The subtitle to Viral Mythology, by Marie D. Jones and Larry Flaxman, reads “How the truth of the ancients was encoded and passed down through legend, art, and architecture.” The authors present an ambitious explanation of how and why the ancient myths and those we create today continue to roll forward in time often without benefit of a structured conduit or academic discipline. Humans, it seems, inherit knowledge and a propensity for awe that cannot be explained through scientific study. The problem with the subtitle, however, revolves around the use of the word “truth.” Readers should substitute “perceptions” or “beliefs” for the word “truth” to reach a clearer understanding of what is in store for them. All kinds of questions are raised by the authors, but it is a mistake to assume that a credo of any kind is buried deep within the pages of the book.
Given the internet, readers know how stories can go viral. Technology enables it. Technology, however, is only the delivery system. The style and content of the message are two major variants. Style and content are determined by the originator of the message and may change from time to time in the retelling. Going viral depends upon how disposed, or vulnerable, everyone is to the contagion of dissemination. All humans are conditioned to a degree.
Negative messages or rumors spread more readily than positive ones. Messages that create “buzz” in the mind of the beholder spread. Buzz is a heightened mental state, a sense of urgency that builds upon several factors. Messages resonating with fears, beliefs, and prejudices tap into the subconscious to excite promotion among others. Jungian collective unconscious may play a role analogous to cloud technology in data storage on the internet. Some evidence points also to the possibility that beliefs and the openness to them can carry forward from one generation to the next in DNA.
Cosmological issues and issues of faith and doubt can develop terrific velocity. Rumors, beliefs and moral convictions have spread virally since the dawn of man, long before the written word, in the form of storytelling, art and architecture dating back 40,000 years—all of which are explored in the book.
The authors discuss the universality of many myths, including the story of Christ, which were indigenous to many diverse cultures that were geographically isolated from one another. One such story, with compelling parallels, precedes the Christian version of Christ’s life by 600 years. The story of the great flood likewise is an example of a tale handed down in many different cultures from primitive times. Morality based upon the Golden Rule emerges almost spontaneously as a variety of diverse cultures mature in the understanding of mankind’s shared nature. The authors see themselves as reporters and abstain from taking theological positions on these issues.
As far as we know, man is the only animal who has developed in conscious thought to the extent that he can entertain questions about who he is, how he came to be on earth, and what is his destiny. Without or without science as a guide, he has sought and continues to seek answers to these questions in order to find meaning and comfort in his existence. The legacy left by the ancients is often provocative. Enigmas keep questions alive, but by definition, do not provide the answers. Archenigmas, especially, embody the questions of the ages. Enigmas bring a person to the threshold of the profound mysteries of human existence. They elevate the mind to consider what lies beyond daily concerns, joys and tribulations of every day life. In the security of the present, beliefs of antiquity can be viewed as a curiosity; intriguing but seldom comforting in their wisdom. The deeper meaning of most, in fact, has been lost to modern man.
The common denominator at play when considering mythology is man’s capacity for entertaining belief itself. Belief fills in for proof. The strength of a person’s faith is measured by a willingness to accept as true that which cannot be proven. Perhaps man is pushed to believe because science does not provide the most important answers in life. Greater comfort is available in a credo, no matter how tenuous, than in accepting that some things about man’s existence cannot be known or understood. Serenity can be found, in other words, in the illusion of belief more readily than in the honesty of inquiry and doubt.
Jones and Falxman cover a wide range of subjects in Viral Mythology in a conversational style that makes for enjoyable reading. Their approach is especially refreshing given the usual ponderous treatment the subjects of their interest often receive. The book capitalizes on
several recent stories and events — Columbine, the marathon bombing, and Sandy Hook — that increase its relevance and impact. It is mildly annoying that the authors choose interrogative sentences a little too often rather than straightforward declarations of their opinion or findings. Readers can accept that every issue is an open question and do not need their curiosity baited.
Viral Mythology is a cornerstone piece for any reader wishing to begin study into the history of human communication and human belief systems. It is an awesome book that doesn’t seek to proselyte, promote or sensationalize.
This review was initially prepared for bookpleasures.com, a book lovers web site.
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