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.
Hippie by Paulo Coelho
“A man in search of spirituality knows little, because he reads of it and tries to fill his intellect with what he judges wise. Trade your books for madness and wonder – they you will be a bit closer to what you seek. Books bring us opinions and studies, analyses and comparisons, while the scared flame of madness brings us to the truth.” – Paulo Coelho, Hippie
Paulo Coelho, whose book The Alchemist has been read by somewhere between 50 and 100 million people doesn’t like agree with that, although if you read Hippie you’ll understand the context of the quote.
Hippie is a book Coelho’s fans seem to struggle with, as judged by reviews at Good Reads, likely because Hippie has a lot going on. One fan of Coelho writes:
Even though I enjoyed learning a little more about Paulo Coelho, his rebellious stage and his emotional journey to find the meaning of life, for me, Hippie fell flat. Written like a story, but based on his real life, I didn’t think it portrayed Coelho’s vibrant youth and his travels in a compelling and powerful way. There were tidbits of insight and lessons but the characters were not developed enough for me to care
Readers prefer a book about _______, where ________ can be summarized on an elevator or at a cocktail party.
- Watch Kurt Vonnegut on the Shapes of Stories.
Is Hippie about Paulo Coelho’s travels as a young man, ala Into the Wild? Is Hippie a love story?
While Coelho was ostensibly the protagonist, the book was as much about his travel companion and lover Karla as it is as him.
“All she’d ever done in her life was outrun others, but she would never be able to outrun herself,” was how Coelho described Karla, who convinced him to travel around the world with her on a bus trip from Amsterdam to Kathmandu, Nepal.
Karla’s emotional and spiritual journey is what makes Hippie, which is why it’s understandable that Coelho’s literary groupies were upset. They wanted more of him.
Coelho’s writing style flows and he has resisted the modern trend of overwriting stories. Most books, especially memoirs, tend toward tedium.
If you’ve taken a speed-reading course, you read memoirs or biographies quickly and are rarely drawn in. (Read the first sentence of each paragraph. If the sentence is good, read the middle sentence. Otherwise move onto the next paragraph.)
The setting of Hippie was among the more curious aspects of the story.
In the 1970’s it was possible to ride a bus from Amsterdam to Kathmandu, Nepal.
Steven Pinker and others have argued that humans have never been safer from violence.
Take a look at this map and tell me whether this ride, which many took a few decades ago, would be possible.
If you enjoy semi-autobiographical fiction where the narrator is on a spiritual quest, you’ll enjoy Hippie.
The New Right: A Journey to the Fringe of American Politics by Michael Malice
“The New Right is of the fringe, and the fringe is where both innovation and insanity lay.” – Michael Malice, The New Right.
When a writer asked to interview me for a book, I almost declined. I was burned out of talking to media people and not interested in explaining the same events over and over again.
But a mutual friend vouched for Michael Malice, and after being impressed with his Joe Rogan interview, I sat down for the interview.
Malice’s intellectual curiosity was evident immediately. Most writer or “journalists” want to argue during interviews. It gets boring. “OK, since you brought up x, you’re not going to bring up y.”
Malice was genuinely interested in my ideas, which as my recent interview on the Rubin Report show, are often “left wing.” Example – I believe CEO pay should be capped at a ratio of 100-to-1 of median employee wage.
Rather than attack or defend anyone, Malice showcases the points of views of people ranging from controversial to persona non grata. (Gavin McInnes is not only banned from Facebook, it’s also illegal for you to say you like him on the platform.)
Malice explains positions held by the populists and others, and criticizes those views where appropriate. As one example:
Activist Mike Cernovich’s movie is titled Silenced: The War on Free Speech…. The universal claim and concern in the New Right is that attacks on our free speech are unprecedented and fiercer than ever.
They are wrong.
Virtually all the Founding Fathers, including George Washington himself, were still alive when the Fifth Congress passed the Sedition Act, signed into law by John Adams. The act made it a federal crime to criticize the government or the president, leading to the arrest and imprisonment of several journalists.
While Malice has his history correct, one central theme of Silence was, We are doing it to ourselves.
Silenced was prophetic, and showed that the real threat to free speech wasn’t the government. It was all of us, as I describe in introducing Silenced:
Things are different than they used to be. We all know the feeling of dread when posting or talking about something controversial, and this dread has silenced us. It’s not censorship. The government isn’t doing it. We are. To ourselves. Across business, education, politics, and entertainment.
One can’t blame Malice for not having examined my entire body of work, because honestly how is that even possible?
Malice’s point about free speech is well-taken, though, as people today like people of all times believe our era is unprecedented. When really we aren’t special.
Malice also takes a look at Gorilla Mindset, and unlike most in the media, gets it:
In 2015 Cernovich self-published Gorilla Mindset…. Yet despite his swagger and the book’s title, his writing is far more new age than neo-reactionary. Many of the ideas have been staples of women’s magazines for years, including the benefits of meditation and “being present.”
Cernovich has cleverly repackaged such concepts in a manner friendly for guys, and in the process has given men permission to engage in these activities without feeling stigmatized. It’s akin to when Coca-Cola was invented Coke Zero, which was conceived as a male alternative for those too embarrassed by the perceived effeminacy of ordering a Diet Coke.
I’ve been on Malice’s show Your Welcome once or twice and am fond fo him, so you might consider this review to be PR, and that’s okay with me.
Those who know better understand that I’m a tough reviewer when it comes to books, and sometimes needlessly downgrade an excellent book as a way of antagonizing authors.
If you want to truly understand what is happening in America today, read The New Right.
As Malice observes, the new right has a largely male audience, and he asked me to explain why:
“Men are told today they’re living in a man’s world,” Cernovich told me, “and they’re looking around and thinking, Well, not for me. With men there isn’t any real help with alienation.”
Much of contemporary feminism is based on things like the relative number of male CEOs.
“It’s called the apex fallacy,” he said. “Too many men at the top. OK, what about the men at the bottom? Male suicide is four times the rate of female suicide. Look at homelessness, drug addition, and suicide rates. Men are often the biggest winners and the biggest losers.
You can get the New Right in ebook, paperback, and Audio.
Book Review – The Lucifer Principle by Howard Bloom
The problem of evil has had no shortage of takes from college students, philosophers, and theologians. Howard Bloom, one of America’s most original thinkers, explains the problem of evil and much more in The Lucifer Principle. Bloom’s hypothesis, painful though it may be for us to accept, is that creativity and innovation are driven by the evil impulse to take over foreign ands and to destroy your adversaries. Skins vs. Shirts. Us vs. Them. Sapiens.
Howard Bloom’s work has a devoted cult following, myself included, because his sentences are heavy thoughts with a breezy flow. His writing style takes some time to get used to.
Bloom recognizes that evil is within all of us, “We must build a picture of the human soul that works. Not a romantic vision that Nature will take us in her arms and save us from ourselves, but a recognition that the enemy is within us and that Nature has placed it there.”
“Superorganism, ideas, and the pecking order – these are the primary forces behind much of human creativity and earthly god. They are the holy trinity of the Lucifer Principle.”
Bloom believes each of us belong to a much larger superorganism, which he called the “global brain” in a book of the same title. Although we all see ourselves as special individuals, we often feel ourselves moved by forces we can’t fully explain, and one easy way of demonstrating this is by the self-censorship occurring today. “If you say that, they’ll come after you.”
Who is they? They is the hive mind. The collective consciousness.
- “You can put distance between yourself and the center of your nation or your family, but you can never totally cut your lines of connectivity. Even when we turn inward, an army of invisible others speaks through our thoughts, twists our emotions, and populates our privacy.”
- “Our institutional cruelty often pushes peculiar individuals to society’s outskirts and sometimes shoves them out entirely, while it squeezes the rest of us into a conscious or unwitting team. Conforming-enforcing packs of vicious children and adults gradually shape the social complexes we know as religion, science, corporations, ethnic groups, and even nations. The tools of our cohesion include ridicule, rejection, snobbery, self-righteousness, assault, torture, death by stoning, lethal injection, or the noose. A collective brain may sound warm and fuzzily New Age, but one force lashing it together is abuse.”
One could but need not read The Global Brain before diving into the Lucifer Principle.
The power of Bloom’s work is that he let’s you see into the future by explaining timeless principles of human nature and behavior. Published in 1995, Bloom’s best chapter is on memes.
- “Genes, says Dawkins, swam through the protoplasmic soup of earthly earth, nourishing themselves on organic sludge. Memes float through another kind of sea – a sea of human brains. Memes are ideas, the snatches of nothingness that leap from mind to mind. A melody wells up in the reveries of a solitary songwriter. It seizes the brain of a singer. Then it infects the consciousness of millions. That melody is a meme.”
A biologist by training, Bloom even compares the smells of rats to human memes:
- “How do rats know who’s kind and who’s not?…Each rat household has its own telltale odor.”
- “Early humans were stuck with the same problem. How do you tell who’s family and who’s not? How do you know who shares your genes? Like rats, primitive humans turned to external signs. Fortunately they didn’t rely on their noses. Instead, the inventive homo sapiens used ideas, manners, morals, and peculiarities for clothing. The Children of Israel were typical of the tribal nations of the time….Your god, your mannerism, and your ideas were the outward labels of your genetics.”
- [To the conformity enforcers out there: Neither Howard Bloom nor Mike Cernovich is comparing any people to rats. It was the scene of rats Bloom discusses, and memes or outward mannerisms are compared metaphorically as a scent.]
Memes began as patterns traced to specific genetic markets until, in Bloom’s telling, the Apostle Paul created cross-cultural memes.
- “Paul was one of the early innovators of a new concept: transferrable religion. He broke free of the old notion that a god was an emblem of tribal heritage and sliced the ties that bound divinity to genes.”
And now, “history is no longer the sole province of the gene. History is the environment of the meme.”
At the risk of making a review of Bloom’s book as long as the work itself, let’s end by saying you must read The Lucifer Principle in order to understand modern culture.
There is even a chapter on China’s cultural revolution. Does this sound familiar?
- “Mao took advantage of a simple peculiarity of human nature: the rebelliousness of adolescents.”
- “Students examined everything their teachers had written. In the subtlest turns of innocent phrasing, they uncovered signs of reactionary villainy.”
- “The Chinese Cultural Revolution was a microcosm of the forces that manipulate human history. It showed how insubstantial things we call ideas can trigger the loftiest idealism and the basest cruelty. And it demonstrated how under the urge to heroism and the commitment to the elevation of all mankind there often lies something truley grotesque – the impulse to destroy our fellow human beings.”
Highlighted quotes from the Lucifer Principle:
“Hard work and the pursuit of challenge have seldom been demonstrated to hurt us, but we can be damaged powerfully by the lack of control. And without striving to achieve, we cannot control our lives.”
“The Japanese know what we have forgotten: that work and challenge are the keys to a vigorous life. They have kept alive the essence of two American buzzwords that disappeared from our vocabulary in the early sixties: American ingenuity and American workmanship.”
“Our pains do not proceed from over-activity but from the loss of control and the feeling that we are allowing ourselves to be shuffled from the pecking order’s peak. The solution to our problem is not a good vacation. Our hope and our pleasure lie in rolling up our sleeves and going to work.”
“In a person with little to do, the mental clock slows down. In a person with a great deal to accomplish – or a person excited about what he’s doing – it speeds up.”
“For him, every micro-instant is filled with meaning. But for the person lying on a beach catching some rays, a whole morning can go by without a single meaningful moment.”
“The existence of the American frontier, he said, had invigorated the American mind. The possibility of unending resources just over the horizon had filled Americans with zest, imagination, and exuberance. We need a new horizon, a new sense of purpose, a new set of goals, a new frontier to move one against with might and majesty, with a sense of zest that makes life worth living, through the world in which we live.”
“Space is a common frontier although your own mind is an even greater one.”