Hardly a day goes by, it seems, without, somewhere in the world, some wild-eyed, or cold-eyed, religious fanatic imposing his (yes, his) will on someone slightly less wild-eyed in the cause of the one true religion worshipping the one true god. And if imposing his will, when it comes to dress codes, or hair styles, or which sexual relationships people choose to have, means killing people, then, without thought or compunction, or the slightest hint of empathy, people are killed as casually as an AK-47 is filled with bullets.
And the reason for this determination to kill or maim or torture or jail or exile? Words on a page. These people have been driven mad by words on a page. The moving finger writes, and whether the finger belongs to a psychopath, a misogynist, a madman, a well-meaning fool, a drug addict, a control freak, the words stay written. Stay written and read and used in exactly the same form over hundreds even thousands of years. In non-literate times contributions to the fund of knowledge might well come from some of the same motley crew, but their words, seen to do damage to society or individual, could be quietly modified, perhaps totally lost over time as wiser heads prevailed, circumstances changed, knowledge was acquired.
Like science really. Words on a page, whether written by genius or fool, by friend or foe, man or woman, old or young, are not engraved in stone, but are there only until some newcomer can disprove, modify, add to them, as knowledge is acquired, circumstances change. Not so in the Bad Books, where power and glory come not from challenging authority, changing words, but from unswerving attention to every last unchanging syllable.
So, all in all, a pity writing was invented. Oh there are pluses. No blogging without words on a screen, although, come to think of it, such words are as ephemeral as the flickering shadows on a cave wall and tales of the mammoth who got away. And certainly the depth of scientific records enables us to be warned about the coming catastrophe of global warming.
But most science, and certainly most aspects of everyday life could be conducted (indeed are conducted on radio and television and film) in a society as non-literate as those of the ice age caves of southern France, or previously in the deserts of central Australia.
The religious have always been in favor of burning books that didn't agree with the one book they held in their hands. So they shouldn't object if we take that further (rather in the way that an atheist believes in one less god than the evangelist) and actually just burn all books, clean sweep, no more unchangeable words on the holy pages.
Oh I would miss my first edition of Pickwick Papers, but a small price to pay for undermining religious fanatacism in the world. And in a generation or two the exact words once revered will become less exact, as in a game of chinese whispers. And people will have to get on with their lives using their own minds and hearts. But without the risk of someone killing them for a word written in blood.
The moving finger keeps writing at The Watermelon Blog, but the number of watermelon fanatics remains disappointingly small (well, none really).