Why should you care about orality?
This has been a tough question for me. After all, if I can’t answer this, then to put it lightly, what’s the point?
And then, when talking it out with someone recently, I made a connection.
It’s been a couple of weeks, and the chaos that we watched in the United States seems to be dissipating. However, there is still a vast divide that needs to be overcome.
The rules are changing.
I’ve brought up Ong and the Cognitive Development study - and at the root, if our oral sensibilities are increasing - the fundamentals of logic change. And if the fundamentals change, the rules of debate change.
And if you have someone with more literate sensibilities arguing with someone with oral sensibilities? You might as well be speaking a different language. Until we learn what these real differences are, everyone will be yelling into deaf ears on either side.
I bring up the United States because I wonder if that’s at play in some part of the conflict. Two groups with drastically different sets of rules of debate. The arguments are incomprehensible by the opposition.
It’s a coming of age story.
There’s this phrase that I keep hearing over and over, “Yes, but this is new!” In some sense, sure. But in a lot of senses, I don’t think so.
What I’m wondering is, is this a coming of age story? Are the arrogant teenagers of countries simply taking a step closer to understanding our elders in terms of societies and culture? Putting on suites to go into the world's workforce and making adult decisions with all the nuances and complexities that only an older society could comprehend.
I feel it when I leave North America ( Canada for me ). The moment I land in Heathrow, the land, the culture, the cities feel “older” than mine. History seeps out from the walls. No matter how new-aged or foreign, there’s a sense of history for me. And maybe this history comes from these times older than I can comprehend.
And perhaps with the age of civilization, there is more diversity in sensibilities, oral, literate, other? Or perhaps more relevant examples of when their country was oral? After all, in our “western” history, our North American “countries” have never experienced this, because after all - they didn’t exist in the post-classical ( 400-1500 BCE ) hay day that the rest of the world has.
Yes, that was a lot of “quotations” there - mainly in recognition of the cultures that were here before all of this - and those cultures struggling today, I feel have a better sense of what’s going on. Maybe one day we’ll learn to be quiet and listen to them.
My point is, just like teenagers and adults do - we fight over the plight of something new and something old. Throw away what our elders know to only come around in the end and realize both are right.
So if all of this battle is a coming of age, then there are rules to how. And in understanding oral cultures before we will take that step to a solution. I suggest that we all brush off our communication skills in “rhetoric” - you do have those, right? 😬
You may have noticed that I posed the subtitle as a question - not a statement. It wasn’t a typo.
While I feel we should brush up and learn more pre-medieval rhetoric - there is also what I think maybe a gap in history, and I’m starting to look to learn more about it—that of the commoner.
The printing press lowered the barrier of entry into literacy and the written word. Before then, however, it was incredibly high. So high that only a percentage of a percent had access or the wherewithal to be trained or hire trained people. And so what we really know might be skewed to the elite. We have movies about Royalty and knights, about emperors or “previous” lords cast into slavery - but what do we really know about the common man, woman, or child? What persuaded the peasants, serfs, or the freemen in medieval times? What do we know about their sense of debate and logic? How did they debate and come to a common-sense amongst themselves?
I remembered once being told that while we can make many assumptions and inferences from Shakespearan times, like what the common population was interested in being entertained by, we actually know very little. It wasn’t a real representation of the masses. In sad honesty, it didn’t matter: fear, torment and survival were.
I hope that’s not where we go again. I hope we get through this postliterate hiccup all intact. If I have a nugget of a provable theory here, there’s some bit of insight into this literacy/orality division that once was.