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

Sapiens did not forage only for food and materials. They foraged for knowledge as well.

So why study history? Unlike physics or economics, history is not a means for making accurate predictions. We study history not to know the future but to widen our horizons, to understand that our present situation is neither natural nor inevitable, and that we consequently have many more possibilities before us than we imagine. For example, studying how Europeans came to dominate Africans enables us to realize that there is nothing natural or inevitable about the racial hierarchy, and that the world might well be arranged differently.

Thanks to money, even people who don?t know each other and don?t trust each other can nevertheless cooperate effectively.

The capitalist and consumerist ethics are two sides of the same coin, a merger of two commandments. The supreme commandment of the rich is ?Invest!? The supreme commandment of the rest of us is ?Buy!? The capitalist?consumerist ethic is revolutionary in another respect. 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 reign 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.

The first English settlements in North America were established in the early seventeenth century by joint-stock companies such as the London Company, the Plymouth Company, the Dorchester Company and the Massachusetts Company. The Indian subcontinent too was conquered not by the British state, but by the mercenary army of the British East India Company. This company outperformed even the VOC. From its headquarters in Leadenhall Street, London, it ruled a mighty Indian empire for about a century, maintaining a huge military force of up to 350,000 soldiers, considerably outnumbering the armed forces of the British monarchy. Only in 1858 did the British crown nationalize India along with the company?s private army. Napoleon made fun of the British, calling them a nation of shopkeepers. Yet these shopkeepers defeated Napoleon himself, and their empire was the largest the world has ever seen.

The Human Brain Project, founded in 2005, hopes to recreate a complete human brain inside a computer, with electronic circuits in the computer emulating neural networks in the brain.

The most important impact of script on human history is precisely this: it has gradually changed the way humans think and view the world. Free association and holistic thought have given way to compartmentalization and bureaucracy.

The real difference between us and chimpanzees is the mythical glue that binds together large numbers of individuals, families and groups. This glue has made us the masters of creation.

The tragedy of industrial agriculture is that it takes great care of the objective needs of animals, while neglecting their subjective needs.

There is one logical way of solving the riddle: to argue that there is a single omnipotent God who created the entire universe ? and He?s evil. But nobody in history has had the stomach for such a belief.

This is the essence of the Agricultural Revolution: the ability to keep more people alive under worse conditions.

Today, the global average is only 1.5 per cent, taking war and crime together. During the twentieth century, only 5 per cent of human deaths resulted from human violence ? and this in a century that saw the bloodiest wars

Unlike the laws of physics, which are free of inconsistencies, every man-made order is packed with internal contradictions. Cultures are constantly trying to reconcile these contradictions, and this process fuels change.

Most of the laws, norms, rights and obligations that define manhood and womanhood reflect human imagination more than biological reality.

No matter what you call it ? game theory, postmodernism or memetics ? the dynamics of history are not directed towards enhancing human well-being.

One of the distinguishing marks of history as an academic discipline ? the better you know a particular historical period, the harder it becomes to explain why things happened one way and not another.

Over the past 10,000 years, Homo sapiens have grown so accustomed to being the only human species that it?s hard for us to conceive of any other possibility. Our lack of brothers and sisters makes it easier to imagine that we are the epitome of creation, and that a chasm separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. When Charles Darwin indicated that Homo sapiens was just another kind of animal, people were outraged. Even today many refuse to believe it. Had the Neanderthals survived, would we still imagine ourselves to be a creature apart? Perhaps this is exactly why our ancestors wiped out the Neanderthals. They were too familiar to ignore, but too different to tolerate.

Poverty, sickness, wars, famines old age and death itself were not the inevitable fate of humankind. They were simply the fruits of our ignorance.

Scholars once proclaimed that the agricultural revolution was a great leap forward for humanity. They told a tale of progress fueled by human brain power. Evolution gradually produced ever more intelligent people. Eventually, people were so smart that they were able to decipher nature?s secrets, enabling them to tame sheep and cultivate wheat. As soon as this happened, they cheerfully abandoned the grueling, dangerous, and often Spartan life of hunter-gatherers, settling down to enjoy the pleasant, satiated life of farmers.

So, is the modern era one of mindless slaughter, war and oppression, typified by the trenches of World War One, the nuclear mushroom cloud over Hiroshima and the gory manias of Hitler and Stalin? Or is it an era of peace, epitomized by the trenches never dug in South America, the mushroom clouds that never appeared over Moscow and New York, and the serene visages of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King?

Thanks to the appearance of fiction, even people with the same genetic make-up who lived under similar ecological conditions were able to create very different imagined realities, which manifested themselves in different norms and values.

The capitalist?consumerist ethic is revolutionary in another respect. 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.

The first millennium BC witnessed the appearance of three potentially universal orders, whose devotees could for the first time imagine the entire world and the entire human race as a single unit governed by a single set of laws. Everyone was ?us?, at least potentially. There was no longer ?them?. The first universal order to appear was economic: the monetary order. The second universal order was political: the imperial order. The third universal order was religious: the order of universal religions such as Buddhism, Christianity and Islam.

The human collective knows far more today than did the ancient bands. But at the individual level, ancient foragers were the most knowledgeable and skillful people in history.

The most important military invention in the history of China was gunpowder. Yet to the best of our knowledge, gunpowder was invented accidentally, by Daoist alchemists searching for the elixir of life. Gunpowder?s subsequent career is even more telling. One might have thought that the Daoist alchemists would have made China master of the world. In fact, the Chinese used the new compound mainly for firecrackers. Even as the Song Empire collapsed in the face of a Mongol invasion, no emperor set up a medieval Manhattan Project to save the empire by inventing a doomsday weapon. Only in the fifteenth century ? about 600 years after the invention of gunpowder ? did cannons become a decisive factor on Afro-Asian battlefields. Why did it take so long for the deadly potential of this substance to be put to military use? Because it appeared at a time when neither kings, scholars, nor merchants thought that new military technology could save them or make them rich.

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