Peace and Tech: Part 1
The Lightning Bolt of Zeus
  • Humanity has unlocked five technological powers that people in the ancient world seemed to think only gods could possess.
  • For humanity to make sustainable progress toward peace, justice, survival, and prosperity in the twenty-first century, our five god-like technological powers must be recognized as critically important peace issues.
  • Metaphors from Greek Mythology show how the ongoing escalation of these technological powers requires an even greater escalation of our Peace Literacy.
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Zeus

In ancient mythologies and religions, gods control lightning. In Greek mythology, Zeus is king of the gods and the master of lightning. Today, we can explore the lightning bolt of Zeus as a metaphor for electricity and the broadcast and digital technologies it makes possible.

The ability to wield lightning has been viewed as a god-like power across cultures and across time. Gods who wield lightning include Thor in Nordic religion, Indra in Hinduism, and Xoltl in the religion of the Aztecs. This image, from the 1900 book Old Norse Stories, depicts Thor with lightning flowing from his hammer. 

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This image from the ancient city of Niveneh (modern-day Mosul, Iraq) depicts the Mesopotamian god Marduk fighting the monster Tiamat. Marduk is holding a lightning bolt in each hand.

In countless ancient cultures, people viewed the ability to wield lightning as a god-like power, inaccessible to humans. But what happens when humans gain the ability to wield this god-like power in the form of electricity?

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The electric telegraph sends messages by using electric signals. The first electric telegraph message was sent by Samuel Morse in 1844 from Washington D.C. to Baltimore. What did this message say? Annie Ellsworth, the daughter of one of Morse’s friends, advised him to send the following: “What hath God wrought?”

 

This is a quote from the Bible (Numbers 23:23). As the first electric telegraph message, this quote was an acknowledgment that this revolutionary technology had unlocked a force of nature that humans for so long had considered a god-like power.

For Samuel Morse and Annie Ellsworth, who lived in the nineteenth century, electricity was a force of nature that allowed humans to communicate over hundreds and even thousands of miles in an instant, in ways that only gods seemed able to do. In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, humanity's use of electricity evolved further, allowing people to wield the binding and liberating power of Zeus’s lightning bolt.

In Greek mythology, electricity is depicted as the strongest divine weapon, not because of its power to kill, but its power to bind. Because Zeus is a master of electricity, he can bind gods who oppose him such as Cronos and Atlas. Zeus can also bind human beings with electricity.

Classics scholars Marcel Detienne and Jean-Pierre Vernant tell us: “To strike a god with his thunderbolt is, for [Zeus] the Master of Heaven, to bind him, to chain him up . . . In the Iliad, Agamemnon [commander of the Greek army] fears that the power of Zeus ‘might chain up the energy and arms’ of the Greeks. And bonds are again suggested by the expressions most frequently used to describe the sovereign god’s power of striking with thunderbolts.”

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Just as Zeus can use electricity to bind, people can use electric light, in the form of the Internet, to bind themselves and others to ignorance, distraction, disconnection, mistrust, rage, disillusionment, or alienation.

But the lightning bolt of Zeus also has the power to liberate. Just as Zeus used lightning to help liberate himself and others from the oppressive rule of his unjust father Cronos, many people have used the electric light of the Internet to help advance their work against various forms of oppression and injustice.

We can use the electric light of the Internet to also help liberate our mind from the chains of ignorance and isolation.

For too many years, our technology has been escalating far faster than our ethical evolution and our competency in our humanity. Peace Literacy empowers us to survive and thrive in the twenty-first century by helping us strengthen both our ethical evolution and our competency in our humanity. To unlock the full liberating power of electric light, we need to escalate the power of our Peace Literacy beyond the god-like power of our technology.

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By escalating our Peace Literacy, we can work to inoculate our society from the many harms of electric light’s binding potential, and we can harness electric light’s full potential to liberate.

© 2021 Paul K. Chappell

To learn more about the binding and liberating potential of Zeus' lightning bolt, read "The World of Electric Light: The Seductive Glow of Screens."

Onward to Part 2: The Dreamworlds of Hypnos

The Garden of Strong Community: An Allegory and Pictorial

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