Opinion Pieces / reading / The Latest

The problem with saying that “books are the carriers of civilization”

If you follow bookish social media, this quote (usually with some inspiring background picture) pops up every so often. It is praising the importance of books, yet I just can’t get on board with the whole concept. If you break it down in parts, there are the two worrying components of this quote.

“Books are the carriers of civilization”

Well, what about the many indigenous cultures from around the world that don’t have a written language? Basically this statement reinforces the notion that unless your culture confirms to Western approved notions of civilisation (books, writing, reading) then you are not a civilization. And this is where things can become very worrying. If you suggest that only cultures with the written word are civilised then you dehumanise, devalue, and reject the alternatives. Books are the carriers of one kind of civilisation.

“Books are humanity in print.”

This line has the same problem as the first; that humanity is associated with the written word. If your culture does not align with this notion of knowledge collection and distribution then you are not part of humanity. Oral history and the tradition of passing down stories through music, dance, song, and speech have been a part of many indigenous cultures for hundreds of thousands of years. These forms of storytelling and knowledge collection and distribution were subjugated and marginalised through colonisation and imperialist beliefs. So again, I can’t get behind something that suggests that humanity is only be the written word. Books are one example of humanity.

I found this photo on the Penguin Books Australia Facebook page and while I love the company and can understand where the naive view of the quote is coming from, I just can’t get behind the quote’s sentiments.

What do you think about the sentiments expressed in this quote? Have you found anything similar that worries you about bookish social media? As always, share the reading love.

2 thoughts on “The problem with saying that “books are the carriers of civilization”

  1. Love it Hope. Writing and reading, is just a piece of the language puzzle. Which is but a small atom in the make up of humanity.
    It is a useful tool for some concepts in phase one of learning and teaching. For other concepts it lacks entirely. There are lessons and experiences that cannot be but into words. One reason why translations can not be done justice between languages. It certainly a far less useful tool in phase two, the application of the concepts on ones self or situation.
    Unfortunate it is the book worlds manifestation of the over simplistic, must have a direct correlation, binary mindset of much of western culture. There is alway a deeper layer if you search…..
    Thank you for your presenting a broader perspective. Peripheral vision is something we have lost in many ways as society.

  2. It is narrow interpretation that is divisive- not the statements.
    Books are blank spaces for mark making of any kind, not just for reading material and printing is making an impression so as to give a semblance of permanence. Cave walls and ceremonial places come to mind. The advancement in civilization was when we stopped relying on our brains as memory deposits and spoken word to pass on information. Books allow ideas to build and spread – that’s all its saying.