Thursday, December 09, 2010

Secrets and the Illiteratization of Society

Jimmy Johnson writes at Counterpunch (click the title of this post for the entire piece):

State secrecy is generally thought of as a matter of national security, or perhaps governmental transparency, but we should also view it as a matter of literacy. ...

The Roman Catholic Church in the 14th century held rigid control over the rituals designating legitimate pathways to salvation and the clergy had significant sway over secular officials, whose legitimacy was largely dependent upon clerical approval. The Church rituals - mass and communion - were conducted in Latin, a language in which almost all were illiterate, mitigating any challenge to Church authority. A key element leading to the Protestant Reformation and the subversion of Roman Catholic dominance was the efforts to translate the bible into the vernacular led by John Wycliffe, William Tyndale and others. By translating the bible into the vernacular they declassified the bible, which had been effectively a state secret up to that point. ...

For his efforts Tyndale was strangled then burned as a heretic, and the Church was so horrified about Wycliffe's radical legacy that his remains were dug up and he was burned at the stake posthumously. They saw, accurately, that the revealing of previously secret knowledge to the masses would make the clergy's social and political positions progressively less powerful. In exposing today's privileged knowledge, Wikileaks may indeed threaten the perpetuation of certain practices of the powerful. The reactions to Wikileaks, its editor-in-chief Julian Assange, and alleged source PFC Bradley Manning are certainly indicative of a perceived threat of that magnitude.