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21 Lessons for the 21st Century—A Review

A review of 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari. Spiegel & Grau (September 2018), 400 pages.

“[I]n a world in which everything is interconnected, the supreme moral imperative becomes the imperative to know.”1 With that sentence, Yuval Noah Harari, professor of world history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, sets the stage for his new book, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century. Previously, Harari has written about humanity’s development from scattered communities of hunter-gatherers to an international society capable of space travel and wireless communication in Sapiens, and the remarkable risks and potentials for advances in artificial intelligence and bioengineering over the next century in Homo Deus. Both of these books became New York Times bestsellers. In 21 Lessons, Harari turns his focus to the present day, addressing a litany of pressing concerns for the first half of the 21st century.

Harari’s new book is truly ambitious in scope. In 400 pages, he tackles the future of work and education, the ubiquitous and growing influence of data collection on people’s lives, the increasingly ominous cracks around the foundation of the European Union, the conflict between secularism and religion, and a trio of existential threats: climate change, nuclear war, and artificial intelligence. The sheer diversity of the topics discussed in 21 Lessons makes boiling the book down into a short summary that does justice to its scope impossible. Unlike Sapiens and Homo Deus, 21 Lessons is less a narrative and more a set of related but independent arguments. Nevertheless, there are two identifiable threads which tie Harari’s sprawling arguments together into a coherent view of the modern world.

First, as he says in what is arguably the book’s most important chapter, the world has become a de facto single globalized civilization but remains factionalized in a way that gravely endangers our ability to tackle its problems. Harari argues that the ‘clash of civilizations’ rhetoric—between the West and Islam, or liberal democracy and authoritarianism—is exaggerated. Every country in the world is united (to greater or lesser degrees) in the same network of economic and political systems. All countries construct their technology according to a single rubric, educated people in every country believe essentially the same scientific account about the origin of life and the universe, and almost all at least pay lip service to liberal democratic principles like free elections and universal suffrage, however much they may betray those principles in practice.

Second, traditional narratives which have helped unify society are quickly becoming inadequate to capture the complexity of our current situations. In his chapter on liberty, Harari warns that a combination of artificial intelligence, data mining, and biotech could effectively destroy the liberal narrative of the primacy of the individual over the next few decades. If systems are developed that can predict and recommend things like romantic relationships and career choices better than we can, people might be willing to cede increasingly large parts of their decision making to machines. But then what becomes of the traditional Enlightenment emphasis on the importance of the individual and free will? Harari believes that modern neuroscience has already discredited the notion of free will among intellectuals, but he fears that the widespread adoption of personalized data algorithms might lead to a popular erosion of the idea, further undermining the social fabric.

Harari’s contention that the world now constitutes a single civilization is central to his criticisms of more insular movements like religious traditionalism and nationalism. While this globalized civilization allows for effective cooperation in some areas, it has proven insufficient to address global-scale problems, and is likely to continue to do so. It might, Harari argues, even exacerbate them, because most parts of the world are still clinging to a factional worldview that fails to appreciate the scale of the problems confronting our species:

We now have a global ecology, a global economy, and a global science—but we are still stuck with only a national politics…We are trapped, then, between a rock and a hard place. Humankind now constitutes a single civilization, and problems such as nuclear war, ecological collapse, and technological disruption can only be solved on a global level. On the other hand, nationalism and religion still divide our human civilization into different and often hostile camps.2

As is often the case with jeremiads, 21 Lessons does a markedly better job at pointing out the weaknesses of nationalistic tendencies than in proposing a viable alternative. Global cooperation will certainly be necessary for addressing the ecological crisis and the potential for upgrading humans via bioengineering (a point discussed at length in Homo Deus), especially because at least some nations will likely have to sacrifice comparative advantages in the short-term. But Harari’s proposal of the European Union as the best example we have of successfully prioritizing international loyalties over those of the nation-state is unconvincing, to put it mildly, and frankly remarkable in light of his admission that “[a]t present, it is far from clear whether Europe can find a middle path that will enable it to keep its gates open to strangers without being destabilized by people who don’t share its values.”3

Yuval Noah Harari

Harari claims that the EU is a model for global cooperation because its constitution allows for the negotiation of things like Catalonian or Scottish independence within a peaceful political framework, unlike the pre-20th century scenario in which redrawing political boundaries often involved violence. But it hardly follows from this that the EU model would work on a worldwide scale. Its constitution binds together a group of people in a relatively small part of the world, who have operated within a common religious, geographic, and cultural framework for centuries. Indeed, the very concept of “Europe” as a continent separate from Asia, a division which has little to no geographical justification, further illustrates the fact that the tight cultural and political bonds shared by Europeans are not easily generalizable to the world as a whole. Even today, with Europe more diverse than perhaps ever before, Europeans arguably have more in common with each other than they do with even Americans (higher rates of secularism and a more diverse political scene being only two such examples), let alone the non-Western world. Harari is persuasive when he argues that “humankind will probably need some kind of global identity and loyalty,”4 but he fails to offer a compelling account of how such a thing might be invented and sustained.

But global divisions are not solely the result of conscious decisions on the part of nations to shut themselves out from the global process. In addition to legal and political attempts at isolation from the world system, the information needed to understand massive-scale problems is spread out across billions of people and likely to become increasingly inaccessible. It is in detailing this problem that Harari sounds most prophetic. Defenders of capitalism have long argued that disseminated market knowledge communicated through price-signalling is superior to centralized planning, in light of the impossibility of efficiently sorting through the complexity of a national economy. A grocery store manager doesn’t need to know the source of the higher wholesale potato prices to know that his store will make a smaller profit if it continues selling potatoes at current prices. But what if a system developed in which even individual signals were incomprehensible to human observers?

Adam Smith famously used the example of a pin factory to illustrate division of labor—a group of workers each specializing in one task can produce more pins than the same group performing all the steps individually. A similar analogy can be used to describe the division of knowledge throughout the industrialized world—no single person understands every part of the total system. Many parts are no longer performed by humans at all, but most parts are understood at least on some level by someone, even those that have been outsourced to machines. But what do we do when, as Harari warns is likely, substantial parts of technology and the economy are not merely outsourced to machines, but cease to be understandable to humans at all? A fully automated pin-producing factory may cost pin manufacturers their jobs, but each component of its commodity processing is fully comprehensible. But the inner workings of an algorithm developed in ten years for drone coordination or cancer diagnosis might not be understood by anyone, including those using it.

The removal of key technologies from beyond human attempts at understanding might well threaten our self-understanding and sense of control severely enough to further undermine confidence in the value of individual choice. Harari’s warnings on this point seem prescient in light of people’s willingness up to this point to hand over large amounts of personal data to large tech companies, the inner machinations of which they already do not understand. Some of Harari’s descriptions of what such a machine-driven world could look like might seem outlandish, with their visions of people letting machines choose their mates and dictators controlling the population through biometric sensors. But as he notes in chapter 19, “If somebody describes the world of the mid-twenty first century to you and it sounds like science fiction, it is probably false. But then again, if somebody describes the world of the mid-twenty first century to you and it doesn’t sound like science fiction, it is certainly false.”5

If I were pressed to name the most important flaw in an otherwise largely thoughtful book, it would be the lack of political and economic rigor devoted to criticizing nationalism and advocating globalism in its place. Given how central the notion of a global civilization is to the book’s arguments, this is more than a little disappointing. Harari’s suggestions for worldwide cooperation seldom go beyond a general call for the invention of new globalizing narratives that are—or so he says—the only way of creating the mass action needed to solve the problems outlined above. I am inclined to agree that a sense of global identity is the only way of coordinating these solutions. Nevertheless, whether or not internationalism is more effective than nationalism at solving global problems is a question that cannot be answered by a priori theorizing alone. Harari would have done well to borrow from Steven Pinker’s emphasis on quantitative data in Enlightenment Now and The Better Angels of Our Nature and include a broader selection of detailed historical statistics and case studies. Nevertheless, 21 Lessons remains an intriguing and often disturbing look at a bewildering world scene. Anyone seeking to understand a globalist perspective on the 21st century cannot afford to ignore it.

 

Spencer Hall is a statistician living in Athens, GA, who writes on science, philosophy, and religion. He graduated from the University of Georgia in 2016 and has worked for his alma mater in disease ecology ever since. His blog can be found here.

References:

1 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, p. 231
2 Ibid, p. 126 and 139
3 Ibid, p. 156
4 Ibid, p. 121
5 Ibid, p. 268, emphasis original

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41 Comments

  1. Circuses and Bread says

    Thanks for the review. I haven’t read this book and almost certainly won’t. Seems like yet another book asking us to please, oh please, give globalism a chance! The irony that the two best examples we have of this “wonderful” idea are the EU and UN seem to be lost on the author of this book as well as the reviewer. When your “best” examples of the virtues of globalism are the profoundly corrupt and autocratic, you’ve already lost the argument.

    I see quite the different trend emerging. Not towards globalization, or even really nationalism, but towards these political constructs being less relevant. I don’t adopt the viewpoint that we’re all going to become “sovereign individuals” but I do think it’s going to be much harder for National and global political entities to govern as they have. Part of it will be skepticism towards the utility of politics. A skepticism that I of course share. But on the more practical and less theoretical side of things, systems of national and global governance are going to find it harder to cover their costs of operation (cryptocurrency plays into this), as well as technology, specifically AI, eating away their reason for existence.

    • Micha says

      I don’t know where in the world you live and from where you get your information, but as far as I know there is no evidence that corruption at the EU is especially high. The EU has many specific problems and flaws but this one is not among them. For example regulation with regard to lobbying activities is stricter than in most EU nation states…

      • No, I agree. Corruption in the EU isn’t a big issue.

        That whole “save the Iran deal at any cost” was motivated not by massive considerations to players in the EU-ocracy but by the EU’s ideological support of Iran’s Euro-similar worldview and its progressivism.

        Incidentally, would you have any interest in becoming the proud owner of a slightly used but very well located bridge?

      • Circuses and Bread says

        @Micha

        Thanks for the comment.

        In answer to your questions:

        – I’m an American currently living in the US. God Bless the USA 🇺🇸!

        – I rely on two sources in making my assertion regarding EU corruption. (1) my personal observations in having lived and worked there. And yes, from an American perspective the amount of petty and official corruption in the EU is stunning. It does seem to be a more regional phenomenon, but relatively wide scale. (2) access to the internet. I can search and read articles about the EU too. I think we can rely on the EU’s own assessment in this regard. Such as the comments of the EU Home Affairs commissioner in 2014 who termed corruption across the EU as “breathtaking.” Or perhaps we can rely on the 2016 article in the UK independent that reported the scope of official corruption in the EU as costing up to 800 billion pounds per year.

      • Constantin says

        @Micha
        Consider: “The extent of corruption in Europe is “breathtaking” and it costs the EU economy at least 120bn euros (£99bn) annually, the European Commission says. ” https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-26014387
        Would you please share your source of knowledge with respect to the level of corruption in the EU?

        • Micha says

          @ Constantin @ Circuses and Bread

          As I understood it, the argument above was against the EU as a multi level governance institution. The BBC article about corruption was entirely about specific EU nation states, like Spain, Greece etc. This has nothing to do with the existence of the EU. There is no significant corruption at the level of EU institutions. I live in Spain and I can assure you that corruption here would exist without the existence of the EU. It existed before and it is improving in recent times…

    • Yep, this summary doesn’t give much interest in reading the book. Instead of trying of inventing the “Next World Order”, they are trying to salve this crumbling one that nobody wants. As the West is suiciding, the West won’t be able to force this failed system any longer.

    • Constantin says

      @Panem et Circenses 🙂
      I suspect that we are dealing with an emerging post-national class of individuals, a sort of elite, that has consciously adopted a global/post-national perspective. I do not think that the likes of Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg qualify as deep thinking philosophers, but I can see how both immeasurable wealth and global scoped business lead them into misinterpreting deeply the role of the “Pax Americana” under the extraordinary economic hegemony of the US has in making their global business scope possible. Because humans do not have any real insight into the reasons and motivations of others, it is way too easy to misinterpret relatively good behavior as a more or less deep adherence to a quasi-universal set of principles. I think the empirical data suggests that the contraction of American power projection is usually accompanied by the emergence of chaos. If Mr. Harari was correct in his assumptions, the vacuum of power left by the retraction of the world policeman from the equation would be immediately filled by a sensible spontaneous collective organizations around stable institutions. Just a couple of neurons still firing should be enough to contemplate in all its splendor the notion of Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia and so forth discovering their shared humanity and creating stable and lasting international institutions. I think that Mr. Harari knows (or at least is perfectly capable of understanding) that his utopic narrative would be meaningless without the military and technological supremacy of the West. In his mind, however, this became but the insignificant backdrop against which the globalist elite he caters to can afford to engage in moral preening and see themselves as knights capable to tackle global issues. If I had a readily available bucket of cash, I might consider investing it in eradicating malaria, or spreading the humanity’s wings towards the stars, but would never make the mistake of believing, even for one second, that my ability to use my money as I see fit (and making them in the first place) would have been possible but for the protection of US economic and military hegemony.
      It is quite possible that bad countries may conspire together to create an illusion of functioning international institutions to cover up what would be in effect a mafia conspiracy to escape taxation, and benefit at the expense of everybody else. In fact, to a large extent they have managed to corrupt the UN out of any resemblance with its original purpose and make it an Israel bashing instrument incapable of nearly anything else. It is astounding that Mr. Harari finds in the midst of all this decay an exuberance for hallucinatory utopian future gravely disconnected from reality. Some commenters above even questioned the corruption of the EU despite the growing evidence that the Bruxelle government acts in complete disconnect with the will of the people, it is not elected and voted itself into 100% lifetime retirement right after a mere 3 years of “service”. How sad!

      • Circuses and Bread says

        @salve constantin! 😉

        Thanks for your comments. I think you’re absolutely correct in that countries are taking advantage of Pax Americana. The OECD perpetually has it’s panties in a wad over countries in effect selling their citizenship for tax reasons. Spend a couple million Euros and you too can be an Austrian citizen. The general trend however has been towards more countries offering these sorts of programs at lower prices.

        How more interesting that’s going to get when the US decides to play. Actually it already is a player. There is the EB 5 visa program where one can invest $500,000 to $1 million and get a green card. That in turn can become citizenship in 5 years.

        Now here’s where it REALLY gets fun: the current administration is looking seriously at significant middle class tax cuts next year. So at what point does the US become a de facto tax haven? And keep in mind that unlike most countries, the US taxes based on citizenship, not residency.

        The American passport. Don’t leave your overtaxed utopia without it. 😆

    • Laramie says

      Excellent comments. Your reference to “sovereign individuals” is also quite apt. Placing Harari’s Sapiens and Homo Deus next to Davidson’s Sovereign Individual is an interesting exercise. I’ve read them both.

      Harari’s two books are much better written and edited. But, James Dale Davidson has the benefit of time: Much of what he predicted (e.g., cryptocurrencies, Islamic Fundamentalism) turned out to be correct.

      I’m not sure if you intended that to be your reference, but it is an apt comparison, in my opinion.

      • Circuses and Bread says

        @Laramie

        Thanks for the comments and the compliment.

        Yes, I was indirectly referring to the book “the sovereign individual” The book, which I must have read 20 years ago, has had a significant influence on my thinking.

        I have not read Mr. Harare’s books and I doubt I will. Mr. Harare’s point of view seems to be that somehow, in some way, a global expansion of governance and politics is a necessity. I am fundamentally opposed to politics. So I’m just not all that interested in reading rationale #1,754,862 why politics will make our lives so much better this time. We’ve already had 5,000 plus years of recorded history to see what politics is and to measure its mettle.

    • James Lee says

      I like your optimism (@circuses and bread), but my temperament leans towards the opposite pole. I see the growth of massive concentrations of power and the technologies of control being rapidly developed by those massive concentrations of power as being the biggest danger that we collectively face, and one that isn’t trending towards increased freedom.

      A secondary problem is the power of general AI to enhance such technologies of control and perhaps even facilitate the escape of such technologies from human control. The Black Mirror episode with the autonomous killer robot “dogs” springs to mind…

      Elon Musk has been sounding that horn for years to little avail.

      I also think that the current pace of change is making humans increasingly unstable and crazy, which in turn results in our emotional and intellectual apparatus becoming even more susceptible to hacking by these technologies.

      In my view, many libertarians have a healthy fear of governments but an insufficient fear of trans-national corporations. However, it is not hard to imagine a future that is effectively governed by tight partnerships between powerful trans-national tech lords, the intelligence communities of various countries (including both China and the USA- see Google’s partnership with the CCP), and the “media” (which is increasingly being shaped by the tech lords). Throw in a handful of elected and non-elected officials who can generally be bribed cheaply, and you have the ingredients for globalized dystopia.

      To the author: I found the review well-written and thought-provoking, thank you.

      • Circuses and Bread says

        @James Lee

        Yeah, I am optimistic about the future. I was commenting earlier on another story but I think the comment is appropriate here: when you live off the grid in an enclave that produces virtually all it needs internally, then how relevant is politics? Answer: not very. And that’s the sort of future we are going to be looking at IMHO. Forget globalism and nationalism, think about hyper localism.

        Website to check out if you want to see how some visionary’s are trying to change things. Now, think about what they’re doing and then add on some AI. Wow.

        Opensourceecology.org

        Could everything turn to hell? Sure. I just don’t think it the most likely outcome. I have no doubt that the various elites will do what they can to dig in their heels. So it’s incumbent upon we freedom lovers to give a positive future a leg-up where and when we can. I try to do so (in part) through anti politics. YMMV.

        • James Lee says

          @circus

          I like your positivity, and will try to keep an open mind in regards to the possibility of a more decentralized future full of hyperlocalism and genuine cooperation between people who steward the land.

          The key question, which I am sure you have considered, is what’s the plan for when the centralized power decides to stop ignoring your freedom loving off-the-grid community, and which isn’t taking part in the mandatory 2 minutes of hate?

          But I guess that tyranny can strike the conventional community as well. And I take your point that spending energy on politics and activism would be put to better use if directed toward one’s local community.

          • Circuses and Bread says

            @James Lee

            Centralized power isn’t going to volunteer to go quietly into the night. And as I indicated it is possible that this all goes to hell. I’m optimistic and I do think though that we need to look more at the capabilities sides of the equation. Is central power really going to be capable of achieving dystopian aims? How does funding central power work when people are using crypto currencies, engaging in off the grid market activities and in general making it very difficult to track transactions? How does that funding work when people need little money to be self sufficient?

            A large portion of the economic activity in the third world is in the “unofficial” black and grey markets. Even in first world countries, these “unofficial” economies are huge and likely growing. You would think that if central power was all that it’s cut out to be, that these unofficial markets would be under extreme pressure and be shrinking. But that doesn’t seem to be the case.

            Then there is what really interests me personally. An emerging widespread disgust with politics. I just read another article this morning about how people are really getting tired of the hate and craving unity. We just had a synagogue shot up in Pennsylvania yesterday. 11 people dead. To what end? It’s violence that is absolutely political in nature. And it’s spreading. What the public increasingly wants is an end to this lunacy. But here’s the kicker: the politicians can’t and won’t deliver what the public craves. I don’t think it’s too much of a leap to see a future where politics has a much more limited role.

            Thanks for the comment.

  2. Multiple Dimensions of Being says

    Alien invasion. That would place globalism firmly into the human subconciousness. Barring that, I don’t see how the tribal nature of the evolutionary animal that is mankind will be extinguished.

    • It seems far more likely we’d end up with World War III over any of these serious issues than we’d end up all cooperating on them. The power to control others to your ideal is strong in all people, whether they act the tyrant or the elected leader, whether they are left or right or center.

    • James Lee says

      @Being

      I tend to agree that it would take some kind of imminent global catastrophe to have any real buy-in for the globalized world that the anti-nation-state elites are working to create.

      Short of that, it will take massive coercion and totalitarian-style soft power, and our trans-national corporations are rapidly developing those technologies that will enhance such coercion and control.

  3. cardiffkook says

    All the progress of modern society in the last two and a half centuries occurred in an era of fragmentation and competition between social institutions. Virtually every respected historian on the topic agrees that the fragmentation and healthy, constructive competition between these societies and institutions contributed significantly to this progress.

    Seems like a leap to argue now for consolidation. But I have yet to read the book.

    • Indeed, without competition, human striving comes to an end. What’s the point of studying hard or working hard or fighting hard if the result is the same?
      War seems more likely than a global government creating “solutions” that would actually be shared by the vast majority of people.

  4. I just don’t see a harmonious conclusion regardless of the interconnectedness of the global economy in light of incongruities of the three primary power structures of China, the West and Islam. With one in a perpetual state of self-loathing and the other two being brutal authoritarian hierarchies I envision a further fracturing unless Islamist and Chinese authoritarianism moderate. Fat chance of that.

    I think it all hinges on the West’s ability to hold it together as the better parts of globalism (yes there are some good parts) shine the light harshly on authoritarianism. It honestly shouldn’t be that hard, but the West has a knack for shooting itself in the foot.

    • peanut gallery says

      The West currently hates itself, so good luck!

    • Islam isn’t a primary power structure. We only hear about them because of the great replacement happening in Europe. Otherwise, they would be considered like a bunch of barbarians killing each others that are bribed so we get oil.

      Just like nobody would care about Latinos if you didn’t have tens of millions in the US.

      • @ ArnoldDarem
        Fair enough about Islam wielding real global power, but there are well over a billion Muslims and growing. They are invading Europe and they do not tolerate dissension in their ranks any better than the authoritarians do. Maybe not a political power, but definitely a demographic power.

  5. David says

    When the machines finally control things, then they will be able to overcome the fractious nature of human beings and make everything wonderful. They will be our saviors. Then they end us.

  6. McFly says

    I am always mystified by assumptions that determinism threatens individual agency.

    I don’t believe in the per se “existence” of “free will” but neither do I think it is possible to understand ourselves or the universe so completely that the illusion of “choice” is rendered redundant or unnecessary to cognitive function.

    “Choice” is a short-hand description of everything we don’t know, or can’t possibly process.

    And this review actually made me less likely to read Harari’s new book. It came off as a defense of a defense of the proposition that humanity’s future depends on our gleeful submission to an elite global ruling class.

    …kinda seems like it might be more productive and intellectually stimulating to read fanboy blogs extolling the nonexistant virtues of the DC cinematic universe.

    Selling me on the idea that Justice League was a good movie would be easier than convincing me that the threat of anthropogenic climate change requires that political power — WORLDWIDE — be consolidated into a system modeled after the EU or UN.

    • Thanks McFly. The review isn’t a defense of Harari; I dislike the idea of a global ruling class as much as anyone, but I try to avoid polemic in anything more than mild doses in reviews.

      • McFly says

        Spencer,

        Fair enough. I didn’t take enough care or time to appreciate the subtle but important distinction between a sense of global identity and an elite global ruling class. Apologies for misinterpreting your words.

        And thank you for taking the time to read Harari’s work and giving us some insight into what it has to offer.

        It seems to me that we have a challenging road ahead of us. Ultimately, a genuinely felt and embraced sense of global identity will help to foster a greater degree of cooperation when goals truly transcend the interests of the nation-state. But I don’t see why “nationalism” has to be abandoned entirely to achieve that ideal. Perhaps the missing component is a truly unifying set of human goals that attracts participation from each community on the basis of contributing to some specific productive purposes.

        I don’t see that abstract threats fit the bill. Nuclear war. Climate Change. AI.

        There’s an inherent undercurrent of coercion built into the way these issues are framed. The scale of these threats is assumed to be both apocolyptic and imminent which inexorably leads to an impulse on the part of some to place their faith in an elite ruling class as the only way to manage and mitigate these percieved threats. But there are others who justifiably recognize that no matter what the reason, consolidating political power into the hands of a very few for the “greater good” will certainly result in the elimination of sovereignty at every level except for those with whom we have charged the responsibility of “saving” us. That is simply a non-starter for far too many. And thank the gods for that!

        I don’t care if “they” believe in their hearts they are trying to save the world, they do not have my permission to subordinate the political, social, or economic interests of the United States to the “altruistic” ambitions of “experts” who think themselves righteous and wise enough to make the necessary hard choices in the interests of planetary survival.

  7. Laramie says

    I read Sapiens and found it fascinating. I then read Homo Deus and found it to be thought-provoking if not entirely convincing.

    21 Lessons is an unfortunate but marked departure from his previous two works, and I really wish Harari had kept this one to himself. He reveals himself to be a globalist and committed leftist. Whenever he has a chance to defend classic liberalism, he shies away from doing so. Whenever he has a chance to criticize modern conservatism or libertarianism, he seizes the opportunity. In so doing, he reveals agendas that previously were well hidden, or at least weren’t so utterly transparent. Until this book, the most I could precisely say about his politics was that he was a PETA member — and even on animal rights issues he made fairly good points.

    Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of 21 Lessons. He reveals his disdain for those who don’t share his politics, and his arguments are unpersuasive, as this reviewer notes. I think less of his earlier works for having read 21 Lessons. My advice if you still hold Harari in high regard: Skip his latest entry.

  8. I’m really enjoying this comments section but could someone please tell me how I can have more verbal fluency, put together a logical argument / critique and be more eloquent? I’m 41, a native english speaker, reasonably intelligent (2 xBScs & 1 MSc) and a working professional. I’m fascinated by this topic, really love these deep arguments but thought I’d have this stuff (basic english) sorted by now. :'(
    Thanks in advance

    • Circuses and Bread says

      @rinnin

      You ask a really great question that I asked many years ago to a college English professor. He gave me an answer I didn’t think much of at the time, but which proved to be correct. The way to be a better writer is to read more books.

      I would add a caveat to that; read more books in areas that you currently don’t know about and are far outside your zone of experience. Read some classics. Specialization really is over rated.

      Other than that, it’s a practice thing. Practice makes perfect. Maybe I’ll even be a decent writer someday? 😂

      Speaking with regard to this site, the folks here are pretty friendly so long as you steer clear of politics. Even then they’re reasonably civil. But why would you want to talk about politics anyway other than to scorn it? It’s a bottomless pit of evil and despair.

      I’m kind of curious as to what these ideas are that you’re keeping from us?

  9. peterschaeffer says

    “All countries construct their technology according to a single rubric, educated people in every country believe essentially the same scientific account about the origin of life and the universe, and almost all at least pay lip service to liberal democratic principles like free elections and universal suffrage, however much they may betray those principles in practice.”

    Wow is that far off. The dominant elites of the West have rejected science and reason in favor of crude identity politics. For better or worse (much worse), Left Creationism and Lysenkoism are the principal ideas of the Western media, academia, and much of the political class (the idea that Iraq could be a ‘liberal democracy’ was pure Left Creationism).

    Harari knows all of this. However, he is part of the elite that has rejected reality in favor of ‘liberalism’. In his class, condemning ‘nationalism’ is PC. Pointing out that the identify-politics Left is insane yields instant banishment. Of course, he knows this all too well.

  10. D-Rex says

    I watch a lot of youtube from the IDW and many others such as Crowder, Ruben and Molyneux. Not to mention a couple of trans people and anti feminists. I read much of the comments at these sites just out of interest and to see how people think but nothing that I’ve come across comes close to the level of intellectual sophistication as the comments at Quillette. In many cases, I find reading @circucuses, @gagamba and @kirkland among many others just as informative and in some cases more than reading the article itself. As a case in point, while I read this article with a moderate level of interest I was unfamiliar with the previous works of the author being reviewed. I had determined by the end of the review that I wouldn’t bother reading the book as it seemed to advocate globalism, which I have vaguely negative feelings about.
    It is here that reading the comments of Circusses, Constantin and others filled in a lot of blanks for me, making it much more important to read the comments section than the article itself.
    Thanks to Quillette for the the vital service that you offer and especially, thanks to the commentators here that profoundly contribute to my understanding of the issues presented.

    • Circuses and Bread says

      @D-Rex

      Wow. Thanks for the nice compliment. (Blush)

      I do sometimes wonder if I’m up to the caliber of this place. Especially when Im on one of my anti politics tirades; I don’t want to be the proverbial “bore with a plan.” But that is my primary reason for being here; I think I’m onto something and I do need the slings and arrows. There is a sort of “inquisitive friendliness” to Quillette that I find unusual.

      That’s a long way of saying we really should become patrons and help Miss Claire pay the light bill. 😆

  11. Grant says

    I’m always highly suspicious of books that pretend to accurately view the state of the things 10 years from now, let alone 50.
    There are daunting challenges to be sure but we have a pretty good record of addressing them, and generally not in a top down way.
    One can look at spectacular gains in poverty, disease, individual rights and pollution over just the last 40 years. Much of these gains were accomplished transnationally and with cooperation between businesses, philanthropists and governments.
    Decentralization allows for flexibility and innovation where highly centralized government is ridged and not particularly critical of itself.
    Most if this global talk is from busy bodies who should be engaged in change in their community, and quit thinking everyone else is too ignorant and backwards to help and must be firmly guided.

  12. That idea of a unified world government is an old one, of the rather forgotten H.G. Wells, -An outline of history- and other worked out views, partly science fiction. In fact, with the existing global socioeconomic system at his time, England and colonies and territories worldwide (Brittania rules the waves), with its universal ruling, laws, rules and trade, having abandoned slavery worldwide recently, it was not very strange to see this global unification as the next step. In a recent book of Timothy Snyder The Road to Unfreedom, serious doubts about the functioning and role of individual nation states is expressed, he also saw the empires of England or France as first steps of the global unification and ruling. He thinks the future is at the imperia (one single remaining?), not for the diverse, small and larger nations. He also no longer believes in the dream of the end of history- first the spreading of free markets and democracy, leading to democracy and freedom , finally resulting in happiness for all. Future will be on a totally different footing. Similar message thus as Harari. One thing is sure: the end of history is still far off.

  13. Grey Star says

    I wonder if perhaps we are being a little hasty in condemning Mr Harari’s latest book? For those who have actually read it (I have not), is the book really just a Globalist Manifesto, or is there more to it than that? Does he fully recommend the establishment of an all-powerful world government as the only viable solution to the problems presented in the book, or is there more nuance to be found?

    If so many can be turned off the book so quickly, then it seems the author’s conclusions have preceded the detail of the problems. This is a shame, as these global problems do need to be addressed at least in some way on a global level. However, it most certainly doesn’t follow that the only way to achieve this is with a single central power dictating the solutions to the masses.

    • Of course, there are many social problems that ask a global approach (environment, climate, world trade, human rights) and many where a Scrutonlike local approach seems best (landscape, agriculture, clean water, conservation). I consider myself as apolitical, never vote, laugh at politicians talk, but live very consciously in my neighbourhood, and hope by assisting (unpaid basis) with journalistic articles to contribute (in my eyes)to a better and harmonious lifestyle. But I realise that there are global issues, that need serious attention too. And that the split-up in nations right now (much less so in Napoleon-, or other imperiumlike eras) is a serious drawback to tackle these. Such as, yes, climate change. Too ridiculous, capitalism, socialism, national income, postmodernism……. toddlers in the sandpit.

  14. A possible solution that hopefully can create a synthesis between individual rights and collective good: Geolibertarianism

    From Wikipedia:

    Geolibertarianism is a political and economic ideology that integrates libertarianism with Georgism (alternatively geoism or geonomics). It is most often associated with left-libertarianism or the radical center.

    Geolibertarians hold that geographical space and raw natural resources—any assets that qualify as land by economic definition—are rivalrous goods to be considered common property or more accurately unowned, which all individuals share an equal human right to access, not capital wealth to be privatized fully and absolutely. Therefore, landholders must pay compensation according to the rental value decided by the free market, absent any improvements, to the community for the civil right of usufruct (that is, legally recognized exclusive possession with restrictions on property abuse) or otherwise fee simple title with no such restrictions. Ideally, the taxing of a site would be administered only after it has been determined that the privately captured economic rent from the land exceeds the title-holder’s equal share of total land value in the jurisdiction. On this proposal, rent is collected not for the mere occupancy or use of land, as neither the community nor the state rightfully owns the commons, but rather as an objectively assessed indemnity due for the legal right to exclude others from that land. Some geolibertarians also support Pigovian taxes on pollution and severance taxes to regulate natural resource depletion, compensatory fees with ancillary positive environmental effects on activities which negatively impact land values.

    They endorse the standard right-libertarian view that each individual is naturally entitled to the fruits of his or her labor as exclusive private property, as opposed to produced goods being owned collectively by society or by the government acting to represent society, and that a person’s “labor, wages, and the products of labor” should not be taxed. Also, along with non-Georgists in the libertarian movement, they advocate “full civil liberties, with no crimes unless there are victims who have been invaded.”

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