John D. MacDonald - Reading for Survival
Excerpts from John D. MacDonald's essay entitled, "Reading for Survival".


"The nonreader in our culture wants to believe. He is the one born every minute. The world is so vastly confusing and baffling to him that he feels there has to be some simple answer to everything that troubles him. And so, out of pure emptiness, he will eagerly embrace spiritualism, yoga, a banana diet, or some callous frippery like Dianetics..."

"Here in America, as elsewhere, there will always be tremulous little people of dim intellect and hyperactive imagination, burning for explanations to all life's vicissitudes. They grow impatient with learned analyses of the present. They are defeated by histories that illuminate the past. No species of scholarship or analysis could ever satisfy them; for they need that Wondrous Explanation that will quiet all their fears, thrill them with villains to revile, and never tax their feeble powers of intellection."

"The same idea was said in a different way by Eric Hoffer, the old dock-walloper, in his book years ago titled The True Believer. Hoffer's theory was that the best fanatics are people who have nothing in their heads but wind, smoke, and emptiness. Then if any idea manages to slip in there, it does not matter how insipid or grotesque that idea might be, it will expand to fill all the available emptiness, and it takes over the individual and all his actions. He cannot hear any voice but his own. He is beyond reason, beyond argumentation. He is right and everyone who does not believe exactly the same as he is wrong."

"My point is that the man who reads is using the fabulous memory storage and relationship analysis of the brain his ancestors developed eons ago. He is facilitating his survival in the contemporary world. He will recognize the pockets of fanaticism around him and know what is causing these universal foci of dementia. Of course, he will be called an egghead or a bleeding heart or a secular humanist, but he can lean back and, in a certain way, enjoy the marvelously crackpot rantings of a Jesse Helms, a Botha, a Meese, a Kohmeni, a Falwell, a Qaddafi, a Gorbachev, an Ortega, a Noriega----people from both ends of every spectrum, whooping and leaping and frothing, absolutely livid at the idea their particular warped vision of reality is not shared by everyone. Their basic lack of education, of reading, of being able to comprehend the great truths of reality has left empty places in their heads, into which great mischief has crept."


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