Historian, philosopher and social critic Yuval Noah Harari provides an articulate, hard-bitten realpolitik of solid philosophical and practical advice.
Historian, philosopher and social critic Yuval Noah Harari has become an influential public intellectual thanks to his bestsellers Sapiens and Homo Deus. The former addressed humankind’s past, the latter; its future. In this New York Times number one bestseller and Financial Times Best Book of the Year, Harari’s insights on human nature, artificial intelligence, war and today’s issues prove sharp, illuminating and, at times, hilarious.
If the future of humanity is decided in your absence, because you are too busy feeding and clothing your kids, you and they will not be exempt from the consequences.Yuval Noah Harari
Harari’s warnings are bleak, but the solutions he suggests in this frightening summary of the existential threats facing humankind offer a compelling call to immediate action.
Bill Gates checked in with his usual rave reviews for any sweeping overview of the world. Let your feelings about Mr. Gates be your guide to heeding his enthusiasm. The Guardian nitpicked that Harari’s “sweeping statements, breathtaking though they are, can also feel untethered from the intellectual traditions from which they come.”
The World Today
Harari understands that you have so much to do that you probably can’t learn about or act on the grave dangers threatening your future. But you and your children can’t avoid the consequences of those dangers. The author addresses problems in the liberal democratic system, while saying it is the best-designed system ever founded.
Despite the numerous shortcomings of the liberal package, it has a much better record than any of its alternatives.Yuval Noah Harari
No one knows, the author maintains, if artificial intelligence (AI) will destroy or create jobs. Technology will improve on the mind because human intuition – like AI – relies on pattern recognition. Emotions arise from predictable neurochemical reactions, not from your mysterious soul.
Liberty is the basis for liberalism – free will, individual rights and the vote. But people make decisions based on feelings, not thought. Algorithms combined with biotech will be able to decipher your emotions better and more consistently than your brain can. Machines will know you better than you know yourself.
Put down your devices, Harari says repeatedly, to see and sense what’s around you and to connect with people nearby. Humans must get better at thinking for themselves or liberty will disappear and disaster will ensue.
What…turned [homo sapiens] into the masters of the planet was not our individual rationality but our unparalleled ability to think together in large groups.Yuval Noah Harari
The world’s 100 wealthiest people now own more than the world’s least wealthy four billion. This portends a tiny elite lording over an enormous underclass. In the past, the rich needed the poor as workers or soldiers. The future might render the poor redundant.
Harari asserts that multiple civilizations no longer exist – only a single civilization including everyone. Leaders incite people by pretending groups have ancient traditions and values that define and set them apart. None really do. People can and must come together as one civilization to address humanity’s enormous challenges.
Nations evolved to solve issues that tribes and families couldn’t. But, taken too far, national chauvinism leads to feelings of superiority and entitlement. Harari calls – with unusual idealism and belief in humanity’s problem-solving – for a new global order to address issues nations can’t handle on their own, such as climate change.
People still have different religions and national identities. But when it comes to the practical stuff – how to build a state, an economy, a hospital or a bomb – almost all of us belong to the same civilization.Yuval Noah Harari
Terrorists kill almost no one compared to death by cars, drugs or obesity, yet it occupies an inordinate amount of media space and headspace. Harari reminds you that stupidity prevails, so war always looms.
In his eyes, religion offers no solutions – only fuel for the fire. Practice it for comfort, the author advises, but keep it to yourself. Whatever may have created the universe doesn’t care what humans call it, Harari says, and he urges you not to need a religious framework to act morally. After all, he writes, rats, monkeys and other social mammals have moral codes. The author recommends a pure, critical secularism free of dogma or blind faith. But sadly, science demonstrates that most people’s choices and decisions spring from emotions, mental shortcuts and groupthink.
The real enigma of life is not what happens after you die but what happens before you die. If you want to understand death, you need to understand life. Yuval Noah Harari
More or better information on issues such as climate change doesn’t inspire deeper thinking because people more or less adopt their groups’ beliefs wholesale. The acquisition of true knowledge takes time and experimentation. Embrace the understanding that you know very little.
Find Meaning in Kindness
Complete uncertainty about what life and work will entail in the near future means parents – for the first time in history – have no idea how to equip their children for adult life. Students don’t need more information; they need to learn how to assess and synthesize it.
Humans think in stories rather than in facts, numbers or equations, and the simpler the story, the better.Yuval Noah Harari
Harari is adamant: Don’t seek purpose in ideology, dogma or nation. Don’t seek meaning in a legacy of children, profit or creative works; everything will go extinct. Find meaning in serving others and through acts of kindness and love. Live in reality, not within a story or a fantasy.
Meditate to understand your own mind. Between algorithms and AI, opportunities to know yourself might be short-lived.
A Non-Bitter Realist
Harari strives to see the world and human thinking clearly and to understand the way your – and his – emotional and mental processes work might be blinding you – and him – to apparent facts. To combat that blindness, Harari utilizes a tough-love prose style to state potentially unpopular findings simply and plainly.
Humankind is facing unprecedented revolutions, all our old stories are crumbling and no new story has so far emerged to replace them.Yuval Noah Harari
Harari suggests you better toughen up to cope with the world as it is today and will be tomorrow. To strengthen yourself, move toward contemplation, meditation, doing good works, vesting in kindness and recognizing your own hypocrisy. So, he sees a dangerous world a’coming and believes in the human capacity to transcend its limitations, despite thousands of years of evidence to the contrary. Harari refuses to take any inflexible or idiomatic position regarding a monstrously complex universe. He eloquently urges you to follow his example. Leaders in politics, business and education as well as anyone interested in functioning in difficult times should heed his lessons.
Other major books offering sweeping historical overviews include Guns, Germs and Steel and Collapse by Jared Diamond; A People’s History of the World by Chris Harman; and The Dawn of Everything by David Graeber and David Wengrow.