Yuval Noah Harari

Yuval Noah
Harari
1976

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

Author Quotes

The truth is that earth?s climate never rests. It is in constant flux. Every event in history occurred against the background of some climate change. In particular, our planet has experienced numerous cycles of cooling and warming.

There is some evidence that the size of the average Sapiens brain has actually decreased since the age of foraging. Survival in that era required superb mental abilities from everyone. When agriculture and industry came along people could increasingly rely on the skills of others for survival, and new ?niches for imbeciles? were opened up. You could survive and pass your unremarkable genes to the next generation by working as a water carrier or an assembly-line worker.

This is the fly in the ointment of free-market capitalism. It cannot ensure that profits are gained in a fair way, or distributed in a fair manner. On the contrary, the craving to increase profits and production blinds people to anything that might stand in the way.

Tolerance is not a Sapiens trademark. In modern times, a small difference in skin color, dialect or religion has been enough to prompt one group of Sapiens to set about exterminating another group. Would ancient Sapiens have been more tolerant towards an entirely different human species? It may well be that when Sapiens encountered Neanderthals, the result was the first and most significant ethnic-cleansing campaign in history.

Until the late modern era, more than 90 per cent of humans were peasants who rose each morning to till the land by the sweat of their brows. The extra they produced fed the tiny minority of elites ? kings, government officials, soldiers, priests, artists and thinkers ? who fill the history books. History is something that very few people have been doing while everyone else was ploughing fields and carrying water buckets.

Most people today successfully live up to the capitalist?consumerist ideal. The new ethic promises paradise on condition that the rich remain greedy and spend their time making more money, and that the masses give free rein to their cravings and passions ? and buy more and more. This is the first religion in history whose followers actually do what they are asked to do. How, though, do we know that we?ll really get paradise in return? We?ve seen it on television.

No single step separated the woman gathering wild wheat from the woman farming domesticated wheat, so it?s hard to say exactly when the decisive transition to agriculture took place. But, by 8500 BC, the Middle East was peppered with permanent villages such as Jericho, whose inhabitants spent most of their time cultivating a few domesticated species.

One of the iron laws of history is that a luxury quickly becomes a necessity and creates new constraints.

Peasants had to work harder than foragers to eke out less varied and nutritious food, and they were far more exposed to disease and exploitation.

Previous seekers of empire tended to assume that they already understood the world. Conquest merely utilized and spread their view of the world.

Science needs more than just research to make progress. It depends on the mutual reinforcement of science, politics and economics.

Social cooperation is our key for survival and reproduction.

The Ach‚ people, hunter-gatherers who lived in the jungles of Paraguay until the 1960s, offer a glimpse into the darker side of foraging. When a valued band member died, the Ach‚ customarily killed a little girl and buried the two together. Anthropologists who interviewed the Ach‚ recorded a case in which a band abandoned a middle-aged man who fell sick and was unable to keep up with the others. He was left under a tree. Vultures perched above him, expecting a hearty meal. But the man recuperated, and, walking briskly, he managed to rejoin the band. His body was covered with the birds? faeces, so he was henceforth nicknamed ?Vulture Droppings?. When an old Ach‚

The chief commandments of liberal humanism are meant to protect the liberty of this inner voice against intrusion or harm. These commandments are collectively known as ?human rights?. This, for example, is why liberals object to torture and the death penalty. In early modern Europe, murderers were thought to violate and destabilize the cosmic order. To bring the cosmos back to balance, it was necessary to torture and publicly execute the criminal, so that everyone could see the order re-established. Attending gruesome executions was a favorite pastime for Londoners and Parisians in the era of Shakespeare and MoliŠre. In today?s Europe, murder is seen as a violation of the sacred nature of humanity. In order to restore order, present-day Europeans do not torture and execute criminals. Instead, they punish a murderer in what they see as the most ?humane? way possible, thus safeguarding and even rebuilding his human sanctity. By honoring the human nature of the murderer, everyone is reminded of the sanctity of humanity, and order is restored. By defending the murderer, we right what the murderer has wronged.

The first part of the plan went smoothly. People indeed worked harder. But people did not foresee that the number of children would increase, meaning that the extra wheat would have to be shared between more children.

The hygiene of the natives was much better than the Spaniards. When the Spanish arrived in Mexico for the first time, were assigned carriers native incense burners to accompany them wherever they went. The Spaniards thought it was a mark of divine honor now know, by sources of the natives, they found unbearable the smell of newcomers .

The name ?denarius? became a generic name for coins.

The romantic contrast between modern industry that destroys nature and our ancestors who lived in harmony with nature is groundless. Long before the Industrial Revolution, Homo sapiens held the record among all organisms for driving the most plant and animal species to their extinctions. We have the dubious distinction of being the deadliest species in the annals of life.

The US Naval Undersea Warfare Center reported its intention to develop cyborg sharks.

There is today a division of labor between the elite and the masses. In medieval Europe aristocrats spent their money carelessly on extravagant luxuries whereas peasants lived frugally minding every penny. Today the tables have turned. The rich take great care managing their assets and investments, while the less well-heeled go into debt buying cars and televisions they don't really need.

This network of artificial instincts is called culture.

Traditional agricultural societies lived in the awful shade of starvation. In the affluent world of today one of the leading health problems is obesity, which strikes the poor (who stuff themselves with hamburgers and pizzas) even more severely than the rich (who eat organic salads and fruit smoothies). Each year the US population spends more money on diets than the amount needed to feed all the hungry people in the rest of the world. Obesity is a double victory for consumerism. Instead of eating little, which will lead to economic contraction, people eat too much and then buy diet products ? contributing to economic growth twice over.

Until the Scientific Revolution most human cultures did not believe in progress. They thought the golden age was in the past, and that the world was stagnant, if not deteriorating. Strict adherence to the wisdom of the ages might perhaps bring back the good old times, and human ingenuity might conceivably improve this or that facet of daily life. However, it was considered impossible for human know-how to overcome the world?s fundamental problems. If even Muhammad, Jesus, Buddha and Confucius ? who knew everything there is to know ? were unable to abolish famine, disease, poverty and war from the world, how could we expect to do so?

Most previous ethical systems presented people with a pretty tough deal. They were promised paradise, but only if they cultivated compassion and tolerance, overcame craving and anger, and restrained their selfish interests. This was too tough for most. The history of ethics is a sad tale of wonderful ideals that nobody can live up to. Most Christians did not imitate Christ, most Buddhists failed to follow Buddha, and most Confucians would have caused Confucius a temper tantrum. In contrast, most people today successfully live up to the capitalist?consumerist ideal. The new ethic promises paradise on condition that the rich remain greedy and spend their time making more money, and that the masses give free rein to their cravings and passions ? and buy more and more. This is the first religion in history whose followers actually do what they are asked to do. How, though, do we know that we?ll really get paradise in return? We?ve seen it on television.

Nobody, least of all humans themselves, had any inkling that their descendants would one day walk on the moon, split the atom, fathom the genetic code and write history books. The most important thing to know about prehistoric humans is that they were insignificant animals with no more impact on their environment than gorillas, fireflies or jellyfish.

Author Picture
First Name
Yuval Noah
Last Name
Harari
Birth Date
1976
Bio

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