The birth of writing

The birth of writing was such an important phenomenon that historians make it coincide with the birth of civilizations, or rather with history as such, since where “writing” does not exist, only “prehistory” exists.

When Marx wrote in the Manifesto that “the history of every society has hitherto been the history of class struggle”, Engels, in the English edition of 1888 of that famous work, had to specify, in a note, that for “history” we only had to understand what had been handed down to us by written sources.

As you can see it was an oversight of no small importance, also because precisely in the period in which the Manifesto was written there were still tens of thousands of Native Americans in North America whose civilization had never known neither writing nor the conflicts of class. Africa itself, before European colonialism and excluding the Egyptian area, was placed in the same conditions, and so many areas of the planet, who were then shocked by the voyages of conquest of the main European nations, of which the most ridiculous, in this meaning, it was Spain, which already in the time of Columbus, claimed to take possession of other people’s lands by reading the motivations of his attitude in a language, the Castilian, which no resident was able to understand.

But here it is worth rereading the above note by Engels, since it is indicative of the fact that Europeans used to become aware of things only when they themselves, independently, did it, that is, when they began to read specific studies on the subject, not when it would be it was enough to look beyond one’s borders.

“In 1847 the prehistory of society – the social organization that existed before history passed down in writing – was little less than unknown. Since then, Haxthausen discovered the common ownership of the land in Russia, Maurer showed that it was the social base from which they took I start all the Teutonic races in history, and it was soon realized that the village communities were, or had been, everywhere the primitive form of society, from India to Ireland. The internal organization of these primitive communist societies was revealed, in its typical form, from Morgan’s great discovery of the true nature of the gens and his relationship with the tribe, with the dissolution of these primordial communities, society began to differentiate into separate and later antagonistic classes.I tried to retrace this dissolving process inThe origin of the family, private property and the state , Stuttgart 1886, second edition. “

Which, in essence, meant that in Europe we were so accustomed to accepting class conflicts and writing that we could not even imagine a period, which later turned out to be very long, in which the two had never existed.

In reality, writing is no more than six thousand years old, just like civilizations, so both represent only a small link in that long chain of the human species. We Europeans, starting from the Phoenician tradition, which invented the alphabet still in use today, have always considered writing important, since with it, among other things, it was possible to establish rules valid for everyone, including often , not always, the same men of government. Or at least we deluded ourselves that this was possible.

In particular, we were able to appreciate that a small people like the Jewish one had given themselves laws that, in the intentions of the legislator, had to be the same for everyone, including himself. Which, for example, is not found among the Sumerians (the true founders of writing in general, who with their codes – the most famous of which is that of Hammurabi – made it clear that the application of the laws depended on who he violated them and those who suffered the consequences), and not even among the Egyptians, who considered the pharaohs well above any law.

Even the ancient Romans had developed the laws of the XII Tables, but, compared with those mosaics, they appear much less democratic, if only for a reason: they allowed themselves easily enough to enslave their own fellow citizen deemed insolvent.

In the abstract, therefore, it is possible to affirm that the need to give oneself rules was dictated by the need to prevent someone’s arbitrariness: in the sense that strength or cunning had to submit to reason. In fact, however, the laws often served only to justify an abuse already practiced, giving it a semblance of legitimacy.

For millennia the oppressed classes have deluded themselves that written rules, shared by the underwriters, were enough to make a society function democratically. Moses was one of the first to realize that the laws themselves are of no use if there is no political will to enforce them. And when he saw the betrayal of Aaron and a part of his people, he thought that to apply his laws tribal democracy was not enough, it also required an authoritarian will that would punish the transgressors mercilessly. And so it was that he exterminated a part of his own people, using the other half. He understood that more important than the law was the obligation to enforce it.

With Jews, not only the ideology of writing was born , but also juridical culture for political purposes . The law becomes a sort of divinity, a totem to be worshiped and all culture revolves around the interpretation that can be given of its many precepts. That’s why the Jewish one was and still is a people of intellectuals.

We Westerners, by virtue of Christian mediation, trace these things back to the Jews, but in reality the Sumerians knew writing even before the “Jewish people” were born. The Jews took the best of the Sumerians (Abraham came out of the land of Ur) and the best of the Egyptians (Moses came out of the land of the pharaohs) and merged it into legislation that is still the basis of all the laws of the world today. Do not kill, do not steal, do not say false witness, do not desire the woman of others … are they not precepts on which all the Constitutions of the world are based? Even dictatorships are forced to recognize them; rather, they argue that it is only in an authoritarian way that those precepts can be enforced.

Dictatorship is necessary because in the presence of democracy those precepts are not observed. So why can’t “written laws” and “democracy” get together? Why, at a certain point, invariably does democracy turn into a sort of anarchy and written laws, despite their indisputable theoretical value, are of no use?

The reason is very simple. The need to give oneself written rules is not part of an authentically democratic civilization, but only of one that would at best want to become one, but which cannot. A civilization, or even just a democratic society, does not need any written law, precisely because democracy either actually exists in reality or does not exist at all. It cannot exist only on the card and when it really exists, it does not need the card to be confirmed.

The ban on eating the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil was placed when it was now about to be done. A prohibition is put in place to prevent a certain arbitrariness from spreading, but it is clear that without self-awareness the prohibition will serve no purpose, it will only postpone an inevitable event.

When the Jews gave themselves the commandments, they did so in order to give themselves a better way of life than the Egyptian one, where the slavery will of the pharaohs, priests and nobles could be imposed in spite of any law, except that the subordinate classes did not rebel. But then, instead of decreasing the value of the law, it was increased dramatically, adding precepts to precepts, in a continuous crescendo, so that in the end the society was divided among those who knew the laws to be able to use them as they please, and those who suffered them in all ways. The Christian gospels are full of complaints against the hypocrisy of those who “said” and did not “do”, of those who “did” according to the law and “undo” human relations (the most obvious contradiction was that of the Sabbath).

In the past six thousand years, writing has served no purpose, neither to increase political democracy nor to improve the sense of humanity. Perhaps the Sumerians were right when they said that the application of the laws cannot be absolute but relative, depending on who does the wrong and who suffers them: pity that the legislator always put himself on the side of the strongest. Marx also said that it makes no sense to affirm equality before the law when everyone is different in life.

So what to do while waiting for a society or civilization to emerge totally devoid of writing and, at the same time, on a human scale? During the transition phase, laws must be developed in favor of those who have less, to induce those who have more to respect them. The sign that democracy will be increased will come from the fact that laws will decrease.

But who can assure that this decrease will be the result of an increased democracy and not instead of a transformation of this into a dictatorship? To progressively eliminate writing, and therefore the laws, which are its quintessence, democracy must be revolutionary and that the creators of this revolution must watch first of all for themselves.


Writing is an effect of “civilization” in the broad sense (which specifically has also produced our system of life) and will disappear when not only our system but also the concept of “civilization” itself will be completely transformed.

We will have to get to the point where writing will not be perceived as a vital need , that is, as something that is needed to keep a certain social system upright or to fight it. At most, writing can exist as an artistic form of free communication , but it will certainly be very different from the current one, which seems to have very little artistic.

Even today writing, even when you want to put in place something alternative to the dominant system, has a very limited value, so much so that we consider the audiovisual medium much more effective: politics is done on television, at most on the web, certainly not in written programs.

The mystification passes through one’s face, one’s words and not so much through one’s own writing. It was convinced that the best way to convince the interlocutor is to look him in the eye through a camera, speaking very quietly. Those who want to subvert the system have not yet understood this transformation and continue to rely on writing.

Those who want more precise information turn to printed paper (destined to disappear if it were deprived of public funding) and also to telematic networks. Today it is the very idea of ​​”encyclopedia of knowledge” that we must overcome. It is the illusion of being able to find an answer to all our questions in written texts.

This illusion, since the search engines were born, of a generalist nature, available to everyone free of charge, has greatly increased. The universal knowledge at hand on any topic offers us the illusion of being able to solve any of our problems.

Indeed, the illusion would be even greater if the engines were specialized on specific topics, so as to minimize the time of the search. The illusion would even reach its climax if, instead of many targeted texts obtained during the search, not even one was obtained, but only the possibility of speaking with a person specialized in a specific sector, asking a specific question. Only this person, duly paid by the community, should have access to the vast amount of information, while we, who do not want to waste even a minute looking for things on thousands and thousands of documents, would hang from his lips, from his responses, as if it were an oracle, a sibyl, a priest of universal knowledge.

We would delude ourselves to the maximum degree of the benefits that remote interaction could give us, which could also be paid. In fact, anyone who wants an effective answer to his own question, if he really cares about having it, should be willing to shell out something, otherwise his is just a curiosity that is an end in itself, empty and intellectualistic.

The illusion of universal and specialized knowledge at the same time is precisely that of those who think they can obtain, at any time, an effective response to their doubts or problems, from those who are emotionally foreign to them, having never seen or known it , knowing nothing of his past and that, despite this, he feels authorized to ask him to be paid, because he can prove to have universal and in-depth knowledge, like the sophists and in the time of Pericles, who guaranteed the success of their knowledge imparted for remuneration.


I think writing is only, in general, a form of alienation, perhaps light but real. It is enough to see when it was born: starting from urbanized civilizations. Before the transmission was only oral and in Italy, in the peasant world, it remained so for a long time even after unification. Maybe because they were less intelligent than us? or why did they have less means? No, simply because they lived in collective experiences where relationships were very close and did not need such artificial tools to communicate. Who would ever think of writing something to their partner, living next to it every day? Writing means individualism, unless one does it knowing in advance that what he writes will be the subject of debate with someone. Maybe one writes something about an experience because it comes from and wants to share it or make known the problems to those who know nothing about it and who instead could do something to make it better (I think, for example, to prisoners who write against life imprisonment or death penalty). Writing just for the sake of writing or, even, to make a profit, it seems senseless to me. We should try to take our time to improve ourselves as people and the environment in which we live, making the social relationship the measure of our identity. Writing is only a surplus, which many people in the world cannot even afford. prisoners who write against life imprisonment or the death penalty). Writing just for the sake of writing or, even, to make a profit, it seems senseless to me. We should try to take our time to improve ourselves as people and the environment in which we live, making the social relationship the measure of our identity. Writing is only a surplus, which many people in the world cannot even afford. prisoners who write against life imprisonment or the death penalty). Writing just for the sake of writing or, even, to make a profit, it seems senseless to me. We should try to take our time to improve ourselves as people and the environment in which we live, making the social relationship the measure of our identity. Writing is only a surplus, which many people in the world cannot even afford.

Writing has something of a mystic indeed a fetishistic, towards which we are like worshipers. We contemplate it thinking that it should convey a sense of completeness, of intellectual satisfaction, as when a believer thinks he can more easily obtain what he asks in the measure in which he scrupulously respects all the formal rules and infuses all his interiority into the ritual. We feel satisfied as those who create a work of art and we do not worry at all about building something human around it, something socially significant, but we immediately think about what else we can write, that is, where to find a new inspirational source, such as if inside us there was a minotaur to be met periodically. We take a substance that makes us feel good only while we take it. Then comes the crisis of

There must have been a reason why many great men in history (Buddha, Socrates, Christ …), knowingly, not out of ignorance, did not want to write a single word. Evidently they must have understood that writing is like clenching water in a fist. We are children not of logos but of a maniacal fixation: the illusory pretense of being able to fix our thoughts and feelings on a support (which we like to think eternally), as if we did not know that a person’s wealth, his depth, it can be truly appreciated (never exhausting it, never being able to fully grasp it) only from a direct relationship, from a close personal relationship.

The controversial relationship with writing also belongs to contemporary philosophers. Just look at Wittgenstein, one of the maximum of the twentieth century, who, after publishing the Treaty , said that it would have been useless to publish anything else, as they would not have understood it. With the Treaty, written in seven years, he had the illusion of absolute clarity, so much so that on the subject he said that there was nothing more to write. After some time, however, he began to think that words are so ambiguous that univocal understanding is impossible. Indeed, precisely in their ambiguity (which allows the so-called “language games”) is the main characteristic of human language. In short, in his high school years he had discovered hot water, and many critics believe that this delay was due to a sort of intellectual autism. So do we write to communicate something to someone on some specific topic (and await a comparison that could even question us) or just to clarify ourselves? In the second case: is this really the best method?

How many books are we willing to read entirely two or more times? Very few. Movies can be a few more, because viewing costs us less effort. On the other hand, there are many more paintings, indeed we are sorry if someone moves them. And what about the person we have loved for 30 or 40 years? Not for a moment would we be able to imagine our life without her. Yet we say that books also transmit thoughts and emotions to us. Yes, but they do it only because in reality we have somehow already experienced it. In order for a book to change our opinion about something, it must already find us in an adequate frame of mind. A person convinces us before the truth of something we didn’t believe in. We will write down the memories of the experience we had with her when that experience is over: if we do it first it is because we have not lived that relationship completely. Writing is an abstract experience, which necessarily involves a form of estrangement from reality. If I had to choose the least frustrating type of writing possible, I would choose the Chinese one, which combines words with an aesthetic graphic sense, which makes them pleasant to the eye. Let’s not forget that writing was born to make calculations, when division into classes already existed and a large part of the population had to bring the fruits of their work to the warehouses of kings and priests, so that, at a certain point, they became aware of need someone to calculate the exact amount of that extortion. Scribes were born in the service of power:

What is certain is that for someone used to writing (and I am one of them), comparing the spoken word with the written one is like playing a ball game knowing that the other team will not be able to replace their injured goalkeeper if not with a player whatever. None of us, in this virtual place, is able to defend the prerogatives of a merely oral transmission of knowledge. But we must see what is expected from the words: comparison? clarity? testimony? If I need to know an experience, I prefer to observe it in person, because, being a “westerner”, I am too accustomed to the perfection of writing, or its tendency to mystify reality, deforming it in a negative or positive sense. When I read Lenin I was amazed that on accusations of inconsistency that they addressed, he replied: “I write to solve problems, not to remain consistent with my ideas. Marxism is not a dogma, but a guide for action”. Here, perhaps one should have the courage to sacrifice one’s intellectual coherence for the benefit of a spurious but real experience.

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