The difference between Yuval Harari and me

Harari pays lip service to ecological collapse. His vision of the future is an optimistic one of capitalistic progress, of some kind of global federalism or empire, and of technological progress — especially towards a cybernetic dream. And when he talks about education — he anticipates a computerized world with an uncertain job market — but a world where there are jobs.

I, on the other hand, am more pessimistic. I see a world which is overpopulated and with fragile city structures, totally dependent on technologically operated capitalist governments and markets. And I anticipate that these systems will collapse. The education that is needed — when collapse occurs — is a sort of back to nature training — covered by such books as:

Further Commentary on Yuval Noah Harari’s book: Sapience: A Brief History of Mankind (2014)

The book surveys the journey of humankind from its animal existence to the point where humans have gained the knowledge to be like gods — by possibly engineering immortality or engineering beings which are superior to humans. This is his trajectory of history, i.e., if not eclipsed by an ecological collapse. This prediction or anticipation may be true, but as a human animal, it does not have the same interest for me as does my present animal nature. To survive as animals, humans need the necessities for a living organism to maintain its life: food, water, shelter, temperature, oxygen, tools. And as Peter Kropotkin put so well: mutual aid from others. As hunter-gatherers, humans from primeval times, as well as some current indigenous people, are supplied with these necessities through access to subsistence land. Such people lived in group of no more than about 150 families (Dunbar’s number).

Harari correctly recounts that humans underwent a Cognitive Revolution — his name for the evolutionary stage in which it became possible and actual for humans to acquire language, and this was followed by the subsequent stage of learning how to grow food and to herd animals — which can be called, as does Harari, the Agricultural Revolution.

Here Harari could have learned from Herman Nieboer’s Slavery: As an Industrial System (1900), that agricultural activity (and also “agricultural” fisheries) lend themselves to the rise of slavery through conquests. He could also have learned from Franz Oppenheimer’s The State, that these larger grouping of people, which we call States and Empires, are all the results of conquest. All subsequent history is, from this political perspective, a morphing of slavery, to serfdom, to wage-slavery. And, as Marx pointed out correctly, there is a correlation between these stages and the stages in the means of economic production.

So, my concern with history is the question: how did it transpire that I am a wage-slave? And how can I and others get out of this predicament?

This, however, is not Harari’s primary concern. His concern is a cognitive one: what made possible the Scientific Revolution and the prospects of Homo Deus?

Well, one ingredient is leisure. And this is achieved by others doing the work of supplying the necessities (and luxuries) of life. And leisure is achieved through conquest and slavery, serfdom, and capitalism. [Incidentally, I find his analysis of capitalism as requiring credit correct, but inadequate by omitting a discussion of the necessity of a proletarian class, and omitting a discussion of what makes such a class possible.]

Harari sees the movement of history as strivings for empire, and he recounts for us the various empires that have existed. And he notes which factors contribute to the unification of an empire: money, religion, and technology. [I would add a political order which maintains either slaves, serfs, or wage-slaves.] And he anticipates (and welcomes) the coming of a world empire. [Empires tend to assimilate various nationalities (languages) into one nationality (language). Harari welcomes this unification; I do not.]

We can appreciate and marvel at the achievements of great States and Empires: the architecture, the roads, the canals, the viaducts; and today, the various means of transportation, means of communication, means of harnessing energy, and the myriad uses and and fabrication of resources. This is all the result of the Scientific Revolution (preceded by a Renaissance and Protestant Reformation) which was aided by the existence of leisure — in other words, by the private and public support of scientists and creative people. But at what price? Slavery, serfdom, and wage-slavery.

I suppose the difference between me and Harari is over the ancient question of whether the end justifies the means. He seems to be end oriented. I am, on the other hand, means oriented. The means I seek are free agreements.

But as far as the trajectory of history is concerned he may be right that humankind will suffer either an ecological collapse or create a Homo Deus.

Professor Ian Shapiro’s course at Yale University: “Power and Politics in Today’s World”

I came across this televised course at Yale University covering the last 30 years of world politics from 1989 to 2019. I was impressed by its comprehensive focus on the major events which have shaped the political state of our present world. I know of no better such presentation which is available on the internet.

Here is the syllabus for this course: Syllabus

Lecture 1: Introduction to Power and Politics in Today’s World

Lecture 2: From Soviet Communism to Russian Gangster Capitalism

Lecture 3: Advent of a Unipolar World: NATO and EU Expansion

Lecture 4: Fusing Capitalist Economics with Communist Politics: China and Vietnam

Lecture 5: The Resurgent Right in the West

Lecture 6: Reorienting the Left: New Democrats, New Labour, and Europe’s Social Democrats

Lecture 7: Shifting Goalposts: The Anti-Tax Movement

Lecture 8: Privatizing Government I: Utilities, Eminent Domain, and Local Government

Lecture 9: Privatizing Government II: Prisons and the Military

Lecture 10: Money in Politics

Lecture 11: Democracy’s Fourth Wave? South Africa, Northern Ireland, and the Middle East

Lecture 12: Business and Democratic Reform: A Case Study of South Africa

Lecture 13: The International Criminal Court and the Responsibility to Protect

Lecture 14: 9/11 and the Global War on Terror

Lecture 15: Demise of the Neoconservative Dream From Afghanistan to Iraq

Lecture 16: Denouement of Humanitarian Intervention

Lecture 17: Filling the Void – China in Africa

Lecture 18: Political Limits of Business: The Israel-Palestine Case

Lecture 19: Crisis, Crash, and Response

Lecture 20: Fallout: The Housing Crisis and its Aftermath

Lecture 21: Backlash – 2016 and Beyond

Lecture 22: Political Sources of Populism – Misdiagnosing Democracy’s Ills

Lecture 23: Building Blocks of Distributive Politics

ecture 24: Unemployment, Re-employment & Income Security

Lecture 25: Tough Nuts – Education and Health Insurance

Lecture 26: Agendas for Democratic Reform

Power and Politics in Today’s World – Office Hours 1: The Collapse of Communism and its Aftermath

Power and Politics in Today’s World – Office Hours 2: The Collapse of Communism and its Aftermath II

Power and Politics in Today’s World – Office Hours 3: A New Global World Order?

Power and Politics in Today’s World – Office Hours 4: The End of the End of History

Power and Politics in Today’s World – Office Hours 5: The Politics of Insecurity

Historical Bullshit

History is normally written from the point of view of the winners and rulers.  But in this business of winning and ruling, many people are killed and impoverished.  Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States [also hereexamines history from the perspective of the losers and ordinary people — the workers.  Also: Chris Harman, A People’s History of the World, 1999, 2008.

Frances FitzGerald, America Revised: History School Books in Twentieth Century (1979)

James W. Loewen, Lies My Teacher Told Me, 1995, 2007.