I finished Homo Deus a week or so ago, and just wanted more Harari in my life. And I got more Harari in my life. Enter 21 Lessons for the 21st Century. And it was a mind-numbing, questioning-everything 100,000-foot skydive that capsulated an explosion of knowledge, thought and re-evaluation. Anyone who really wants to understand what we Sapiens are dealing with today should read this book. I.e. everyone.
When reading Harari, there are two contrasting feelings that engulf the trenches of the biochemical reactions in my head:
1) Sensual history word-porn can’t stop
2) Constant existential crises
#2 haunted me multiple times. Constantly.
Harari states clearly that his predictions are intentionally more negative as it’s important to prepare for the not-so-dandy possibilities of the future. He narrows this down to three global challenges — technological disruption, ecological damage and risk of nuclear obliteration. He explains all of this with brutal, truth-based logical explanations that are hard to disprove unless you strawman them. And strawman-ing is for chums. Steelman him all you want and please invite me to the party.
Besides the future, he also touches on all the key aspects embroiling and polarizing our society today — immigration, terrorism, fake news, education, meaning, nationalism, data and fourteen such other existential battles. My attempt to summarize any of those will definitely be a fool’s errand.
So I won’t. Instead, I’ll talk about my “feelings” towards it.
There is so much knowledge in this book. So many ideas, thoughts, considerations that few have the intellect to imagine let alone the courage to say. In parts, I felt stupid, because of so many “obviously-how-did-I-not-think-of-that?” moments on community and education. In parts, the book validated some of my thoughts on meaning, religion and data. In parts, the book explained things that didn’t make sense before such as the psychology behind immigration, ignorance, and basic Sapiens instincts. In parts, the book created notions that I probably never would have even thought of imagining, such as his takes on culture and post-truth.
We are no longer racists, but we are culturalists, and that can be as dangerous because it’s more aligned with our current moral construct. We need fiction and have needed fiction to survive, even while we chase truth. The systems and the society we have are too complicated for an individual to understand so kill all those crazy conspiracy theories. Superhumans will happen.
All of that might just seem like random statements, but Harari chisels it out with such flair; combining history, stories and ideas in the surreal adventure that this book is.
What really rattled me was his concrete belief of the destruction of our utility. Most jobs will be automated away sooner rather than later, and this time, it will be different to what happened in the industrial revolution. Why? Because last time, machines freed Sapiens from physical tasks, leaving room for us to dominate cognitively. AI and Machine Learning will take over our cognitive abilities, and there is no third value-add skill that we possess. Then what?
This is personal because I want to spend the rest of my life fighting multi-dimensional poverty through economic empowerment, which basically means job-creation. It wasn’t like I was unaware of the threat of AI before, but Harari made it a lot more real and inevitable. Not through fables, but through logic. And logic is a strength I pride myself in, which in this case, for a split-second, felt like a weakness.
But knowing is more important than living in ignorance. Thankfully, Harari agrees with me on this. And now I know. This doesn’t change my goal of fighting poverty through economic empowerment, it just makes it harder. Job-creation is and was one way of doing it, but there are others. Sapiens will always need and want purpose, dignity, economic independence and community. We will just have to come up with different ways to attain them whilst our ecological haven crumbles and Homo Deus contemplate the genocide of us Sapiens.
Read Harari. Read all of it. Read it again. And then again.