2020: A Year of Political Unrest or A Year of Literacy?

One of few things undebated about 2020 was that it was a year full of political unrest. Either side of any debate held that year, whether presidential, COVID-19, wildfires, etc., will attest to that.

Civil Unrest Political Cartoon

Malcom X would argue the reason is the world is more literate than ever before. Literacy is loosely defined as the ability to read and write. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/literate#h1 So, with the United States reaching a 99% literacy rate as opposed 80% in 1870, it has more to say and hear than ever before. https://nces.ed.gov/naal/lit_history.asp

Simply said, there is a greater number of people whose different ideas are finally being shared. Additionally, by the 2016 election extremely well-read internet ecologies such as Twitter and social media have more or less been accepted as an official news source or valid manner of spreading information.

2016 Presidental Election Twitter Image

But any person can publish themselves on Twitter. So, anyone with an idea worth listening to can muster up the same audience and credibility as news reporters.

Blocks with Social Media Images

In other words, mainstream narratives about elections, political issues, ideals, and how to think etc., no longer are provided by the news outlets alone. The common man now has as much potential political sway as Alexander Hamilton. The only problem is millions of people are attempting to do this at once.

Alexander Hamilton as Depicted on the Ten Dollar Bill

So, the end result is responses to issues now seem cluttered. Movements seem contradictory within themselves. In general, politics has lost its unity without the authority of the news to lead either side.

Malcom X Giving a Speech

Perhaps this is a benefit. Movements like BLM and others that have been massively ignored for decades finally have gained attention basically thanks to social media and increased literacy of those writing and reading about it. Malcom X argued that the inability to write and read is what kept him in chains. https://antilogicalism.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/malcom-x.pdf

Regardless of whether this rapid transfer of ideas, politics and movements is positive or negative, the result is civil unrest.

Without the internet and the increase in reading and writing ability in the United States a majority of current political issues would likely have been ignored.

The end result is the ecology of political writing has changed entirely. No longer is political writing reserved for the news companies or the Ben Franklins of the world. But each person has the ability to capture attention like those giants of the past did. This means more ideas, more movements more politics in general.

A Political Activist Tweet

Implications of Writing


It hardly needs prefaced the impact of literacy in our culture; the relevance of written communication in most (if not all) functions of society.

Does progressively easier access of information and continually more effective communication only serve us for the better? Are there any adverse effects?

In considering people groups that function without literacy, present or historically, it may not be as much a question of better or worse as it is an apples-to-oranges kind of comparison. It is easy for us to see the indispensable perks of life as we know it – many thanks to writing and reading. Void of these methods, however, while life would be altogether different, we may be ignorant to assume that it would be worse.

Words have power, and large-scale communication can result in catastrophe. With the more intimate social structure that springs from depending on in-person dialogue, the tragedies could, arguably, be more finite or contained. Problems, still, perhaps – just different ones (again, apples to oranges).

Some may say that our access to the writings of people from many different backgrounds would give us more perspective. However, while this could contribute to a kind of “global perspective” or unified worldview, it also comes with wide variations from person to person since we all take in different information (books, websites, etc.), contrasting experiences and influences. Conversely, in an inter-reliant people group would be more likely to have a shared perspective, rooted in reality as it applies to them.

For a people group such as that, there would be an insignificant risk of information overload. Distinctions of people’s roles in society would be more clear. In one sense, that could be viewed as restrictive; however, in societies like ours, many people struggle to find their niche with such an expanse of possibilities. The open potential and constant stream of (usually) inapplicable information could be hindering in its own way.

For many of us, the importance of reading is instilled to us throughout childhood, whether through school, our parents, or even from community incentives such as the libraries’ summer reading programs. Reading is a cornerstone to learning, fundamental to acquiring knowledge. While this may be true, it is not to say that reading itself actually makes us more intelligent. In fact, Plato once said this: “they will cease to exercise memory because they will rely on that which is written…And it is no true wisdom…but only its semblance.”  (Ironically, that quote has been preserved through writing.) It is interesting to consider the ways that our mental acuteness may be affected through societal advancements; progress that simultaneously shows the capacity of and lifts burdens from our minds.

For more insight about literate and nonliterate cultures, refer to The Consequences of Literacy by J. Goody.