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Against Literacy: A Chronicle for the Fully Literate

Before, some 70 years ago, almost half of the population was illiterate. On the other hand, we had poetry daily in the newspapers. The problem (of illiteracy, not poetry) persisted throughout the 20th century. I still remember the somber tone with which Cid Moreira announced the statistics over the years 1980. Which, as I remember, were accompanied by an extensive article showing the tortures of a little lady or gentleman who couldn’t do the most basic things in life because they were illiterate.

Today the illiterate are just 6.6% of Brazilians. On the other hand, we have Anitta and a bunch of other cultural aberrations. Not to mention the political aberrations. Now notice how the news has changed and the long mushy stories have disappeared, because the problem of absolute illiteracy, which served as an excuse for the ignorant masses to live in ignorance, has simply metamorphosed into functional illiteracy. In practice, it’s the same.

Or almost. Because semi-literacy or functional illiteracy, as I intend to hastily argue in this unpretentious (but melodic!) text, is much worse than absolute illiteracy. And it is even worse if functional illiteracy is accompanied by a degree from Uniesquina or by fame and financial success. (And if you now thought “wow, how envious!” know that reasoning by clichés only proves my point).

When illiteracy was a problem to be fought, language had to be conquered , regardless of the circumstances. Even the rich had to sacrifice something—the palms of their hands—to learn Latin. The poor, of course, had to try harder, much harder. And perhaps because of this effort, everyone appreciated it more when they could finally say that they had mastered the art of reading and writing well.

And yet, What we did was just the opposite. We invented this story that education sprang from an infinite source. All you had to do was bend down on the lame and drink. Beabá became so accessible that everyone, including the elites, found themselves unable to give due value to the language. In the popularization of literacy, the ability to admire the well-written poem was lost. Or the well-written chronicle (just like this one). Just as bad, the ability to recognize the poem or the bad chronicle (different from this one) was lost.

They socialized linguistic mediocrity. And so what we have today is a population with a high literacy rate, but also a profound disinterest in all high forms of language. Among which I include even journalism. But that’s not even the worst. Want to know what’s the worst? So follow me to the next paragraph.

The worst thing is that the high literacy rates have given rise to a mass that firmly believes that reading and assimilating language (be it technical, religious, artistic or political ) are the same thing as joining the bê with the a, the bê with the e, the bê with the i. You got it. In this belief, many people get to graduate. Some became masters and even doctors. There are those who write books and reports for The Intercept. And, very soon, we will see these people in the Federal Supreme Court – if they are not already there.

Ah, Paulo, but does that mean that you are against literacy? Do you want to keep people in guile? Did you prefer it before, when maids signed the work card with their thumb? You’re not ashamed, are you?! So you, who had an illiterate grandmother?! I feel disgusted for you! Know that you are trash. The scum. Your… Your…

Ops. I exaggerated. But it was for a good reason: to conclude this chronicle by noting that the semi-educated hatred that predominates in public debate today is proof that (not for the first or the last time) I am right. Just knowing how to form words gives people a false sense of intellectual relevance. As if an offensive tweet had the value of an “idea”, regardless of the errors of logic it contains.

In the end, the certified stupidity of bachelorism, with its attack on tradition and Natural Law, is much more harmful to society than illiteracy. After all, the innate wisdom of what is right and wrong never needed mesoclises or footnotes to make itself understood and felt.

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