Is there significance in how Neal Stephenson compares religion, language and civilization to a virus and society to a computer system?

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The significance of the viral analogy is twofold. On the one hand, it can be taken as an indictment of religions, how they operate and spread their teachings, and how they relate to society as a whole. On the other, it is also a critique of how ideology proliferates, a model which is similar to viral transmission. Much as a virus infects a host cell, replacing its original genetic programming with a new script, ideas are internalized by human hosts and subsequently alter behavior (with language serving as the vector of infection).

Furthermore, much as the end goal of the virus is endless growth, proselytizing can play a large part in religious activity. Taken purely mechanically, this parallel need not be derogatory, although viruses have taken on a negative connotation in colloquial speech. However, Stephenson’s emphasis on how faith relates to computer viruses in particular supports a critical interpretation. Much as computer viruses undermine and disrupt their host system, religions, Stephenson seems to imply, play a similar role in their host society. The Snow Crash virus, in this case, also entails a loss of certain fundamental qualities highly prized in Western thought: reason, autonomy, and a sense of self are all sacrificed to the new viral entity. In light of this, the virus of faith is depicted as being destructive both to the individual and to society as a whole. What is omitted from this is the fact that all ideas, good or bad, are spread in a similar fashion: by infecting the host, changing their perception, and changing their behavior. However, in the context of Stephenson’s narrative, this process is not meant to be taken in a positive light.

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