By E. KENT WINWARD, special to the Standard-Examiner
“Once upon a time”… we told stories, stories that explained our world, how it works, and taught us how to behave and not behave. The ancient Greeks told stories about their gods. The almighty Zeus hurled thunderbolts, while Hera chased Zeus around, trying to catch him in the act of wooing a nymph or two. Athena protected warriors in battle, while Ares incited them.
Aphrodite, goddess of love, wreaked havoc with human lives, just as love continues to do today. Mercury was the gods’ “runner,” while Apollo drove his chariot across the sky until dusk. Schools wisely teach Greek mythology to adolescents, because the Greek gods usually end up acting like a Mount Olympus high school.
Teaching Greek mythology is also a fantastic way to get smartphone-wielding teenagers to question how human beings could be so gullible: “Did those old Greeks really believe some cranky guy in the clouds was hurling thunderbolts, or a chariot drove the sun through its rotation?” But even as we ridicule the old beliefs, we love listening to the stories because they entertain us and carry an essence of truth within the obvious fictions. Lightning strikes are capricious. The sun’s rotation seems like a benevolent force: life-giving, light-giving, and reliable. We think about how silly those toga-wearing ancients’ beliefs were, and yet we continue to build our human societies around fictional narratives, even today.
My job as an attorney is not that far removed from being the Oracle of Delphi. I interpret the fictional story of “the law” and enlighten those who come with a query. The law is a story we have collectively created as a society. We believe in the story enough that we enforce the story with our collective force, but the fact remains that it’s a story we’ve made up and written down. The law is a story that serves a purpose — it makes sure we’re all on the same page.
The story of the law is fictional, but as with all fiction, many things are true. We have endowed our fictional legal story with godlike powers, and the law has responded in kind by giving us our very own pantheon of new and powerful gods. Instead of requesting answers from Apollo at Delphi, we consult the Oracle via our search bar, and the great god Google answers us. In the real world of concrete, tangible things, how is Google different from Apollo? “Is this mole cancerous? The Oracle told me it could be.”
We believe in our new gods so much, we allow them to sue and be sued in courts of law. The smartphone gods, Apple and Samsung, duke it out for supremacy, intellectual property, and credit from the masses, and humanity is divided into groups of believers. Are you an ardent follower of the one true Apple, or are you an Android heretic?
Have you heard the new commandment from the great god, Amazon? “True believers of Amazon shall buy Prime. Appeal at your desktop altar, or petition your prayer phone. Pay your indulgence, and with free two-day shipping, ye shall receive.” (Just a quick side note: in naming the company, Bezos even opted for a reference to a collection of powerful female Greek demigods, including the modernized comic book goddess, Wonder Woman.)
And like the Greeks, we have countless demigods running around, incorporated into our modern language and commerce, and we often don’t bother to rename them. The god Nike brings promises of victory; Ajax wasn’t a god, but a mighty warrior. The Trojans had a mighty wall that kept out the swarms, at least until the wall was covertly circumvented. And open Pandora’s box and along with musical wonders, you will almost certainly find unwanted ads.
Trademarks, intellectual property and corporations are all legal fictions. For that matter, the Constitution itself is the ultimate fiction: an agreed-upon set of rules that finds its strength in our collective commitment to believe in its underlying truths. Google, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and many more, are our new pantheon, and they remain just as fictional as any Greek god. Humanity created these powerful forces from nothing more than words in a law book, stories, and a collective belief in the stories. If we look at the almost miraculous gifts from our corporate gods, we believe they were created with intelligent design — our intelligent design.
But we need to remember that, just like the ancient Greeks, we created these gods to serve specific functions, and we have the ability to tell them how to behave through our collective story (our laws), including what powers we endow them with, as well as their limitations and weaknesses.
If we don’t like how our stories are ending, especially because of the behavior of our gods, we must rewrite the story so that our “once upon a time” ends with us living “happily ever after.”
E. Kent Winward is an Ogden attorney. Twitter: @KentWinward.