In the United States, we have plenty of problems. There’s a growing gap between social classes. There’s an abundance of homelessness. There’s an epidemic of corporate greed, and yet these are all definitively first world problems. Most of us, even in the lower class, don’t suffer from dysentery or undernourishment or war. Our problems are limited to our growth as a nation and while some of them are very big and real (homelessness in the nation’s largest cities is astounding), most of them do not affect our ability to survive.
There is a chain of human needs that starts at the most primal – food, shelter, companionship – and once those needs are fulfilled, we move up to other more metaphysical, emotional and intellectual concerns. A comfortable nation is the one that is able to send man to the moon, to screen for manic depression, and to create tear-jerking soap operas. Our primal needs have been met and we can focus of individual betterment. As a first world nation, this is where the United States stands.
In fact, as a nation of individuals, too many of us have passed the point of passion for self-improvement and fallen into complacency. This sheep-like reaction to comfort, lured by the promise of panem et circenses, has stalled our culture into a decline. Like the glory and destruction of Ancient Rome before us, the majority of Americans have ceased growth and betterment. Film become remakes and reboots of franchises not even twenty years old. Writing has become forced and haphazard. One of America’s most beloved past-times, football, is in itself reminiscent of the gladiatorial matches of Rome, as we watch men break through each other for a ball. In my opinion, a Roman gladiator’s fight for survival, instead of fame and acceptance, was more noble.
This complacency is the reason why we see a detached social dynamic building for future generations. More of concern to me personally, however, is the fact that this complacency has allowed the United States – a nation which literally has everything it could ever really need – to remain at a below-average literacy rate, with no change for over twenty years.
Media hasn’t helped improved our literacy rates, either, Intentional misspellings, such as “Double Stuf Oreos” add to encourage a culture that would rather watch a movie than read a book or even a brief news article. An article in the Huffington Post dated two years ago reminds us that in the United States, there are 32 million adults that don’t know how to read. Although the article is a little dated, the numbers wouldn’t have changed so dramatically.
The ProLiteracy Foundation is working to try to find a solution about the lack of literacy (American and otherwise) and reverse the effect it has on society. The website lists the effects of illiteracy on the economy, on the health system and is very much worth a look.
Take some time to volunteer to read to some children – your own, if you have some. Buy a book for a friend. Share an article you like. Promote literacy in a world that is slowly abandoning it.