How to Kill a Culture—A Satire

My mission is very simple: I want to kill a culture.

I have been thinking about this for a long time and I believe I now have the key.

Roman civilization in ruins

It has to do with reading. It has to do with literacy. It has to do with the way we communicate with one another, the way we educate our children, the way we form the next generation. I want to drive a wedge between people, make them feel different from one another. If I can accomplish that, then I can accomplish so many other things—intolerance, racism, political and social division, even hatred based on religious views and philosophical beliefs. For are all these things not founded in ignorance, and is ignorance not founded in illiteracy?

Lower a society’s literacy level and you kill it. It’s that simple.

I think I shall begin with television. I shall ensure that the vast majority of televisual “entertainment” is banal and unimaginative. I’ll create “reality” shows that present the most mundane ideas as interesting and important. I will promote and intensify these banalities through the internet. I will make the important unimportant and celebrate those who produce nothing but trivial and meaningless distractions.

I’ll work my way into schools. I’ll incapacitate a teacher’s ability to teach by overwhelming him with bureaucracy and paperwork. I’ll frustrate all his endeavours with rules and regulations designed to squash his inherent purpose to educate.

The interior of a beautiful library in Dublin
343 UK libraries have been closed in recent years.

Then I’ll start to close the libraries. I’ll say it’s because of lack of funding. Everyone is already worried about money, about taxes, about the rising cost of social needs, and it will be easy to convince them. After all, who’s using them nowadays? Certainly not the kids, right? Of course, I’ll keep on funding the manufacture of arms and drugs and other such vital things, but the libraries have got to go.

Then I’ll lower the price of books. That will be easy enough. I’ll talk about a fair marketplace, the necessity for competition. I’ll use business terms. I’ll put it all in the realm of finance and commerce and most people won’t really understand it anyway. I’ll devalue the worth of a book until bookstores and publishers go out of business and writers won’t be able to support themselves.

It might be difficult at first. I might face some protest, some disagreement, but those that have the will to protest and disagree will be in the minority. You see, the longer my plan continues, the less people will be reading, so few people will find out about it anyway.

I will see to it that those who are left reading are served a diet of “literature” that does not challenge, does not provoke debate, does not raise intelligence or enhance their understanding of life.

We wouldn’t want that, would we?

I mean, there are some dangerous precedents, aren’t there?

The grave of Upton Sinclair

Upton Sinclair’s novel The Jungle, when read by Theodore Roosevelt, provoked a government-ordered inquiry into the way Americans were being fed.

Edith Maude Eaton’s Mrs. Spring Fragrance highlighted racism against the Chinese in America and caused the Chinese Exclusion Act to be repealed in 1943.

Conrad’s The Secret Agent was the first acknowledged publication about the truths of terrorism.

Literature is powerful, provocative, contentious, impactful, unforgettable and, even when read for pleasure alone, there are few books that do not—at least in some small way—change the perspective of the reader.

Wasn’t it Helen Exley who said, “Books can be dangerous. The best ones should be labelled ‘This could change your life.’”

So yes, I have to be careful of those who read, of those who encourage and promote reading, of those who would attempt to inspire others, of those who would seek to fire the imagination or lift the spirit of their fellow Man.

And if I am successful in my mission, if I manage to reduce the population to unthinking, unquestioning robots who merely do what they are told, who believe what they hear on the radio or television, who never challenge or fight back or demand justice for wrongdoing, then what will I have?

Well, I will have exactly what I want: a society without art, without music, without culture, without vision, without a future. I will have a society of division, intolerance, prejudice, low morals and soaring crime rates.

History tells the tale. It was accomplished by the Romans. They brought the society down to a point where sex and violence became the mainstay of that culture’s “entertainment.” It was accomplished in Hitler’s Germany, where people became afraid to say anything at all that contradicted the ruling tyranny. It was the same in Stalin’s Russia.

Yes, I am sure it has to begin with reading. If I can kill the desire to read, if I can stem the availability of books and literature, then more than half the battle will be won.

You may think this cannot be done. You may have fooled yourself into believing that such a thing could only happen in Rome, Germany or Russia.

Well, let me tell you a few home truths.

Fact: 343 libraries have been closed in the UK. More than a hundred are now under threat.

As for independent bookstores, an article in The Telegraph has already reported that the number of UK bookstores halved between 2005 and 2012. That was over 2,000 closures in seven years—over 280 a year, close to six a week. Six hundred towns now have no bookshop at all, and the number has only increased since then.

So, you think it can’t be done. Think again.

The library at Thebes was considered to be the greatest in the world. There were four words inscribed over the doorway: “Medicine for the soul.”

What happens when we have accomplished illiteracy, intolerance and prejudice? I think we will also have accomplished a rejection of all things religious, philosophical and spiritual. The statement above the doorway will mean nothing, for there will no longer be any such thing as a “soul.”


Through the pages of a book one discovers history, science, music, art, the collected lessons of thousands of years of thinking Man. If the lessons for the future are not to be learned from the past, where does one go for them?

Nowhere? That’s where.

That’s right. Nowhere.

Setting satire aside, what do I really think?

I wholeheartedly believe that we—as a race—possess the wherewithal, the intelligence, the financial and technical resources to cure all of Man’s ills complete. If the minds of men were turned to constructive activities, as opposed to devising more ways in which they can kill one another faster, then we would cure cancer, world hunger, AIDS, ignorance, racism, prejudice and illiteracy.

It has been proven that illiteracy relates to an inability to think, an inability to solve day-to-day problems, an inability to communicate, to work, to preserve and maintain a marriage, to raise a child. Illiteracy is at the root of antisocial behavior and crime.

Lower a society’s literacy level and you kill it.

It’s that simple.

It has been said that the pen is mightier than the sword.

But once the pen can no longer be used, all that will remain is the sword.

Photo by Vaughan Sam/

R.J. Ellory
Author, musician.