Illiterate By Choice?

by Patrick Appel

Drake Bennett reviews a book about Zomia, a largely lawless section of Asia. I don't buy this:

In his most speculative and contested claim, [Yale political scientist James Scott] argues that even the lack of a written language in many Zomian societies is an adaptive measure and a conscious societal choice. For peasants, writing was, first and foremost, a tool of state control - it was the instrument the elite used to extract money, labor, and military service from them. As a result, Scott argues, when those peasants escaped into the hills they discarded writing in an attempt to ensure that similar coercive hierarchies didn’t arise in the new societies they formed.