| 9 Aug 2004 @ 17:51, by centrifuge|
I'm about half-way through this book. Here's a synopsis and a timeline.
The Alphabet Versus the Goddess
"Nothing vast enters the life of mortals without a curse." Sophocles
In this groundbreaking book, Leonard Shlain, author of the bestselling Art & Physics, proposes that the process of learning alphabetic literacy rewired the human brain, with profound consequences for culture. Making remarkable connections across a wide range of subjects including brain function, anthropology, history, and religion, Shlain argues that literacy reinforced the brain's linear, abstract, predominantly masculine left hemisphere at the expense of the holistic, iconic feminine right one. This shift upset the balance between men and women initiating the disappearance of goddesses, the abhorrence of images, and, in literacy's early stages, the decline of women's political status. Patriarchy and misogyny followed.
Shlain contrasts the feminine right-brained oral teachings of Socrates, Buddha, and Jesus with the masculine creeds that evolved when their spoken words were committed to writing. The first book written in an alphabet was the Old Testament and its most important passage was the Ten Commandments. The first two reject of any goddess influence and ban any form of representative art.
The love of Mary, Chivalry, and courtly love arose during the illiterate Dark Ages and plummeted after the invention of the printing press in the Renaissance. The Protestant attack on holy images and Mary followed, as did ferocious religious wars and neurotic witch-hunts. The benefits of literacy are obvious; this gripping narrative explores its dark side, tallying previously unrecognized costs.
Shlain goes on to describe the colossal shift he calls the Iconic Revolution, that began in the 19th century. The invention of photography and the discovery of electromagnetism combined to bring us film, television, computers, and graphic advertising; all of which are based on images. Shlain foresees that increasing reliance on right brain pattern recognition instead of left brain linear sequence will move culture toward equilibrium between the two hemispheres, between masculine and feminine, between word and image. A provocative, disturbing, yet inspiring read, this book is filled with startling historical anecdotes and compelling ideas. It is a paradigm shattering work that will transform your view of history and mind.
3,000,000 - 2,900,000 years ago
Hominids differentiate away from other primates by becoming meat-eaters instead of vegetarians.
Extended childhood¥s of hominid babies require prolonged attention from hominid mothers.
Males of the species predominately engage in hunting and killing.
Females primarily engage in nurturing and gathering.
Hominids become the first species of social predators in which the females do not participate in hunting and killing.
200,000 - 90,000 years ago
Homo Sapiens differentiate away from hominids.
Language requires complete rewiring of human brains.
Over 90% of language modules placed in the left hemisphere of right handed humans who comprise 92% of the population.
Split Brain phenomenon becomes highly exaggerated only in humans.
Most hunting and killing strategies placed in left hemisphere.
Most nurturing and gathering strategies placed in the right side.
40,000 - 10,000 years ago
Homosapiens organize into highly effective hunter/gatherer societies.
Division of labor between sexes diverges more than in any other species.
Males hunt and females nurture.
Each sex develops predominate modes of perception and survival strategies to deal with the exigencies of life.
Left hemispheric specialization leads to an increased appreciation of time.
Humans become first animals to realize they will personally die.
Awareness of death leads to formation of supernatural beliefs.
Societies in which hunting is a more reliable source of protein than gathering elevate hunting gods over vegetative goddesses.
Societies in which gathering is a more reliable source of protein than hunting elevate vegetative goddesses over hunting gods.
In general, hunter/gatherer tribes worship a mixture of both spirits.
10,000 - 5,000 years ago
Agriculture discovered/ Domestication of animals discovered.
Crops need to be tended / flocks need to be nurtured.
Female survival strategy of gathering and nurturing supersedes male hunting killing one.
All early agrarian peoples begin to pray to an Earth Goddess responsible for the bountifulness of the land and fertility of the herds.
She awakens the land in springtime and metaphorically resurrects Her weaker, smaller dead son/lover.
5,000 - 3,000 years ago
Left hemispheric modes of perception, the hunting/killing side, reinforced.
Literacy depends on linear, sequential, abstract and reductionist ways of thinking - the same as hunting and killing.
Early forms of cuneiform and hieroglyphics difficult to master.
Less than 2% literate.
Scribes become priests and new religions emerge in which the god begins to supercede the goddess.
45,000 - 3,000 years ago
Extremely easy to use.
Near universal literacy possible.
Semites - Canaanites, Phoenicians, and Israelites - become first peoples to become substantially literate.
First alphabetic book is the Hebrew bible.
Goddess harshly rejected from Israelite belief system.
God loses His image.
To know Him, a worshipper must read what He wrote.
Images of any kind proscribed in first culture to worship written words.
3,000 - 2,500 years ago
Greeks become the second literate culture.
While not rejecting images, they suppress women's rights.
Athens and Sparta were two societies that shared the same language, gods, and culture and were in close proximity.
Women had few rights in Athens: Women wielded considerable power in Sparta.
Athenians glorified the written word: Spartan cared little about literacy.
Socrates disdained writing and wrote nothing down. He held egalitarian views.
Plato wrote extensively of what Socrates said. Not as generous toward women as Socrates.
Aristotle represents Greek passage from an oral society to a literate one. He taught that women were an inferior subspecies of man.
2,500 years ago
Buddha becomes enlightened in India.
Buddha, though literate, writes nothing down.
Teaches love, equality, kindness, and compassion.
His words are canonized in an alphabetic book 500 years later.
Book purports to show the Buddha had negative opinions about women, sexuality, and birth.
Taoism and Confucianism arise in China.
Taoism embodies feminine values: no attempt to control others, promotes Mother Nature as a guide.
Confucianism touts masculine values: structures patriarchal society, touts Father Culture.
Two systems of belief coexist in relative equilibrium until the Chinese invent the printing press in 923 AD Literacy rates soar.
Soon after, Taoism declines and Confucianism becomes China's dominant belief system.
Women's foot binding begins in 970 AD and becomes a common practice.
Taoism transmutes into a hierarchy with sacred texts and temple priests.
Taoist priests expected to be celibate Women's rights plummet.
In nearby Asian cultures that do not embrace literacy, women's rights remain high.
2,000 - 1,500 years ago
Roman Empire achieves near universal alphabetic literacy rates due to the stability of Pax Romana, tutors from Greece, papyrus from Egypt and an easy to use Greek and Latin alphabet.
New religion emerges based on the sayings of a gentle prophet named Jesus.
His oral teachings embody feminine values of Free Will, love, compassion, non-violence, and equality.
Jesus writes nothing down.
Women play prominent role in new religion.
Paul commits to writing what he interprets to be the meaning of the Christ event.
Subsequent Gospel writers detail Christ's crucifixion, death and resurrection.
Creed that evolves increasingly emphasizes masculine values of obedience, suffering, pain, death, and hierarchy.
Alphabetic text becomes canonized in 367 AD Women banned from baptizing or conducting sacraments.
Ordered to back of the church and ejected from the choir.
Christians destroy Roman images.
1,500 - 1,000 years ago
Rome falls to barbarian invasions.
Literacy lost in secular society.
Dark Ages begin.
When stage of history re-illuminated in the 10th century, women enjoy high status.
Age suffused with love of Mary.
People know her through her image not her written words.
Women mystics revered.
Women Cathars and Waldensians baptize.
Abbesses lead major monasteries.
Chivalric code instructs men to honor and protect women.
Courtly love becomes all the fashion.
Cathedrals dedicated to Notre Dame.
Religious art flourishes.
Few outside the Church can read and write.
1000 - 1453
High Middle Ages characterized by a renewed interest in literacy.
Commerce demands literate clerks. Literacy rates climb.
Masculine values begin to reassert dominance over feminine ones.
Renaissance begins. Cult of the individual encourages male artists, male thinkers, and macho themes in art.
Gutenberg's printing press makes available alphabet literacy to the masses.
Books become affordable.
Literacy rates soar in those countries affected by the printing press.
Tremendous surge in science, art, philosophy, logic, and imperialism.
Women's rights suffer decline.
Women mystics now called witches.
1517 - 1820
Protestant Reformation breaks out fueled by many who can now read scripture.
Protestants demand the repudiation of the veneration of Mary, the destruction of images.
Protestant movement becomes very patriarchal.
Ferocious religious wars break out fought over minor doctrinal disputes.
Torture and burning at the stake become commonplace.
Hunter/killer values in steep ascendance only in those countries impacted by rapidly rising alphabetic literacy rates.
1465 - 1820
After the Bible, the next best selling book is the Witch's Hammer; a how-to book for the rooting out, torture, and burning of witches.
Witch craze breaks out only in those countries impacted by the printing press.
Germany, Switzerland, France, and England have severe witch-hunts. All boast steadily rising literacy rates.
Russia, Norway, Iceland, and the Islamic countries bordering Europe do not experience witch-hunts. The printing press has a negligible impact on these societies.
Estimates range that between 100,000 women to the millions were murdered during the witch-hunts.
There is no parallel in any other culture in the world in which the men of the culture suffered a psychosis so extreme that they believed that their wise women were so dangerous that they had to be eliminated.
1820 - 1900
Invention of photography and the discovery of the electromagnetic field combine to bring about the return of the image.
Photography does for images what the printing press had accomplished for written words: it made reproduction of images inexpensive, easy, and ubiquitous.
Right hemisphere called upon to decipher images more than the left.
Egalitarianism becomes a motif in philosophy.
Protestantism softens its stance toward women.
Mary declared born of Immaculate Conception by the Church elevating her status.
Nietzsche declares "god is dead."
Suffragette movement coalesces in 1848.
1900 - 1950
Photography and electromagnetism combine to introduce many new technologies of information transfer.
Telegraph, radio, film, and telephone reconfigure the world.
Communists demand redistribution of wealth.
Capitalists demand less government interference.
Natives restless, servants surly; everywhere paternalism is in retreat.
Women receive the vote in 1920 in the U.S. and 1936 in England.
Russia, an oral society recently becomes literate in the 19th century.
Great burst of male creativity.
Outbreak of religious intolerance against the Jews.
Russian Communism repeats all the madness of Europe's first brush with alphabet literacy.
Hitler, armed with a microphone and radio, hypnotizes Germany, one of the most literate countries of the world.
Mother Russia, an oral society, is bedeviled by literacy.
Germany, the Fatherland, becomes susceptible to madness by oral technology.
1950 - 2000
Popularity of television explodes after the end of WWII.
Television requires different mode of perception than reading.
Iconic information begins to supersede text information.
Image of the atomic bomb blast and earth beamed back from space change the consciousness of the world more than any written books.
Society begins to elevate feminine values of childcare, welfare, healthcare, and concern for the environment.
Feminist movement of the 60s occurs in the first television generation.
World wars abate among the literate countries affected by television image.
Invention of personal computer greatly changes the way people interact. Graphic icons increasingly replace text commands.
Internet and WorldWideWeb based on feminine images of nets and webs. Iconic Revolution begins.
Everywhere alphabets come into usage religions based on sacred alphabetic books come into being.
These all share certain characteristics.
Women banned from conducting religious ceremonies.
Goddesses declared abominations.
Representative art in the form of images declared "idolatry."