Thoughts on Universal Literacy
Updated: Apr 23
It should be obvious that one of the greatest achievements in modern times is to make the ability to read and write accessible to the masses, as that would not only make written communication more accessible, but also give countless people the "privilege" to express their voices to practically anyone in the world, as long as their message can be translated.
My assumption about the largely-pre-literate world of the past is, that we may fantasize about the past as being great from time to time, specifically because we do not have access to those who were not able to write.
Surely, in ancient Greece and in any other period that had an intellectual prosperity before modern times, there were countless intellectual giants, some of whom revolutionized the world, but we must not forget the possible fact that there were likely to be a lot of fools and idiots, just like we had in any other era, and the reason some of us are not aware of their existence is because they couldn't write.
Who is to say there were not dumb forums in the far past as there are today, and trolls and any other kind of jerk? The main different between each version of each time is that, today's jerk has a keyboard, or even a video-editing software, and he is capable of reaching the entire world if he was so lucky in their viewership endeavours.
The literacy of the "masses" was seen with Nietzsche's disapproval. As you can read about in this post of an old blog. The fact that the ability to read and write became more and more available to the "ordinary folk", would entail that there would be a significant decrease both in the reading of classics and in the quality of writing as well.
The reason for that is the fact that the "masses" aren't necessarily stupid or dumb, but because the ability to read and write was a privilege only the wealthier could afford, and in those times (including sometimes today), being wealthy would mean being able to be more educated.
While I agree that the quality of writing has decreased ever since then, we should not avoid the fact that nowadays, with enough practice, theoretically anyone who knows how to write can become a competent, if not decent, writer.
Rather than pointing the finger at the "herds" or the "sheeple" for making much of today's literal content shallower than ever, we shouldn't ignore the logical conclusion that there might be, or even will be, more intellectuals and thinkers than at any time in human history, as anyone with enough access to public education can learn how to channel their thoughts and ideas significantly more competently. With the rise of the internet, people can educate themselves about things they would otherwise not be able to learn without, assuming academics are not an option.
Due to this exact reason of accessibility and freedom of information, I think that there is both a decrease and an increase in intellectual prosperity in our contemporary times. Additionally, I will even say that the decrease in quality since modern times is only because most people weren't as literate as they are today.
Many people were (and are) poor; how can one expect them to publish books or at least articles if they, their parents, or any other patron could not afford them the required education for reading and writing?
What if universal literacy was achieved far before the Industrial Revolution? Surely there will be a decrease in quality content even in that alternative reality, but that does not alter the fact that that decrease is inevitable if our plan is to make more people literate, and that is not due to a lack of education, but simply because stupidity was, is, (and probably will be) an unseparated part in the history of humanity, whether we witness this in any kind of recording or not, like bad music or any other low-quality craftsmanship.
Thanks to universal literacy, one of the blessings it gave us is anyone's potential to become a recorded philosopher, unless someone else will do the writing for you, like Plato did to Socrates. If it weren't for Plato's teachings, we might as well have never heard about the person who became the father of western philosophy.
Now that we don't necessarily need other literate people, as most of us are, we can all think and publish our thoughts online, without any need of a "middle man" to do the required procedures for us.
In comparison, just imagine how many philosophers there were before modern times, that we never got to hear about their existence just because they were illiterate; how many storytellers, singers, playwrights, and so on.
The decrease in quality is, therefore, only an inevitable event that indicates something that has always been, and it is in no way a grim prophecy, since it is possible that we live in one of the most intellectually-abundant eras humanity has ever witnessed.
(2023 Update: Check the comment section for a question I answered).