Obfuscation: illiteracy of the masses

Literacy has been described as the ability to read for knowledge and write coherently and think critically about the written word.

Today, we view education as one of the most basic responsibilities of any government toward its citizens. Moreover, we realize that an educated population is beneficial for its country. Well, it was not always such a reality. Consider all the people who lived during the past 5,000 years collectively. Historians estimate that less than one percent of the people were literate. This means that over 99% of all humanity throughout history has been functionally illiterate.

There are two main reasons for mass illiteracy throughout history. The first relates to the practical realities of life, and the second to the deliberate policies of governments.

Practical Realities

Today, we take our existence for granted. We may not be millionaires, but most of us live in houses with heat, electricity and indoor plumbing. We sleep through the night in peace (unless we have small children!). We wake up in the morning, take a hot shower, and then go to a kitchen which is stocked with foods. We climb into a car or bus, go to school or to work. We come home after our day, eat supper, and relax. We have vacations, leisure time, and retirement. We look forward to living long enough to see our grandchildren.

Most of us take this entirely for granted and don’t appreciate how amazing it all is!

In antiquity, the overwhelming day-to-day goal of the average peasant (and even many who live in some parts of the Third World today) was survival. Daily concerns included: An enemy shouldn't sack my village, rape my wife, kill me, and burn my house down. My wife shouldn't die in childbirth; my children shouldn't die young from all kinds of diseases. My crops shouldn't fail, or a drought or plague hit my village. The average person labored from dawn to dusk – no weekends, no vacations, no retirement. Life painted a pretty bleak picture.

With the goal of survival, who could afford to send their children to school? The youngsters who survived were needed to work in the fields. In addition, while both Greece and Rome had schools, education wasn’t free. Who had the leisure time and the financial resources to educate their children? Certainly not the average peasant. Historians estimate that the literacy rates in Greece and Rome were between 10%-15%.

By our modern standards that’s horrible, but compared to other societies of antiquity, it’s fantastic! Only the ruling minority, the nobility, and landowners could afford to educate their children. Yet, even many of them didn't bother. More than a few noblemen and monarchs, especially in the Middle Ages, were illiterate.

Controlling the Masses

The second reason for mass illiteracy was to maintain control.

Education is power. Educated people are potentially dangerous. Who are often the revolutionaries in history? Who started trouble in America in the ‘60s and in Third World today? Students! They are young, idealistic and educated; they fill their heads with all kinds of dangerous ideas.

Even in the former Soviet Union, which provided universal, free education through graduate school, the government was very careful to control the material that was taught. Knowledge is dangerous – it can destabilize society. Ignorant people are far easier to control. We know it today, and people knew it thousands of years ago, too.

Obfuscation Contemporary Illiteracy

You see obfuscation on a daily basis without even really realizing it and most of us have basically become numb to its implementation.

Obfuscation is the hiding of intended meaning in communications, making communication confusing, willfully ambiguous, and harder to interpret.

Whether it is delivered through legal documentation or bills like SOPA the ambiguity or purposefully obfuscation of material seems to be intended to keep a large mass of people away or at the very least disinterested with its construed nature or long-winded jargon. You've also seen many things like this whenever you agree to a the terms of a licensing to many products. When was the last time you actually read through one of those documentations, if ever. Though many of these specific terms of agreement are less obfuscated and are more inclined to fall under the type of readings people have become numb to because of over usage and length that people tend to just zip right through them without ever reading.

EA had a particularly disturbing one when they launched Origin.

Electronic Arts' new game service, Origin, has hidden some rather disturbing language inside its EULA. Rock, Paper, Shotgun notes that in order to play Battlefield 3, or any other game that requires Origin to run, you're going to have to let EA root around inside your computer. Here's the gory details, straight from Origin's EULA:

2. Consent to Collection and Use of Data.

You agree that EA may collect, use, store and transmit technical and related information that identifies your computer (including the Internet Protocol Address), operating system, Application usage (including but not limited to successful installation and/or removal), software, software usage and peripheral hardware, that may be gathered periodically to facilitate the provision of software updates, dynamically served content, product support and other services to you, including online services. EA may also use this information combined with personal information for marketing purposes and to improve our products and services. We may also share that data with our third party service providers in a form that does not personally identify you. IF YOU DO NOT WANT EA TO COLLECT, USE, STORE, TRANSMIT OR DISPLAY THE DATA DESCRIBED IN THIS SECTION, PLEASE DO NOT INSTALL OR USE THE APPLICATION. This and all other data provided to EA and/or collected by EA in connection with your installation and use of this Application is collected, used, stored and transmitted in accordance with EA's Privacy Policy located at www.ea.com. To the extent that anything in this section conflicts with the terms of EA's Privacy Policy, the terms of the Privacy Policy shall control.

Imagine a similar scenario where you take computers out of the equation wherein you've just bought a physical copy of a movie from a Best Buy store. After returning home you're about to place your movie in a device when you realize that the guy who was the cashier behind the counter is standing in the room looking through all of your movies, games...porn, whatever and even goes so far as to jump onto your DVR to see everything you've watched at...ever. "What the fuck are you doing in my house guy?" He may reply "nothing, I'm just collecting information about about related information that identifies what you collect, use, and or store." "GET OUT OF MY HOUSE" you foamingly slobber as you yell at the intruder. He then says "Oh, well" and snaps the item out of your hands you just bought because you won't allow him to invade your privacy.

Now, I've heard many people respond with retorts like "If you thought people weren't doing this before you're naive". The fact of the matter is that ignorance or naivety do not justify the simple fact that it is wrong. Whether people know about it or not or simply don't think it is happening is not relevant.

So, is the reason companies are allowed to literally throw aside constitutional rights because people have become numb to the tedium of long-winded terms of agreements which 95% of people do not read simply because they want to use the product and use it now? Or, perhaps could the problem be our own? Impart due to the convention of modern social interactions like the practiced use of short-winded talks and responses encouraged by things like forums and twitter? Have these modern social interactions shortened our attention spans to such a degree that obfuscation of the masses is happening naturally?

What do you think? Is there such a thing as purposeful obfuscation to a degree that it is a new modern form of mass illiteracy to control the flow of information? Are we numb to long-winded terms of agreement to such a degree that we simply will allow people and companies to take away our constitutional rights just because we want to play or use their products? Are legal documents purposefully made with such jargon that people who are not disciplined in obfuscation are rendered unable to understand or made with the idea of allowing people who are already wealthy with the ability to exploit loopholes in their benefits while simultaneously leaving "Joe Derp" in the wind to be their unwittingly ignorant worker bee?

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Edited by thePSA

Literacy has been described as the ability to read for knowledge and write coherently and think critically about the written word.

Today, we view education as one of the most basic responsibilities of any government toward its citizens. Moreover, we realize that an educated population is beneficial for its country. Well, it was not always such a reality. Consider all the people who lived during the past 5,000 years collectively. Historians estimate that less than one percent of the people were literate. This means that over 99% of all humanity throughout history has been functionally illiterate.

There are two main reasons for mass illiteracy throughout history. The first relates to the practical realities of life, and the second to the deliberate policies of governments.

Practical Realities

Today, we take our existence for granted. We may not be millionaires, but most of us live in houses with heat, electricity and indoor plumbing. We sleep through the night in peace (unless we have small children!). We wake up in the morning, take a hot shower, and then go to a kitchen which is stocked with foods. We climb into a car or bus, go to school or to work. We come home after our day, eat supper, and relax. We have vacations, leisure time, and retirement. We look forward to living long enough to see our grandchildren.

Most of us take this entirely for granted and don’t appreciate how amazing it all is!

In antiquity, the overwhelming day-to-day goal of the average peasant (and even many who live in some parts of the Third World today) was survival. Daily concerns included: An enemy shouldn't sack my village, rape my wife, kill me, and burn my house down. My wife shouldn't die in childbirth; my children shouldn't die young from all kinds of diseases. My crops shouldn't fail, or a drought or plague hit my village. The average person labored from dawn to dusk – no weekends, no vacations, no retirement. Life painted a pretty bleak picture.

With the goal of survival, who could afford to send their children to school? The youngsters who survived were needed to work in the fields. In addition, while both Greece and Rome had schools, education wasn’t free. Who had the leisure time and the financial resources to educate their children? Certainly not the average peasant. Historians estimate that the literacy rates in Greece and Rome were between 10%-15%.

By our modern standards that’s horrible, but compared to other societies of antiquity, it’s fantastic! Only the ruling minority, the nobility, and landowners could afford to educate their children. Yet, even many of them didn't bother. More than a few noblemen and monarchs, especially in the Middle Ages, were illiterate.

Controlling the Masses

The second reason for mass illiteracy was to maintain control.

Education is power. Educated people are potentially dangerous. Who are often the revolutionaries in history? Who started trouble in America in the ‘60s and in Third World today? Students! They are young, idealistic and educated; they fill their heads with all kinds of dangerous ideas.

Even in the former Soviet Union, which provided universal, free education through graduate school, the government was very careful to control the material that was taught. Knowledge is dangerous – it can destabilize society. Ignorant people are far easier to control. We know it today, and people knew it thousands of years ago, too.

Obfuscation Contemporary Illiteracy

You see obfuscation on a daily basis without even really realizing it and most of us have basically become numb to its implementation.

Obfuscation is the hiding of intended meaning in communications, making communication confusing, willfully ambiguous, and harder to interpret.

Whether it is delivered through legal documentation or bills like SOPA the ambiguity or purposefully obfuscation of material seems to be intended to keep a large mass of people away or at the very least disinterested with its construed nature or long-winded jargon. You've also seen many things like this whenever you agree to a the terms of a licensing to many products. When was the last time you actually read through one of those documentations, if ever. Though many of these specific terms of agreement are less obfuscated and are more inclined to fall under the type of readings people have become numb to because of over usage and length that people tend to just zip right through them without ever reading.

EA had a particularly disturbing one when they launched Origin.

Electronic Arts' new game service, Origin, has hidden some rather disturbing language inside its EULA. Rock, Paper, Shotgun notes that in order to play Battlefield 3, or any other game that requires Origin to run, you're going to have to let EA root around inside your computer. Here's the gory details, straight from Origin's EULA:

2. Consent to Collection and Use of Data.

You agree that EA may collect, use, store and transmit technical and related information that identifies your computer (including the Internet Protocol Address), operating system, Application usage (including but not limited to successful installation and/or removal), software, software usage and peripheral hardware, that may be gathered periodically to facilitate the provision of software updates, dynamically served content, product support and other services to you, including online services. EA may also use this information combined with personal information for marketing purposes and to improve our products and services. We may also share that data with our third party service providers in a form that does not personally identify you. IF YOU DO NOT WANT EA TO COLLECT, USE, STORE, TRANSMIT OR DISPLAY THE DATA DESCRIBED IN THIS SECTION, PLEASE DO NOT INSTALL OR USE THE APPLICATION. This and all other data provided to EA and/or collected by EA in connection with your installation and use of this Application is collected, used, stored and transmitted in accordance with EA's Privacy Policy located at www.ea.com. To the extent that anything in this section conflicts with the terms of EA's Privacy Policy, the terms of the Privacy Policy shall control.

Imagine a similar scenario where you take computers out of the equation wherein you've just bought a physical copy of a movie from a Best Buy store. After returning home you're about to place your movie in a device when you realize that the guy who was the cashier behind the counter is standing in the room looking through all of your movies, games...porn, whatever and even goes so far as to jump onto your DVR to see everything you've watched at...ever. "What the fuck are you doing in my house guy?" He may reply "nothing, I'm just collecting information about about related information that identifies what you collect, use, and or store." "GET OUT OF MY HOUSE" you foamingly slobber as you yell at the intruder. He then says "Oh, well" and snaps the item out of your hands you just bought because you won't allow him to invade your privacy.

Now, I've heard many people respond with retorts like "If you thought people weren't doing this before you're naive". The fact of the matter is that ignorance or naivety do not justify the simple fact that it is wrong. Whether people know about it or not or simply don't think it is happening is not relevant.

So, is the reason companies are allowed to literally throw aside constitutional rights because people have become numb to the tedium of long-winded terms of agreements which 95% of people do not read simply because they want to use the product and use it now? Or, perhaps could the problem be our own? Impart due to the convention of modern social interactions like the practiced use of short-winded talks and responses encouraged by things like forums and twitter? Have these modern social interactions shortened our attention spans to such a degree that obfuscation of the masses is happening naturally?

What do you think? Is there such a thing as purposeful obfuscation to a degree that it is a new modern form of mass illiteracy to control the flow of information? Are we numb to long-winded terms of agreement to such a degree that we simply will allow people and companies to take away our constitutional rights just because we want to play or use their products? Are legal documents purposefully made with such jargon that people who are not disciplined in obfuscation are rendered unable to understand or made with the idea of allowing people who are already wealthy with the ability to exploit loopholes in their benefits while simultaneously leaving "Joe Derp" in the wind to be their unwittingly ignorant worker bee?