Cast as a cyberpunk story about a young girl caught between the mafia and a primitive version of Scientology, Snow Crash is a non-fiction introduction to memetics and cult psychology.
“This Snow Crash thing–is it a virus, a drug, or a religion?”
Juanita shrugs. “What’s the difference?”
The story centers around a phenomena known as Snow Crash. As Hiro Protagonist travels between meat space and virtual reality, he sees dealers hanging out Snow Crash as if a packet of drugs. But is it a drug or a virus, and does it, as one character asks, matter?
We now know, for example, that viruses (biological or computer, and what’s the difference?) alter human behavior. The type of bacteria you have in your gut, as Dr. Rhonda Patrick explained on a Joe Rogan Podcast, can influence food cravings. Obesity may be in large part due to certain species of gut bacteria increasing your cravings for unhealthy foods. A virus inside your stomach is controlling you. (So much for human rationality!)
The dichotomy between hardware (body) and software (mind) is an illusion. What you put into your body influences your mind, and the ideas you put in your mind influence your body. If you meditate on negative thoughts, your body’s fight-or-flight response will be engaged. Cortisol levels rise. Your body changes due to thoughts in your mind.
You’ll appreciate this digression into probiotics once you’ve read Snow Crash, as the theme of the book is that ideas are a mind virus. Ideas control human behavior.
Before you shake your head and say, “Duh! I’m a veteran of the Great Meme Wars of 2016,” check out Snow Crash’s publication date – 1992. Before the world wide web, before social media, before meme became a household world, Neal Stephenson wrote the treatise on memetic warfare.
A number of factors make Snow Crash an excellent book, including his observations on social psychology and human behavior, which he makes through fictional characters.
- “Ideology is a virus.”
- “All people have religions. It’s like we have religion receptors built into our brain cells, or something, and we’ll latch onto anything that’ll fill that niche for us.”
- “We are all susceptible to the pull of viral ideas. Like mass hysteria. Or a tune that gets into your head that you keep humming all day until you spread it to someone else. Jokes. Urban legends. Crackpot religions. Marxism. No matter how smart we get, there is always this deep irrational part that makes us potential hosts for self-replicating information.”
Stephenson even sneaks in some Benjamin Franklin esque homespun wisdom.
- “If you did enough traveling, you’d never feel at home anywhere.”
- “When you are wrestling for possession of a sword, the man with the handle always wins.”
- “The sight of the bare katana inspires everyone to a practically Nipponese level of politeness”
(Yes, there is sword fighting in Snow Crash!)
Stephenson may be the most intelligent writer who has ever lived, and Snow Crash is certainly one of the best books ever written.
If you like fiction with complicated characters, anti-heros, and sword fights, you’ll like Snow Crash. If you enjoy studying influence and persuasion while reading about sword fights, you’ll have found your new favorite book.