The biggest fear for an authoritarian government is to have an educated and well informed society.
In Ray Bradbury’s apocalyptic classic “Fahrenheit 451” readers represent a threat to an authoritarian regime who wants to control the population by censoring books and keeping them ignorant.
The government force in this fictitious place is composed of firemen whose job is not to put out fires, but rather to burn books and arrest those individuals hiding these weapons of knowledge.
To this Establishment, readers turning into creative thinkers endanger the stability of society. And so, without books everyone in the society are equals. Equally ignorant.
Today, there are no real authoritarian threats preventing society from reading. However, and as revealed in the prophetic novel, many unreaders have fallen prey to the hypnotizing power of media to become part of the conforming entertainment society.
Despite the incredible access people have today to acquire knowledge through reading, many people choose not to. It is way easier for them to be entertained than to think.
At an individual level, it might not seem too problematic if someone chooses easy entertainment over intellectual stimulation.
But when society must collectively participate in the decisions that will determine the future of their country, as in a presidential election, those who have not developed critical thinking and who have been mostly influenced by entertainment will vote for someone with histrionic skills rather than someone based on their intelligence and capabilities.
When a society gives more importance to the appearance than the content, when campaign slogans and mediatic scandals are more valued than ideas and principles, and when entertainers are admired more than intellectuals, society becomes complacent with mediocrity.
We cannot become frivolous and succumb to ignorance.
And because of this, yes, we need to read more. But what books should we read in a world over-saturated with superficial bestsellers and light literature?
Read books that give you valuable knowledge and stimulate thinking, read those books which demand from you an intense intellectual concentration, read those that make you reflect and question your beliefs, and those that motivate you to act for the betterment of society.
If our civilization wants to transcend life, we need to favor reason, we need to be advocates of knowledge, and we need to be more critical to demand and achieve a better world.
*Above image from the cover of “Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury, 60th Anniversary Edition – Simon & Schuster Paperbacks.