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We Cannot Afford To Have Leaders That Do Not Read

The ability to tell the difference between real and fake news relies on how far one has critically read and engaged in thought.

03/10/2017 03:57 SAST | Updated 03/10/2017 09:44 SAST
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At the height of the #FeesMustFall protests in 2015, I remember attending a mass meeting on campus. The sun was blazing hot and we were sitting down in the middle of the street, listening to one of the most prominent student leaders give a speech about the essentiality of violence in the waging of protests. Said student leader quoted Fanon and his chapter on violence to back up his assertion, much to the applause of the students around me.

The notion of the essentiality and necessity of violence in the black struggle intrigued me; I mean, what do I know about waging a violent protest having grown up relatively sheltered in white suburbia? Regardless, after hearing the name Frantz Fanon and his ideas on violence for the first time, I decided to purchase his book "Wretched of the Earth".

I wanted to read for myself and understand what that student leader was quoting. I needed to decide if I was indeed ready to commit violence in the name of black emancipation, as I was passionately implored to do. By the time I finished the book, I realised the student leader had either not read the book in its entirety or had purposely misrepresented Fanon. The uncritical acceptance of revolutionary rhetoric without critical engagement with the literature reminds me of a Sankara quote, "A soldier without any political training is a potential criminal".

This process, simple as it may sound, underscored a basic lesson: the importance of reading and doing so critically. The manifestations of Fanon on campus, specifically at Stellenbosch University, required critical engagement with his work.

They don't teach you Fanon in lectures; at historically white universities such as Stellenbosch, reading Fanon inevitably takes place on your own time outside of the set curriculum. Further, that the uncritical application of revolutionary literature such as Wretched of the Earth, becomes entirely problematic.

This is why readership becomes, much more important than leadership. Jeet Heer in his article on Trump and what he terms the 'post-literate political age' argues that we must 'resist post-literacy through acts of will and immerse ourselves in thoughtfully extended text'. The postliterate political age is marked by television, the Internet and social media where the 'performance' of information becomes more important than the critical deliberation of information.

As the most interconnected generation of young people to have ever existed, we have a mammoth task ahead of us.

The performance of information does not require any of us to think critically but rather it requires our superficial participation through likes, retweets and the like. It is this participation in a post-literate politics that Heer challenges us to resist.

Readership is in essence what Walter Ong calls the analytic management of knowledge. Reading books, essays or long-form articles [actual texts, not 140 character tweets or Facebook posts] creates positive habits of thought, encourages the cross-examination of ideas and allows one to detect abuses of logic and common sense.

At a very basic level, it means that no one can mislead you with passionate political rhetoric; it means you can identify discursive abuses of power and as such make better decisions. Further, the ability to tell the difference between real and fake news relies on how far one has critically read and engaged in thought. Facebook and Twitter cannot be our only source of information when the noise and inaccuracies far outweigh informed, evidence-based opinions.

In a global context when you have access to everything that has ever been written in human history at your finger-tips [thank you, Internet], uninformed decisions become harder to tolerate, accept or excuse. They also become harder to identify when negative forces work to masquerade lies as truths. As the most interconnected generation of young people to have ever existed, we have a mammoth task ahead of us.

The Baby Boomer generation has become the first generation in human history to break the implicit intergenerational contract; leave the earth habitable for future generations. The Baby Boomers and energy companies currently running the world are the very last line of defence because 'we are at the last possible moment of opportunity to avert irrevocable catastrophe'. Our generation consequently, is tasked with ensuring that the intergenerational contract does not break, so that there is an earth to give our children.

We, unfortunately, have no choice but to do something to change the world and must choose to not participate in these necro systems that have been created for us. Inaction will have consequences so painful, that they will far outweigh the pain of actively seeking to change our world. Changing how we do things, as difficult and as hard as it is to change, is much better than continuing to participate in economic, social and political systems that will surely lead to our collective deaths.

It is important that we read, read and read some more to know more than what we can physically see around us.

In a global context where young people all over the world are fighting against the status quo; from the 2014 youth-led pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong to the 2015/2016 Hashtag student movements here in South Africa, to the anti-establishment youth protests in Europe, it is important that we read, read and read some more to know more than what we can physically see around us. In our quest to disrupt and dismantle the status quo it is crucial that we engage with each other and the world in a critically informed manner.

We have to inform ourselves, know our history [official, unofficial and oral] know what is going on around us and in the world so that we may ensure we do not make the same mistakes our forefathers/foremothers have made and apply the lessons that they have learnt. Knowing our history as Africans is even more important for ours is a history that the world has tried hard to bury.

We have to change the world if we want to survive and for us to change the world means that we must read! Read and read some more. Not just status updates or twitter threads. It's readership before leadership comrade, we need leaders that are readers as well. We can't afford leaders that do not read. The future of humanity depends on #Readership.