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Shlain proposes that, with the advent of literacy, the very act of reading an alphabet reinforced the brain's left hemisphere - linear, abstract, predominantly masculine - at the expense of the right - holistic, concrete, visual, feminine. He believes this shift upset the balance between men and women, and initiated the disappearance of goddesses, the abhorrence of Images, the decline of women's social and political status, and a long reign of patriarchy and misogyny.
A great provocative, disturbing, and inspiring read for history buffs. And, of special interest to Pagans are the chapters which delineate in fascinating (and infuriating) detail how the literate powers of the Christian church coopted and distorted all things Pagan - polytheism, goddess and nature worship, feminine intuitive wisdom and healing, for example - in order to promote their rule-laden, patriarchal, religious agenda. Shlain goes on to describe the iconic revolution that began in the 19th century; the return of the image. The invention of photography and the discovery of electromagnetism have brought us film, television, video, computers, advertising, graphics - a move away from the dominance of the left hemisphere to reassertion of the right. Image formation has gradually been superseding print information, and in the resulting social revolution women have benefited as society opened itself to embrace more right-brained, feminine values. The author foresees that increasing reliance on holistic image information will move culture toward an equilibrium between left and right hemispheres, between masculine and feminine - between word and image. (If we could all just live long enough, perhaps we would see much of the world return to the original religion, Paganism!)
From a personal standpoint, I find the premise interesting but am unconvinced that alphabetic literacy alone is responsible for all the ills that Shlain lays at its feet. It is probably a contributor along with many other factors. But I have enjoyed reading the book immensely as a history of the ebb and flow of peoples and ideas in the world. History should be interesting and it is in this book.