposite.
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Re: The Bugbear of Literacy by Ananda Coomaraswamy: have fun!
Reply #2 - Oct 31st, 2017 at 8:16pm
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Limey wrote on Oct 31st, 2017 at 5:45pm:
Interesting.

Thanks.


You should read a Will Self novel, "the Butt", which deals with these themes.


And it's very funny too.


Looks interesting, may check it out.  I usually listen to online books or lectures while doing chores.
  


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Re: The Bugbear of Literacy by Ananda Coomaraswamy: have fun!
Reply #3 - Nov 1st, 2017 at 5:17am
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Frank1 wrote on Oct 31st, 2017 at 8:16pm:
Looks interesting, may check it out.  I usually listen to online books or lectures while doing chores.


Mr. Self is one of those writers with a very distinct and subversive perspective.
  

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Under Communism, it's the exact opposite.
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Re: The Bugbear of Literacy by Ananda Coomaraswamy: have fun!
Reply #4 - Nov 1st, 2017 at 7:40pm
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The author is absolutely correct about imperialism being dressed up as a civilizing influence.  Europeans did it, Americans do it, the Chinese did it (repeatedly), the Japanese did it, and on and on.  The author is also completely correct about the destruction of local cultures through imperialist influence, and there are many, many examples in language he could use besides Irish Gaelic-English.

The author is correct that introducing literacy changes society.  How could it not?  Literacy introduces a powerful new method of communication.  I am skeptical about how true and good and right the memories of pre-literate people are - it's a little too happy sunshine and rainbows, and humanity is rarely so simple.

What the essay doesn't address, though the author may discuss it elsewhere, is how inevitable writing is.  You simply can't run any sort of mass society without it.  Not surprisingly, as civilizations grew much larger and complex around 4000 years ago, writing was independently and repeatedly invented.  More interestingly, cultures at the edge of massive, complex societies repeatedly borrowed writing from neighboring civilizations, without any imperial imposition.  China independently invented writing, and the Koreans, Japanese, and Vietnamese borrowed the writing system (and sometimes the Chinese language itself) to run their own societies and transmit their cultures.

The Linear A writing system appears to have arisen in Crete at the first peak of Minoan civilization.  We don't know what language the writing system was supposed to represent.  Interestingly enough, Crete would later be settled by Greeks, who adapted Linear A into Linear B, the first writing system for the Greek language.  We can read Greek in Linear B, but we have no clue what language Linear A represented!  But it was useful enough for the Greeks to adapt Linear A for their own (drastically different) language.

So the question today can't be "Is literacy good?"  What does it matter?  The question is "How can we use literacy to train people to think clearly?"
  

"If cousins, I would much prefer to marry one my Neanderthal relatives than a screeching chimpanzee which might bite my face off as has happened recently. Of course, chimps are not even a human species so procreation between humans and chimps is out of the question." - joe_christian, on sex
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Re: The Bugbear of Literacy by Ananda Coomaraswamy: have fun!
Reply #5 - Nov 7th, 2017 at 1:49pm
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To pick up Mr. Deer’s final point, if you brainstormed for a week and produced a list of 1000 bad things about literacy, I would tear up the list and laugh at you.

Literacy is unquestionably the most important and best cultural thing people have.

I would choose literacy over fire.
  

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Under Communism, it's the exact opposite.
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Re: The Bugbear of Literacy by Ananda Coomaraswamy: have fun!
Reply #6 - Nov 7th, 2017 at 6:03pm
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Limey wrote on Nov 7th, 2017 at 1:49pm:
To pick up Mr. Deer’s final point, if you brainstormed for a week and produced a list of 1000 bad things about literacy, I would tear up the list and laugh at you.

Literacy is unquestionably the most important and best cultural thing people have.

I would choose literacy over fire.


I wouldn't. In a world without fire, literacy is useless. The controlled use of fire goes back 600 000 years. The invention of writing is less than one percent of that time old.
  

Non sequitur:

The Wet Dreams of Mr Cousteau wrote on Mar 2nd, 2017 at 4:30am:
... that has less power than a hair dryer used by a eunuch.



Rabbit_Reborn wrote on Feb 5th, 2017 at 5:40pm:
...that makes me a moron.
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Re: The Bugbear of Literacy by Ananda Coomaraswamy: have fun!
Reply #7 - Nov 7th, 2017 at 7:28pm
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Just to clarify my post, I'm not suggesting that the Japanese, Koreans, or Vietnamese did not suffer from Chinese imperialism, or that Chinese imperialism was not a factor in the spread of Chinese characters.
  

"If cousins, I would much prefer to marry one my Neanderthal relatives than a screeching chimpanzee which might bite my face off as has happened recently. Of course, chimps are not even a human species so procreation between humans and chimps is out of the question." - joe_christian, on sex
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Re: The Bugbear of Literacy by Ananda Coomaraswamy: have fun!
Reply #8 - Nov 8th, 2017 at 3:43pm
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Running Deer wrote on Nov 7th, 2017 at 7:28pm:
Just to clarify my post, I'm not suggesting that the Japanese, Koreans, or Vietnamese did not suffer from Chinese imperialism, or that Chinese imperialism was not a factor in the spread of Chinese characters.



For those taking a strongly anti-imperialist position, one difficulty is that empire often brings some benefits.


I would hope that nobody would accuse you of being an apologist for empire due to your post.
  

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Under Communism, it's the exact opposite.
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Re: The Bugbear of Literacy by Ananda Coomaraswamy: have fun!
Reply #9 - Nov 9th, 2017 at 2:20pm
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Running Deer wrote on Nov 1st, 2017 at 7:40pm:
The author is absolutely correct about imperialism being dressed up as a civilizing influence.  Europeans did it, Americans do it, the Chinese did it (repeatedly), the Japanese did it, and on and on.  The author is also completely correct about the destruction of local cultures through imperialist influence, and there are many, many examples in language he could use besides Irish Gaelic-English.

The author is correct that introducing literacy changes society.  How could it not?  Literacy introduces a powerful new method of communication.  I am skeptical about how true and good and right the memories of pre-literate people are - it's a little too happy sunshine and rainbows, and humanity is rarely so simple.

What the essay doesn't address, though the author may discuss it elsewhere, is how inevitable writing is.  You simply can't run any sort of mass society without it.  Not surprisingly, as civilizations grew much larger and complex around 4000 years ago, writing was independently and repeatedly invented.  More interestingly, cultures at the edge of massive, complex societies repeatedly borrowed writing from neighboring civilizations, without any imperial imposition.  China independently invented writing, and the Koreans, Japanese, and Vietnamese borrowed the writing system (and sometimes the Chinese language itself) to run their own societies and transmit their cultures.

The Linear A writing system appears to have arisen in Crete at the first peak of Minoan civilization.  We don't know what language the writing system was supposed to represent.  Interestingly enough, Crete would later be settled by Greeks, who adapted Linear A into Linear B, the first writing system for the Greek language.  We can read Greek in Linear B, but we have no clue what language Linear A represented!  But it was useful enough for the Greeks to adapt Linear A for their own (drastically different) language.

So the question today can't be "Is literacy good?"  What does it matter?  The question is "How can we use literacy to train people to think clearly?"


I don't think his concern is to argue against the inevitability of literacy.

He would probably agree it is inevitable.  I think here of how Martin Lings described the advent of permanent settlements in his biography of Muhammed.  He basically said that, while perhaps inevitable, the development of permanent settlements represented a fall or decline from the more noble nomadic way of life that had characterized the ancient Arabs.

I think Coomaraswamy is mainly seeking to debunk the the "civilizationist" prejudice that culture and literacy are synonymous, rather than to suggest that somehow the development of writing could have been prevented. He is also debunking the idea that mass literacy is some type of boon to society. He is framing mass literacy as a necessary evil, necessary for industrial societies to work...and he considers industrial society evil.

I think a very strong argument could be made that while writing itself may have been inevitable, mass literacy was not. 
« Last Edit: Nov 9th, 2017 at 3:15pm by Frank1 »  


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