Could the invention of writing, and then the alphabet, have been largely responsible for a decisive shift towards patriarchy and misogyny? in this book, the author draws on brain anatomy and anthropology, religion and history, to develop his challenging thesis. Literacy, he argues, encourages "masculine" linear, reductionist and abstract modes of thought which tend to degrade women. (The witch-hunts of the Renaissance coincided with the rapid expansion of printing). Yet the last century has been the rise of visual communications media such as photography, film, television and the Internet. Regardless of their content, such innovations are reconfiguring our brains and producing a climate far more amenable to feminine values. it is only by acknowledging the downside of literacy that we can incorporate its benefits into a culture rooted in "the right-hemispheric values of tolerance, caring and respect for nature.
"Literacy has promoted the subjugation of women by men throughout all but the very recent history of the West," writes Leonard Shlain. "Misogyny and patriarchy rise and fall with the fortunes of the alphabetic written word."
That's a pretty audacious claim, one that The Alphabet Versus the Goddess provides extensive historical and cultural correlations to support. Shlain's thesis takes readers from the evolutionary steps that distinguish the human brain from that of the primates to the development of the Internet. The very act of learning written language, he argues, exercises the human brain's left hemisphere--the half that handles linear, abstract thought--and enforces its dominance over the right hemisphere, which thinks holistically and visually. If you accept the idea that linear abstraction is a masculine trait, and that holistic visualization is feminine, the rest of the theory falls into place. The flip side is that as visual orientation returns to prominence within society through film, television, and cyberspace, the status of women increases, soon to return to the equilibrium of the earliest human cultures. Shlain wisely presents this view of history as plausible rather than definite, but whether you agree with his wide-ranging speculations or not, he provides readers eager to "understand it all" with much to consider. --Ron Hogan