Is there anything more dangerous than dissatisfied and irresponsible gods who don’t know what they want?
This last line in Harari’s Sapiens pretty much sums up his take on our human condition. Harari observes that humanity has socially engineered our surroundings, subscribing to the ethic of consumerism and giving in to the ideals of liberalism and individualism. As a result, we are living in the first few centuries of human history where we believe that what we want and what we feel makes us who we are—and above all, that it actually matters. A big insight in a book of BIG insights is that contrary to the Orwellian vision of the man’s struggle against the MAN, it’s actually the state and the market that power individuality as a stand-in for the interdependent communities that were previously necessary for our survival. We can now give power to our individual choices, thoughts and feelings, because the state provides our healthcare and the market provides our pay.
How Harari can be an authority on the entirety of humanity’s history across every discipline (biology, philosophy, psychology, ethics, et al.) is beyond me. Sapiens reads like mankind’s memoir written posthumously, as Harari has some chilling prognoses for our future on par with those of Elon Musk (read: super-AI takes over). But he also points out how today’s predictions may come to pass as nothing but red herring; after all, we see what we focus on.
History teaches us that what seems to be just around the corner may never materialise due to unforeseen barriers, and that other unimagined scenarios will in fact come to pass. When the nuclear age erupted in the 1940s, many forecasts were made about the future nuclear world of the year 2000. When the sputnik and Apollo II fired the imagination of the world, everyone began predicting that by the end of the century, people would be living in space colonies on Mars and Pluto. Few of these forecasts came true. On the other hand, nobody foresaw the Internet.