WE’RE having a National Literacy Day today. It is however mis-titled. It should be called National Pointless Virtue Signalling Day.
It’s not actually restricted to this country. It is part of the boutique organisation UNESCO’s International Literacy Day. It is about as relevant to the UK as an International Bilharzia Day would be. Just as everyone in the UK has access to clean, fresh water free of parasites, so the UK has in effect a 100 per cent literacy rate such that Wikipedia does not even quote a figure for the UK in its article on the topic.
So the point of this day would appear to be to point out those countries where literacy is not 100 per cent. What should we do about this? Send more books?
Literacy is a consequence of economic development, as states realise that universal free education is necessary for growth. Some cultures force illiteracy on their people as a form of social control, like denying girls access to schools. Given that the achingly politically-correct Margaret Atwood, amongst other writers, is involved with UNESCO’s initiative, it is unlikely that the nature of the cultural forces actually involved in promoting illiteracy will be highlighted. This is ironic considering Atwood’s authorship of The Handmaid’s Tale, which concerns itself with a theocratic dictatorship limiting women’s rights. Authors might also be motivated by naked self-interest. More literacy would mean more people buying books.
By more than coincidence, Wikipedia’s map showing the areas with the highest levels of illiteracy seems quite similar to the battlegrounds between Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. They are mainly former colonial possessions of the European Great Powers, and that possession took place usually because the territories were populated by illiterate people too primitive to resist. Literacy is tied to societal development in a way that no cultural initiative short of dictatorship can alter. The drive for literacy under Stalin was partially informed by the need to reinforce state control.
Literacy is necessary to function in a modern technological society. It might seem that the rise of video-based social media and the use of emojis might presage a decline in literacy in the West, but this would only be on social lines. Literacy remains economically advantageous.
So the best way to drive literacy is not through a national day that is irrelevant in developed countries, but through economic progress in developing countries. And the economic system that best drives development is without doubt capitalism. Capitalism is driving progress in post-colonial countries that rejected Marxism after the collapse of the USSR. Global poverty is collapsing worldwide as country after country adopts free markets and capitalism as its economic system.
So why doesn’t UNESCO have a World Capitalism Day? One reason might be that the Atwoods of our world would shudder at the thought, even as they enjoy all capitalism’s benefits.
And that is the irony. Atwood wrote the work for which she is most famous as a reaction to Reagan’s America. Reagan, the champion of freedom and capitalism, was regarded by Atwood and her ilk as a vanguard of the religious Right she demonised as would-be theocratic despots. Atwood has now written a sequel to her work. It is not called Whoops!
Capitalism provides the greatest good for humanity worldwide. One of its dividends is literacy. The Atwood mafia should try to be honest now and again. Unfortunately people such as Atwood are always best known for writing fiction.