Study Guide

Snow Crash Rules and Order

By Neal Stephenson

Rules and Order

You can't just materialize anywhere in the Metaverse, like Captain Kirk beaming down from on high. This would be confusing and irritating to the people around you. (5.5)

There are rules in the Metaverse governing how virtual reality works. Sometimes you can bend them (especially if you're a hacker), but other rules are like gravity, which means they're pretty darn hard to work around.

Feds don't smoke. Feds generally don't overeat. The health plan is very specific, contains major incentives, get too heavy or wheezy and, no one says anything about it—which would be rude—but you feel a definite pressure, a sense of not fitting in, as you walk across the sea of desks, eyes glance up to follow you, estimating the mass of your saddlebags (37.4)

The worst kinds of rules are the ones we internalize: social pressure and shame, two powerful tactics, which the Feds utilize to keep everyone healthy enough for health insurance purposes.

"L. Bob Rife has taken xenoglossia and perfected it, turned it into a science. He can control these people by grafting radio receivers into their skulls, broadcasting instructions—me—directly into their brainstems." (57.6-7)

The ultimate in control: being able to transmit orders and directions straight into people's heads. No wonder Rife is such a scary villain.

MetaCops aren't allowed to lean against their Unit—makes them look lazy and weak. (6.8)

It seems like rules are intended to help keep up appearances a lot of the time. It'd be nice if the MetaCops had more rules that governed, oh, say, the safety of their charges.

"They adhered to a strong legalistic version of the religion; to them, the Law was everything. Clearly, Jesus was a threat to them because he was proposing, in effect, to do away with the Law." (27.52)

The Librarian's explanations of the Pharisees (a group of Jews from the time of Christ) emphasizes how rules-oriented they were. In order to make sure your religion survives, a strong focus on rules isn't necessarily a bad thing. Just make sure they're good rules, you know?

She pauses to admire her work for a few seconds while Mom just flames off all kinds of weird emotion. What are you doing in that uniform? Didn't I tell you not to ride your skateboard on a real street? You're not supposed to throw things in the house. (34.93)

Rules don't seem to have much of an effect on Y.T. Seeing how orderly her mom is (working for the Feds and all that), it's no surprise that conflict arises between the two of them. Some family therapist is going to make bank someday trying to repair their relationship.

When Hiro learned how to do this, way back fifteen years ago, a hacker could sit down and write an entire piece of software by himself. Now, that's no longer possible. Software comes out of factories, and hackers are, to a greater or lesser extent, assembly-line workers. (5.17)

To an independent thinker like Hiro, writing software for The Man is the basically the worst thing ever. You have to wear a suit to work, show up on time, and follow all sorts of stupid rules. No wonder Hiro is—shall we say it politely?—underemployed.

"You know that funny-looking sidecar that Raven has on his Harley? Well, it's a hydrogen bomb, man […] If Raven dies, the bomb goes off. So when Raven comes into town, we do everything in our power to make the man feel welcome." (20.46)

Don't like the rules? Write your own. If you're sufficiently powerful or intimidating, that shouldn't be a problem. Don't ask us where to find your own nuke, though.

"Look," he says, "I'm sorry for reminding you of this, but if we still had laws, the Mafia would be a criminal organization." (33.16)

This is cheery: There's no way to tell who's a criminal or not, because there aren't nation-wide laws to break anymore.

As part of Mr. Lee's good neighbor policy, all Rat Things are programmed never to break the sound barrier in a populated area. But Fido's in too much of a hurry to worry about the good neighbor policy. Jack the sound barrier. Bring the noise. (65.48)

Fido runs to Y.T.'s rescue, totally breaking his programming in the process. That's a neat message, if you think about it: Rules are not match for loyalty and love.