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Readers rights- De-dumbing down the world

Updated on March 25, 2012

Readers Rights- De-dumbing down the world

As a writer and particularly as an author, I’m interested in what people get out of the things they read. The problem is that since people are trained to read and regurgitate throughout their school and college years, how do you identify the actual results of reading? To my way of thinking, “recital” isn’t a result. If someone reads you and memorizes it, but doesn’t understand it and doesn’t think about it, can you actually say you’ve given the reader something?

The next point is in relation to content quality. There’s a sort of dictatorial option in writing and dumbing down in general- “Thou shalt swallow whole whatever I write, right or wrong”. People who write to agendas, trying to justify a point of view or spread absolute garbage as fact, usually write this way. They may hide the intention, or simply write persuasively, but the reader is subjected to pure ad copy, pushing a point of view, however it’s done. This process is backed up by literalism, that insane and almost religious-fanatic level insistence that everything must be literally true. The reader has almost no chance at all to get good quality information or the more advanced and more accurate forms of expression in this situation.

If you’ve seen some of the ridiculous pseudo-history and Chariots of the Gods-like materials circulating as facts in all global media, you’ll appreciate why this is so dangerous. The fact/fiction dichotomy has been replaced with spin and downright lies. Some supposedly scientific papers are more like press releases camouflaged as data, written on the basis that “our product is safe”, with no real comeback but the slow and often unproductive scientific peer review process. However inaccurate, a myth may persist for years, based on these materials.

OK, people do have a right to make their views known, but the legitimate demand from readers is that they do so honestly. The reader, however, also has the right not to believe a word of it. This is an inalienable right, a democratic right, and I’d say a human right. Information isn’t a privilege. It’s a legitimate entitlement. That right has been taken away by dumbing down. Readers are now stuck with whatever drivel a writer provides them and no options when they read.

“Knowledge is power”- So what are lies?

This is way out of whack with the modern realities of information requirements. Whoever said “knowledge is power” obviously never thought of information as a commodity, as it is today. Information is an industry, a commercial product with real commercial obligations to its users. If you buy a toaster that doesn’t work, you have legal rights. If you’re given or buy information which is faulty, you have rights, but not rights as clear as you’d have with the toaster. Not too impressive, is it, when you’re talking about stated facts on which people may make personal and financial commitments?

Facts are the hard products of this environment. If something is stated as fact, it carries an obligation to be true. If you misreport something or libel someone, it’s a legal issue, not a matter of writer’s prerogatives. The same basic approach should apply to all forms of writing.

The question is- What can possibly be achieved by simply giving the world’s readers nursery rhyme level literature and information? Not much, as far as I can see. Some issues aren’t simple. Some issues can’t even be properly understood without enough background. Many information sources are so biased that there’s no chance at all of seeing contradictory information, at least not from them. The sheer number of conflicts around the world which are aided and supported by propaganda is enormous. Arguably, many of the current conflicts couldn’t continue without the constant whipping of propaganda.

Dumbing down is also a very cynical, disgusting exercise. It also includes withholding information, by definition. You could write a 200,000 word book on any subject, and simply by withholding selected information, make that book totally misleading. The readers would have to research the subject to have any accurate understanding of the book’s issues and interpretations. Meaning the book hasn’t done its job of informing readers, it’s simply (and inefficiently) created a work of fiction, while infringing on the reader’s right to accuracy.

Some of these books are very authoritative. The reader may feel that reading 1,000 pages of pure dogma and reciting phrases means they’ve read the book. Sure, they’ve read it, and arguably know a lot less about the issue than when they started. The reader’s knowledge base has been deformed by reading it.

Would the world be a better or worse place without racial hatreds and people inciting wars? Hatred is spread by propaganda. That sort of writing actually kills people, in effect. The commercial media do “information pieces” which are basically commercials trying to get people to buy products. This is dumbing down as a form of corruption, and it’s rampant in news media. It’s also costing the public a fortune.

Basic rules for de-dumbing down

The best way to de-dumb down the world are:

  • Insistence on accurate, verifiable setup information in materials. Any piece should include at least a basic statement of facts upon which information provided is based.
  • Insistence on clear representation of sources and their points of view, i.e:
  • Scientists believe in the evolutionary process
  • Many religions don’t believe in the evolutionary process
  • Clear definition of opinions as opinions- This is the same thing as libel laws. You can say that in your opinion someone is doing underhanded business, while stopping short of calling them a criminal. You can’t say that someone is a criminal as fact, without an actual conviction.
  • Provision of source materials- The sources of histories and other materials are evidence. They support information provided by the writer, and give readers the option to check that information and form their own opinions.
  • External independent corroboration- Liars will support other liars, but independent sources are more critical and harder to persuade. They’ll only corroborate if they agree, and will react against spin.
  • Get rid of literalism, permanently. The only book ever written that can be read literally is the phone book, and that has a fairly high error rate, too. Imagine reading Shakespeare and taking every word literally. Not only would you not understand it at all, you’d never be able to appreciate the writing or the extended meanings. Meanings often can’t be expressed in literal terms, and that’s one of the reasons for literary allusions and folk sayings like “you can lead a horse to water”, etc.

Readers should be given back their right to read, enjoy and interpret. That’s productive reading. A person can develop their own perspectives, do their own visualization, and have their own version of what they read. From that process, ironically, come the best writers, the people who develop languages and communications.

Above all- Stop insulting the entire human race with this tripe. Nobody ever asked for dumbing down, and it was never necessary. Most of the world’s greatest minds were never subjected to any form of dumbed-down materials. Dumbing down was a bastard product of basic Communications 101 in the 1980s, in which students were told to assume that people knew nothing. That’s usually not the case, except with intro materials to a subject, and it’s fair to say that a 30 year old load of conceptual rubbish, proven to be rubbish, has no right to be influencing modern literature and information quality.

There’s a place for simplicity in writing- If you’re explaining a function or operation, you set it out clearly and logically. That’s not dumbing down- It’s common sense, and you see it in various degrees in user manuals, taking users from scratch to operational levels. Anywhere else, dumbing down is not, and should not, be necessary at all.

Just one more thing- Would you rather read and enjoy a book, sailing around in the world it creates, or have some failed kindergarten teacher giving you the Moron’s Guide to the storyline? This is the choice readers are being given, and it’s inexcusable.


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    • Paul Wallis profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Wallis 

      6 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      When that information has an application which can be translated into a form of legal injury or damage. Fraud, misrepresentation, etc. You'll have seen disclaimers on sites which say the site accepts no liability for injury if people actually take the advice given, for example. The legal theory is that people could reasonably expect that information to be reliable, and if it isn't, they have grounds for a legal plaint if they suffer injury from acting on that information.

    • HowToLoveOne profile image

      Joshua Pine 

      6 years ago from San Francisco

      Interesting point about the exchange of information as a commodity. What are the legal ramifications if someone gives you faulty information?

    • Arioch profile image

      Gordon D Easingwood 

      6 years ago from Wakefield, United Kingdom

      Some interesting points I'm going to give it some more thought and come back to this one. Good thoughtful hub.


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