Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash is one of those books with a mediocre plot and good enough characters that will stick with you for a long time after reading it. But it doesn’t feel like one of those philosophical novels with hollow characters representing a school of thought.
The cyberpunk world building is fascinating without being overdone. And the the whole thing will leave you thinking about a lot of things. It’s worth a read in my opinion, so much so that I’m going to add some of Stephenson’s other books to my list.
The world of Snow Crash is a programmed universe, with the ultimate consequence being that the human mind executes programs. This makes it possible for a single virus to affect both computers and humans.
Virus isn’t really the right word, it’s more of a meme in the academic sense of the word. Thus humans lived in a programmed happy state akin to Eden, a “virus” wrought mayhem akin to the Tower of Babel and the plot of Snow Crash deals with the consequences thereof.
Some philosophical points to ponder:
- Religions can be a sort of vaccination: the meme space that religions spread and take up in an individual are mostly benign to positive, this protects a person from being susceptible to more malicious viruses. Perhaps the better analogy would be how good bacteria outcompete harmful bacteria in the fermentation that results in beer, kimchi or kefir.
- “Religions of the book” provide a level of information hygiene. Having unchanging texts locks out viruses.
- Information hygiene can go too far, the example cited was the pharisees turning into legalistic automatons.
Beyond Snow Crash
I’ve also been reading a bit about René Girard’s ideas of mimetic theory, which fits in nicely with the idea of information hygiene. There’s a lot to dig into with the whole concept of information hygiene — the constant barrage of social media and news we consume and the lack of care in taking positions don’t lend themselves to a healthy relationship with information.