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You Are What You Read

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To educate is to draw out that which is within

From the scripts of the ancient Nile Valley and Mesopotamia to the Quipu system of notation using knots and thread in medieval America; through to the most enduring system still widely in use (Chinese writing) via numerous other variations, to this, the Roman script that I am currently communicating in, the process of symbol creation and codification we call writing is in many ways one of the quintessential human and humanising processes.

As we embark on our quest of naming the world, writing attempts to distill our realities, or perceived realities and preserve ideas, thoughts or feelings in a permanent or (given the deliberate destruction of many of the greatest collections of books throughout the ages) semi-permanent state.

Of course many of the now most acclaimed and sought after written works began life as oral traditions and their credited 'authors' are people that told, rather than wrote the narratives in question (the Malian epic of Sunjata and the Homeric epics being two famous examples). One may ask whether this rendering of such works into a committed form locks them into a static state where the creativity and potential for evolution in such tales is rendered dormant. That is a valid discussion in some respects but writers seem to re-interpret and re-tell other writers ideas and motifs just as readily and dramatically as oral communicants.

Perhaps this is because, if writing is a process of crystallisation, reading is quite the opposite, that is, a process of the most spectacular transformation. It was reading that transformed a young man from Stratford Upon-Avon with no formal university education into the most revered writer in the English language.

It was reading that transformed a 25-year-old 'street hustler' in prison, nicknamed 'Red', into one of the 20th century's most noted political intellectuals. It was his access to literature, unlike so many of the other millions of Africans in bondage in the Americas, that not only enabled but somehow forced Toussaint L'Ouverture to lead the Haitian revolution that eventually compromised the entire transatlantic catastrophe.

It is this potential for transformation, self-discovery and evolution that is reading's almost sacred purpose. The way we are able to communicate with characters and narratives that are somehow more real than anything we have ever physically experienced through words and the images they conjure. The way these narratives serve as archetypes to meditate upon. The ways in which we each process ideas differently, but they inevitably change who we are and thus who we are to become.

Anyone familiar with the work of Professor Masaru Emoto will be well aware of the transformational power of words. Professor Emoto experiments basically consist of examining frozen water crystals under a microscope, whilst speaking different words at the water or even just passing pieces of paper with particular written words inscribed on them over the water and monitoring whether or not the presence of different words changes the crystal structure of the water in any way.

What he overwhelmingly found was that positive, loving, affirmative words caused the water crystals to align in a way that made them look like beautiful often geometrically perfect snowflakes and that hateful, offensive, degrading words caused the crystals to form ugly 'distressed' shapes. Whilst the accuracy of Professor Emoto's work has been called into question by some, the idea that human energy and intention have the power to shape and shift subatomic reality in ways we do not fully understand is a basic tenet of Quantum Physics.

There are now more than ever schools of thought that increasingly see a symbiotic, rather than antagonistic, relationship between 'rational' science and sacred science, philosophy and or mystical phenomena. If energy and intention have power to literally alter what we perceive, what of the words that carry that energy? What is the power of stanzas, pages, whole books' worth of either degrading or inspiring information not only on the human 'water' but psyche as well?

As a young man growing up I have personally experienced many conflicts that arose simply out of two people not being able to communicate what they really wanted to say effectively. We've all had family members or spouses that we wish were more commutative, or have wished that we ourselves had better command of the language.

However, we still live in a culture torn, where the outdated Victorian stereotypes of higher education as an elitist and somewhat irrelevant activity for the common folk still prevail, with vacuous, celebrity driven, hyper-materialism being marketed (especially to the young) as the preferred, cool, aspirational lifestyle.

I have worked with thousands of young people (or people younger than myself!) via the Hip hop Shakespeare Company and see first hand everyday just how damaging these ideologies are to peoples self-esteem, their outlook on the world and ultimately their behaviour and belief of what they feel is possible or attainable for them.

Fortunately I also see just how strong the desire to be educated is in ALL human beings once it is switched on or stimulated by dialogue, not authoritarian dictatorship. However, education does not occur in a cultural vacuum. If we are to be the society we perhaps can be at a time when we absolutely have the technology, know how and resources to feed, clothe, house and educate EVERY human being on earth many times over the way in which we market, view and treat education and reading on a mass level has to change dramatically.

What is the purpose of education, to learn to create profit, to become an efficient worker, or to solve human problems? What is the function of science, to build larger and more ever destructive weapons? Ultimately those who really shape our societies are the so called 'geeks', technicians, architects, engineers, doctors, philosophers etc so anyone that is telling you these same people are not cool, is either very confused, or trying to limit you in life.

It may seem odd for some that a Hip-Hop artist would presume to have an opinion on such issues but to those that love and understand the musical genre that has in no small part been responsible for shaping me and millions of others as human beings it will come as no surprise. Hip-Hop culture has always and will always be about this dialogue of self-determination and affirmation. For those who don't know the five elements of Hip-Hop, as codified by its founding fathers are:

DJING
MCING (Rapping)
BREAKDANCING
GRAFFITI
KNOWLEDGE

Guns, materialism, disrespecting women and or any of the other stereotypes some have come to view as the primary imagery of the genre may be a part of reality in 'the hood' (and indeed the wider world culture) to some degree but are not part of the five elements and their preponderance in Rap videos is much more a reflection of corporate hegemony over, and fetishisation of Rap than of the reality of how the Hip-Hop community and culture defines itself.

From shamanic ritual to the initiate schools of ancient Africa through to the clergy, the politicians, monarchs and secret societies, the battle for who shall be the custodians of knowledge and how that knowledge shall be applied seems to have been a human historical constant.

With all the information we now have at our fingertips (at least those of us that have access to the relevant technologies and the disposable income to afford books) how do we design more efficient social, political, economic systems that cater for the whole of the human family, that make the best use of our finite material and human resources, that seek to promote greater understanding of ourselves and thus each other.

Surely these are some of the intelligent aims for 21st century education? Surely these are the questions art should inspire us to seek answers to? Is culture not a vehicle for problem solving?