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I never thought of stupidity as particularly macho. But then, maybe I’ve lived outside the UK for too long. Because apparently a lot of British men fit that mold. And I’m rather ashamed to link my own gender to this, but the statistics seem to speak for themselves.

Or should I have softened it a bit? Saying, well, if you’re male and British there is a greater tendency towards not taking a serious interest in books, rather than making such an emphatic statement? And let British society off the hook? And sidestep that disgraceful conclusion? Because here we have some hard evidence (yea, macho hard-man hard) to prove exactly that.

According to a survey for the UK Reading Agency, conducted by OnePoll and cited in The Bookseller, and by the BBC, 63 percent of British men admit that they don’t read as much as they think they should – although both the agencies behind the survey have been noticeably coy about sharing the results. Apparently, 30 percent of the male portion of the sample of 2000 British men and women haven’t even opened a book since they were forced to do it at school, and 46 percent said they read less than they used to.

And as a Scot, perhaps I would have been more honest to substitute British for English in this article title. I hope, but I don’t expect, that the figures would show a better picture north of the Border. However, Scotland at least has a national tradition based on culture as a central pillar of national identity, and on the opportunity for a smart boy, however poor or disadvantaged, to carve a place in the world through mental effort. And it seems that others agree. But centuries of social division and disentitlement seem to have successfully eradicated those kind of ambitions further south.

Roughly one third of the male sample seem to prefer engaging with the internet and TV or movies, rather than text. Perhaps the Kindle era can lead them back to prose, but that remains to be seen.

The roots of English anti-intellectualism are long and deep, but it’s a phenomenon much observed and widely recognized. “Greek farmers will debate politics, philosophy, or literature ancient and modern; Syrian labourers the classical poetry of Abu Al-‘ala al-Ma’arri,” remarks one unhappy blogger. “I’m not sure it’s a class issue as I know many university-educated middle-class Brits who appear to be interested in nothing in particular.”

Male authors quoted in The Guardian are appropriately concerned about this. But it’s a pity that even The Guardian seems to feel obliged to wheel out a veteran card-carrying macho man like Andy McNab to comment on the issue.

“We have got to keep these boys reading because once they stop, they never start again,” McNab says in The Guardian. “It doesn’t matter what they read, we just need to get them into the habit of it and then keep them doing it.”

All in all, I couldn’t wish for better proof of the quality of English education and English cultural attitudes than this. Or clearer omens of their implications for the economic and social future of England.

 
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