Yuval Noah Harari

Yuval Noah

Israeli Professor of History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

Author Quotes

Summed up decades of governmental experience by saying that ?You can do many things with bayonets, but it is rather uncomfortable to sit on them.? A single priest often does the work of a hundred soldiers ? far more cheaply and effectively. Moreover, no matter how efficient bayonets are, somebody must wield them. Why should the soldiers, jailors, judges and police maintain an imagined order in which they do not believe? Of all human collective activities, the one most difficult to organise is violence. To say that a social order is maintained by military force immediately raises the question: what maintains the military order? It is impossible to organize an army solely by coercion. At least some of the commanders and soldiers must truly believe in something, be it God, honor, motherland, manhood or

The average person in Jericho of 8500 BC lived a harder life than the average person in Jericho of 9500 BC or 13,000 BC. But nobody realized what was happening. Every generation continued to live like the previous generation, making only small improvements here and there in the way things were done. Paradoxically, a series of ?improvements?, each of which was meant to make life easier, added up to a millstone around the necks of these farmers.

The economic pie of 2014 is far larger than the pie of 1500, but it is distributed so unevenly that many African peasants and Indonesian laborers return home after a hard day?s work with less food than did their ancestors 500 years ago. Much like the Agricultural Revolution, so too the growth of the modern economy might turn out to be a colossal fraud. The human species and the global economy may well keep growing, but many more individuals may live in hunger and want.

The gossip theory might sound like a joke, but numerous studies support it. Even today the vast majority of human communication ? whether in the form of emails, phone calls or newspaper columns ? is gossip. It comes so naturally to us that it seems as if our language evolved for this very purpose. Do you think that history professors chat about the reasons for World War One when they meet for lunch, or that nuclear physicists spend their coffee breaks at scientific conferences talking about quarks? Sometimes. But more often, they gossip about the professor who caught her husband cheating, or the quarrel between the head of the department and the dean, or the rumors that a colleague used his research funds to buy a Lexus. Gossip usually focuses on wrongdoings. Rumor-mongers are the original fourth estate, journalists who inform society about and thus protect it from cheats and freeloaders.

The militarily incompetent Augustus succeeded in establishing a stable imperial regime, achieving something that eluded both Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great, who were much better generals. Both his admiring contemporaries and modern historians often attribute this feat to his virtue of clementia ? mildness and clemency.

The prevailing feeling is that too many opportunities are opening too quickly and that our ability to modify genes is outpacing our capacity for making wise and farsighted use of the skill. The result is that we?re at present using only a fraction of the potential of genetic engineering. Most of the organisms now being engineered are those with the weakest political lobbies ? plants, fungi, bacteria and insects. For

The story of these fundamental features of our universe is called physics.

There is little sense, then, in arguing that the natural function of women is to give birth, or that homosexuality is unnatural. Most of the laws, norms, rights and obligations that define manhood and womanhood reflect human imagination more than biological reality.

This discrepancy between evolutionary success and individual suffering is perhaps the most important lesson we can draw from the Agricultural Revolution. When we study the narrative of plants such as wheat and maize, maybe the purely evolutionary perspective makes sense. Yet in the case of animals such as cattle, sheep and Sapiens, each with a complex world of sensations and emotions, we have to consider how evolutionary success translates into individual experience.

Today humankind has broken the law of the jungle. There is at last real peace, and not just absence of war. For most polities, there is no plausible scenario leading to full-scale conflict within one year. What could lead to war between Germany and France next year? Or between China and Japan? Or between Brazil and Argentina? Some minor border clash might occur, but only a truly apocalyptic scenario could result in an old-fashioned full-scale war between Brazil and Argentina in 2014, with Argentinian armored divisions sweeping to the gates of Rio, and Brazilian carpet-bombers pulverizing the neighborhoods of Buenos Aires. Such wars might still erupt between several pairs of states, e.g. between Israel and Syria, Ethiopia and Eritrea, or the USA and Iran, but these are only the exceptions that prove the rule.

Unfortunately, the Sapiens regime on Earth has so far produced little that we can be proud of. We have mastered our surroundings, increased food production, built cities, established empires and created far-flung trade networks. But did we decrease the amount of suffering in the world?

Most East Asians speak and dream in the language of the Han Empire. No matter what their origins, nearly all the inhabitants of the two American continents, from Alaska?s Barrow Peninsula to the Straits of Magellan, communicate in one of four imperial languages: Spanish, Portuguese, French or English. Present-day Egyptians speak Arabic, think of themselves as Arabs, and identify wholeheartedly with the Arab Empire that conquered Egypt in the seventh century and crushed with an iron fist the repeated revolts that broke out against its rule. About 10 million Zulus in South Africa hark back to the Zulu age of glory in the nineteenth century, even though most of them descend from tribes who fought against the Zulu Empire, and were incorporated into it only through bloody military campaigns.

Nanotechnology experts are developing a bionic immune system composed of millions of nano-robots, who would inhabit our bodies, open blocked blood vessels, fight viruses and bacteria, eliminate cancerous cells and even reverse ageing processes.

On the island of Java, in Indonesia, lived Homo soloensis, ?Man from the Solo Valley?, who was suited to life in the tropics. On another Indonesian island ? the small island of Flores ? archaic humans underwent a process of dwarfing. Humans first reached Flores when the sea level was exceptionally low, and the island was easily accessible from the mainland. When the seas rose again, some people were trapped on the island, which was poor in resources. Big people, who need a lot of food, died first. Smaller fellows survived much better. Over the generations, the people of Flores became dwarves. This unique species, known by scientists as Homo floresiensis, reached a maximum height of only 3.5 feet and weighed no more than fifty-five pounds. They were nevertheless able to produce stone tools, and even managed occasionally to hunt down some of the island?s elephants ? though, to be fair, the elephants were a dwarf species as well.

Our once green and blue planet is becoming a concrete and plastic shopping center.

Perhaps if more people were aware of the First Wave and Second Wave extinctions, they?d be less nonchalant about the Third Wave they are part of. If we knew how many species we?ve already eradicated, we might be more motivated to protect those that still survive. This is especially relevant to the large animals of the oceans.

Russian, Japanese and Korean scientists has recently mapped the genome of ancient mammoths,

So here is that line from the American Declaration of Independence translated into biological terms: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men evolved differently, that they are born with certain mutable characteristics, and that among these are life and the pursuit of pleasure.

Superiors got all the good things in life. Commoners got what was left. Slaves got a beating if they complained.

The basic lesson of evolutionary psychology: a need shaped in the wild continues to be felt subjectively even if it is no longer really necessary for survival and reproduction.

The empires built by bankers and merchants in frock coats and top hats defeated the empires built by kings and noblemen in gold clothes and shining armor. The mercantile empires were simply much shrewder in financing their conquests. Nobody wants to pay taxes, but everyone is happy to invest.

The handful of millennia separating the Agricultural Revolution from the appearance of cities, kingdoms and empires was not enough time to allow an instinct for mass cooperation to evolve.

The modern age has witnessed the rise of a number of new natural-law religions, such as liberalism, Communism, capitalism, nationalism and Nazism.

The principal difference between them and tribal shamans is that modern lawyers tell far stranger tales.

The stress of farming had far-reaching consequences. It was the foundation of large-scale political and social systems. Sadly, the diligent peasants almost never achieved the future economic security they so craved through their hard work in the present. Everywhere, rulers and elites sprang up, living off the peasants? surplus food and leaving them with only a bare subsistence.

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Yuval Noah
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Israeli Professor of History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind