21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari

“21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari

This book looks at 21 things the humankind has to consider, change, and contemplate so that we avoid extinction and irrelevance by the 22nd century and beyond. Harrari has a knack for making astute observations and predictions about the future in a humorous way. You wouldn’t think this sort of book would elicit laughter, but at times it did. He tears down almost every religion, and ridicules the other self-destructive tendencies humans have to make his point.

Harrari is also the author of Sapiens, and Homo Deus. This book is sort of the end of his ’trilogy’ on mankind. Sapiens is about early humans and how we evolved into what we are today. Homo Deus looks at the future of humans. 21 Lessons for the 21st Century finishes what he started in Homo Deus.

This book is a tad depressing in the beginning because he talks about how robots will take our jobs and other distressing trends. Then he goes on telling us that it won’t be the worst of it, the worst part will be the rich will probably start modifying their bodies/abilities in ways that actually they will be better than regular homo sapiens. This will make the rest of us worse than jobless, it’ll make us irrelevant.

After he gets past these inconvenient truths, the book is a bit easier to swallow. He certainly gives humankind a lot to think about. I only hope people in power are listening.

Harrari is great at writing Big History, where authors link trends from more than one field into one over-arching narrative. Jared Diamond used to be my go-to author for Big History, but he’s lost his touch. Although, I still recommend everybody Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies to anybody interested in world history.

Quotes I Enjoyed Property is the prerequisite for long-term inequality.

…people are happy to give away their most valuable asset - their personal data - in exchange for free email services and funny cat videos. It is a bit like African and Native American tribes who unwittingly sold entire countries to European imperialists in exchange for colourful beads and cheap trinkets.

…online giants tend to view humans as audiovisual animals - a pair of eyes and a pair of ears connected to ten fingers, a screen and a credit card. A crucial step towards uniting humankind is to appreciate that humans have bodies.

Humanity has very little time left to wean itself from fossil fuels. We need to enter rehab today. Not next year or next month, but today. ““Hello, I am Homo sapiens, and I am a fossil-fuel addict.””

Human power depends on mass cooperation, mass cooperation depends on manufacturing mass identities - and all mass identities are based on fictional stories, not on scientific facts or even on economic necessities.

So in the twenty-first century religions don’t bring rain, they don’t cure illnesses, they don’t build bombs - but they do get to determine who are ‘us’ and who are ’them’, who we should cure and who we should bomb.

There is something deeply troubling and dangerous about people who avoid killing just because ‘God says so’. Such people are motivated by obedience rather than compassion.

Every religion, ideology, and creed has its shadow, and now matter which creed you follow you should acknowledge your shadow and avoid naive reassurance that ‘it cannot happen to us’.

The system is structured in such a way that those who make no effort to know can remain in blissful ignorance, and those who do make an effort will find it very difficult to discover the truth.

When a thousand people believe some made-up story for one month - that’s fake news. When a billion people believe it for a thousand years - that’s a religion, and we are admonished not to call it ‘fake news’ in order not to hurt the feelings of the faithful (or incur their wrath).

Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda maestro and perhaps the most accomplished media-wizard of the modern age, allegedly explained his method succinctly by stating that ‘A lie told once remains a lie, but a lie told a thousands time becomes the truth.’

Humans have this remarkable ability to know and not to know at the same time. Or more correctly, they can know something when they really think about it, but most of the time they don’t think about it, so they don’t know it.

Rating: ★★★★★ Book #48 in my My 2019 Reading Challenge

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