Yuval Noah Harari: 21 Lessons for the 21st Century

Če Harari po nekem čudnem naključju pride kdaj predavat v Ljubljano, bom sedela v prvi vrsti. Ker tako jasnega pogleda na človeka in njegov položaj na Zemlji, kot ga ima on, ima redkokdo. To ni več le zgodovina Sapiensa, zapisana na svež način, niti to niso več samo možni scenariji njegove prihodnosti, to zdaj so pretresljivo realna dejstva, pred katerimi si ne bomo mogli več dolgo zatiskati oči. Kako se ubraniti pred grožnjami s terorizmom, česa bi se mladina danes morala učiti v šoli in s kakšnimi očmi bi v resnici morali gledati na trenutno migrantsko krizo, je le peščica nasvetov, ki nam jih Harari ponuja za življenje v enaindvajsetem stoletju. In zna se zgoditi, da vam vsi ne bodo povšeči.

“In 1939, humans were offered three global stories to choose from, in 1969 just two, in 1999 a single story seemed to prevail; in 2019 we are down to zero. No wonder that the liberal elites, who dominated much of the world in recent decades, have entered a state of shock and disorientation. To have one story is the most reassuring situation of all. Everything is perfectly clear. To be suddenly left without any story is terrifying. Nothing makes any sense.

If the nation is facing external invasion or diabolical subversion, who has the time to worry about overcrowded hospitals and polluted rivers? By manufacturing a never-ending stream of crises, a corrupt oligarchy can prolong its rule indefinitely.

Hence it would be madness to block automation in fields such as transport and healthcare just in order to protect human jobs. After all, what we ultimately ought to protect is humans – not jobs. Redundant drivers and doctors will just have to find something else to do.

The liberal belief in the feelings and free choices of individuals is neither natural nor very ancient. For thousands of years people believed that authority came from divine laws rather than from the human heart and that we should therefore sanctify the word of God rather than human liberty. Only in the last few centuries did the source of authority shift from celestial deities to flesh-and-blood humans.

Soon authority might shift again — from humans to algorithms. Just as divine authority was legitimised by religious mythologies, and human authority was justified by the liberal story, so the coming technological revolution might establish the authority of Big Data algorithms while undermining the very idea of individual freedom.

As we mentioned in the previous chapter, scientific insights into the way  our brains and bodies work suggest that our feelings are note some uniquely human spiritual quality, and they do not reflect any kind of ‘free will’. Rather, feelings are biochemical mechanisms that all mammals and birds use in order to quickly calculate probabilities of survival and reproduction. Feelings aren’t based on intuition, inspiration, or freedom — they are based on calculation.

Human emotions trump philosophical theories in countless other situations. This makes the ethical and philosophical history of the world a rather depressing tale of wonderful ideals and less than ideal behaviour. How many Christians actually turn the other cheek, how many Buddhists actually rise above egoistic obsessions, and how many Jews actually love their neighbours as themselves? That’s just the way natural selection has shaped
Homo sapiens. Like all mammals, Homo sapiens uses emotions to quickly make life and death decisions. We have inherited our anger, our fear and our lust from millions of ancestors, all of whom passed the most rigorous quality control tests of natural selection.

Nevertheless, before we rush to develop and deploy killer robots, we need to remind ourselves that the robots always reflect and amplify the qualities of their code. If the code is restrained and benign – the robots will probably be a huge improvement over the average human soldier. Yet if the code is ruthless and cruel – the results will be catastrophic. The real problem with robots is not their own artificial intelligence, but rather the natural stupidity and cruelty of their human masters.

In the last few decades, people all over the world were told that humankind is on the path to equality, and that globalisation and new technologies will help us get there sooner. In reality, the twenty-first century might create the most unequal societies in history. Though globalisation and the Internet bridge the gap between countries, they threaten to enlarge the rift between classes, and just as humankind seems about to achieve global unification, the species itself might divide into different biological castes.

The two processes together – bioengineering coupled with the rise of AI – might therefore result in the separation of humankind into a small class of superhumans and a massive underclass of useless
Homo sapiens. To make an already ominous situation even worse, as the masses lose their economic importance and political power, the state might lose at least some of the incentive to invest in their health, education and welfare. It’s very dangerous to be redundant. The future of the masses will then depend on the goodwill of a small elite. Maybe there is goodwill for a few decades. But in a time of crisis – like climate catastrophe – it would be very tempting and easy to toss the superfluous people overboard.

Zuckerberg explained in his February 2017 manifesto that online communities help foster offline ones. This is sometimes true. Yet in many cases online comes at the expense of offline, and there is a fundamental difference between the two. Physical communities have a depth that virtual communities cannot match, at least not in the near future. If I lie sick at home in Israel, my online friends from California can talk to me, but they cannot bring me soup or a cup of tea.

What does it mean to be European in 2018? It doesn’t mean to have white skin, to believe in Jesus Christ or to uphold liberty. Rather, it means to argue vehemently about immigration, about the EU and about the limits of capitalism. It also means to obsessively ask yourself ‘what defines my identity?’ and to worry about an ageing population, about rampant consumerism and about global warming. In their conflicts and dilemmas, twenty-first-century Europeans are different from their ancestors in 1618 and 1940, but are increasingly similar to their Chinese and Indian trade partners.

For nationalism has two parts to it, one easy, the other very difficult. The easy part is to prefer people-like-us over foreigners. Humans have been doing that for millions of years. Xenophobia is in our DNA.

The hard part of nationalism is to sometimes prefer strangers over friends and relatives. For example, a good patriot pays his taxes honestly, so that unknown children on the other side of the country will get good public healthcare, even if that means that he cannot treat his own kids in an expensive private hospital. Similarly, a patriotic official gives lucrative jobs to the most qualified applicants rather to his own brothers and cousins. This goes against millions of years of evolution. Tax evasion and nepotism come naturally to us, but nationalism says they are ‘corrupt’. In order to make people renounce such corruption and put national interests before family connections, nations had to create a mammoth apparatus of education, propaganda and flag waving, as well as national systems of health, security and welfare.

To realise how difficult it is to identify with such a nation, you just need to ask yourself ‘Do I know these people?’ I can name my two sisters and eleven cousins and spend a whole day talking about their personalities, quirks and relationships. I cannot name the 8 million people who share my Israeli citizenship, I have never met most of them, and I am very unlikely ever to meet them in the future. My ability to nevertheless feel loyal to this nebulous mass is a miracle of recent history.

That does not mean there is anything wrong with national bonds. Huge systems cannot function without mass loyalties, and expanding the circle of human empathy certainly has its merits. The milder forms of patriotism have been among the most benevolent of human creations. Believing that my nation is unique, that it deserves my allegiance, and that I have special obligations towards its members inspires me to care about others and make sacrifices on their behalf. It is a dangerous mistake to imagine that without nationalism we would all be living in a liberal paradise. More likely, we would be living in tribal chaos. In particular, democracy cannot really function without nationalism. People are usually willing to accept the verdict of democratic elections only when all parties share the same national loyalties. Peaceful, prosperous and liberal countries such as Sweden, Germany and Switzerland all enjoy a strong sense of nationalism. The list of countries lacking robust national bonds includes Afghanistan, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and most other failed states.

The problem starts when benign patriotism morphs into chauvinistic ultra-nationalism. Instead of believing that my nation is unique – which is true of all nations – I might begin feeling that my nation is supreme, that I owe it my entire loyalty, and that I have no significant obligations to anyone else. This is fertile ground for violent conflicts. For generations the most basic criticism of nationalism was that it led to war. Yet as long as the nation provided most of its citizens with unprecedented levels of security and prosperity, they were willing to pay the price in blood. Until 1945 the nationalist deal still looked very attractive. Though nationalism was leading to horrendous conflicts on an unprecedented scale, modern nation states also built massive systems of healthcare, education and welfare. National health services made Passchendaele and Verdun seem worthwhile.

For thousands of years
Homo sapiens behaved as an ecological serial killer; now it is morphing into an ecological mass murderer. If we continue with our present course it will cause not just the annihilation of a large percentage of all life forms, but it might also sap the foundations of human civilisation.

An atom bomb is such an obvious and immediate threat that nobody can ignore it. Global warming, in contrast, is a more vague and protracted menace. Hence whenever long-term environmental considerations demand some painful short-term sacrifice, nationalists might be tempted to put immediate national interests first, and reassure themselves that they can worry about the environment later, or just leave it to people elsewhere. Alternatively, they may simply deny the problem. It isn’t a coincidence that scepticism about climate change tends to be the preserve of the nationalist right. You rarely see left-wing socialists tweet that ‘climate change is a Chinese hoax’. Since there is no national answer to the problem of global warming, some nationalist politicians prefer to believe the problem does not exist.

Moreover, whereas nuclear war and climate change threaten only the physical survival of humankind, disruptive technologies might change the very nature of humanity, and are therefore entangled with humans’ deepest ethical and religious beliefs. While everyone agrees that we should avoid nuclear war and ecological meltdown, people have widely different opinions about using bioengineering and AI to upgrade humans and to create new life forms. If humankind fails to devise and administer globally accepted ethical guidelines, it will be open season for Dr Frankenstein.

There is no contradiction between such globalism and patriotism. For patriotism isn’t about hating foreigners. Patriotism is about taking care of your compatriots. And in the twenty-first century, in order to protect the safety and security of your compatriots, you must cooperate with foreigners. So good nationalist should now be globalists.

Humankind now constitutes a single civilisation, and problems such as nuclear war, ecological collapse and technological disruption can only be solved on the global level. On the other hand, nationalism and religion still divide our human civilisation into different and often hostile camps. This collision between global problems and local identities manifests itself in the crisis that now besets the greatest multicultural experiment in the world – the European Union. Built on the promise of universal liberal values, the EU is teetering on the verge of disintegration due to the difficulties of integration and immigration.

When evaluating the immigration deal, both sides give far more weight to violations than to compliance. If a million immigrants are law-abiding citizens, but one hundred join terrorist groups and attack the host country, does it mean that on the whole the immigrants are complying with the terms of the deal, or violating it? If a third-generation immigrant walks down the street a thousand times without being molested, but once in a while some racist shouts abuse at her, does it mean that the native population is accepting or rejecting immigrants?

The shift from biology to culture is not just a meaningless change of jargon. It is a profound shift with far-reaching practical consequences, some good, some bad. For starters, culture is more malleable than biology. This means, on the one hand, that present-day culturists might be more tolerant than traditional racists – if only the ‘others’ adopt our culture, we will accept them as our equals. On the other hand, it could result in far stronger pressures on the ‘others’ to assimilate, and in far harsher criticism of their failure to do so.

…the European debate about immigration is far from being a clear-cut battle between good and evil. Those who favour immigration are wrong to depict all their rivals as immoral racists, while those who oppose immigration are wrong to portray all their opponents as irrational traitors. The immigration debate is a debate between two legitimate views, which can and should be decided through the normal democratic procedure. That’s what democracy is for.

Hence terrorists resemble a fly that tries to destroy a china shop. The fly is so weak that it cannot move even a single teacup. So how does a fly destroy a china shop? It finds a bull, gets inside its ear and starts buzzing. The bull goes wild with fear and anger, and destroys the china shop. This is what happened after 9/11, as Islamic fundamentalists incited the American bull to destroy the Middle Eastern china shop. Now they flourish in the wreckage. And there is no shortage of short-tempered bulls in the world.

Provoking the enemy to action without eliminating any of his weapons or options is an act of desperation, taken only when there is no other option. Whenever it is possible to inflict serious material damage, nobody gives that up in favour of mere terrorism. If in December 1941 the Japanese torpedoed a civilian passenger ship in order to provoke the USA, while leaving the Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor intact, this would have been madness.

But the terrorists have little choice. They are so weak that they cannot wage war. So they opt instead to produce a theatrical spectacle that will hopefully provoke the enemy and cause him to overreact. Terrorists stage a terrifying spectacle of violence that captures our imagination and turns it against us. By killing a handful of people the terrorists cause millions to fear for their lives. In order to calm these fears, governments react to the theatre of terror with a show of security, orchestrating immense displays of force, such as the persecution of entire populations or the invasion of foreign countries. In most cases, this overreaction to terrorism poses a far greater threat to our security than the terrorists themselves.

During the modern era, centralised states gradually reduced the level of political violence within their territories, and in the last few decades Western countries managed to eradicate it almost entirely. The citizens of France, Britain or the USA can struggle for control of towns, corporations, organisations and even of the government itself, without any need of an armed force. Command of trillions of dollars, millions of soldiers, and thousands of ships, aeroplanes and nuclear missiles passes from one group of politicians to another without a single shot being fired. People quickly got used to this, and consider it their natural right. Consequently, even sporadic acts of political violence that kill a few dozen people are seen as a deadly threat to the legitimacy and even survival of the state. A small coin in a big empty jar makes a lot of noise.

This is what makes the theatre of terrorism so successful. The state has created a huge space empty of political violence, which now acts as a sounding board, amplifying the impact of any armed attack, however small. The less political violence in a particular state, the greater the public shock at an act of terrorism. Killing a few people in Belgium draws far more attention than killing hundreds in Nigeria or Iraq. Paradoxically, then, the very success of modern states in preventing political violence makes them particularly vulnerable to terrorism.

Human stupidity is one of the most important forces in history, yet we often discount it. Politicians, generals and scholars treat the world as a great chess game, where every move follows careful rational calculations. This is correct up to a point. Few leaders in history have been mad in the narrow sense of the word, moving pawns and knights at random. General Tojo, Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong-il had rational reasons for every move they played. The problem is that the world is far more complicated than a chessboard, and human rationality is not up to the task of really understanding it. Hence even rational leaders frequently end up doing very stupid things.

So how much should we fear a world war? It is best to avoid two extremes. On the one hand, war is definitely not inevitable. The peaceful termination of the Cold War proves that when humans make the right decisions, even superpower conflicts can be resolved peacefully. Moreover, it is exceedingly dangerous to assume that a new world war is inevitable. That would be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Once countries assume that war is inevitable, they beef up their armies, embark on spiralling arms races, refuse to compromise in any conflict, and suspect that goodwill gestures are just traps. That guarantees the eruption of war.

On the other hand, it would be naïve to assume that war is impossible. Even if war is catastrophic for everyone, no god and no law of nature protects us from human stupidity.

One potential remedy for human stupidity is a dose of humility. National, religious and cultural tensions are made worse by the grandiose feeling that my nation, my religion and my culture are the most important in the world – hence my interests should come before the interests of anyone else, or of humankind as a whole.

All these claims are false. They combine a wilful ignorance of history with more than a hint of racism. None of the religions or nations of today existed when humans colonised the world, domesticated plants and animals, built the first cities, or invented writing and money. Morality, art, spirituality and creativity are universal human abilities embedded in our DNA. Their genesis was in Stone Age Africa. It is therefore crass egotism to ascribe to them a more recent place and time, be they China in the age of the Yellow Emperor, Greece in the age of Plato, or Arabia in the age of Muhammad.

Monotheism did little to improve the moral standards of humans – do you really think Muslims are inherently more ethical than Hindus, just because Muslims believe in a single god while Hindus believe in many gods? Were Christian conquistadores more ethical than pagan Native American tribes? What monotheism undoubtedly did was to make many people far more intolerant than before, thereby contributing to the spread of religious persecutions and holy wars. Polytheists found it perfectly acceptable that different people will worship different gods and perform diverse rites and rituals. They rarely if ever fought, persecuted or killed people just because of their religious beliefs. Monotheists, in contrast, believed that their God was the only god, and that He demanded universal obedience. Consequently, as Christianity and Islam spread around the world, so did the incidence of crusades, jihads, inquisitions and religious discrimination.

The missing link between the cosmic mystery and the worldly lawgiver is usually provided through some holy book. The book is full of the most trifling regulations, but is nevertheless attributed to the cosmic mystery. The creator of space and time supposedly composed it, but He bothered to enlighten us mainly about some arcane temple rituals and food taboos. In truth, we haven’t got any evidence whatsoever that the Bible or the Quran or the Book of Mormon or the Vedas or any other holy book was composed by the force that determined that energy equals mass multiplied by the speed of light squared, and that protons are 1,837 times more massive than electrons. To the best of our scientific knowledge, all these sacred texts were written by imaginative
Homo sapiens. They are just stories invented by our ancestors in order to legitimise social norms and political structures.

Morality doesn’t mean ‘following divine commands’. It means ‘reducing suffering’. Hence in order to act morally, you don’t need to believe in any myth or story. You just need to develop a deep appreciation of suffering. If you really understand how an action causes unnecessary suffering to yourself or to others, you will naturally abstain from it. People nevertheless murder, rape and steal because they have only a superficial appreciation of the misery this causes. They are fixated on satisfying their immediate lust or greed, without concern for the impact on others – or even for the long-term impact on themselves. Even inquisitors who deliberately inflict as much pain as possible on their victim, usually use various desensitising and dehumanising techniques in order to distance themselves from what they are doing.

What does it mean to be secular? Secularism is sometimes defined as the negation of religion, and secular people are therefore characterised by what they don’t believe and do. According to this definition, secular people do not believe in any gods or angels, do not go to churches and temples, and do not perform rites and rituals. As such, the secular world appears to be hollow, nihilistic and amoral – an empty box waiting to be filled with something.

Few people would adopt such a negative identity. Self-professing secularists view secularism in a very different way. For them, secularism is a very positive and active world view, which is defined by a coherent code of values rather than by opposition to this or that religion. Indeed, many of the secular values are shared by various religious traditions. Unlike some sects that insist they have a monopoly over all wisdom and goodness, one of the chief characteristics of secular people is that they claim no such monopoly. They don’t think that morality and wisdom came down from heaven in one particular place and time. Rather, morality and wisdom are the natural legacy of all humans. So it is only to be expected that at least some values would pop up in human societies all over the world, and would be common to Muslims, Christians, Hindus and atheists.

For similar reasons, secular education does not mean a negative indoctrination that teaches kids not to believe in God and not to take part in any religious ceremonies. Rather, secular education teaches children to distinguish truth from belief; to develop their compassion for all suffering beings; to appreciate the wisdom and experiences of all the earth’s denizens; to think freely without fearing the unknown; and to take responsibility for their actions and for the world as a whole.

Individual humans know embarrassingly little about the world, and as history progressed, they came to know less and less. A hunter-gatherer in the Stone Age knew how to make her own clothes, how to start a fire, how to hunt rabbits and how to escape lions. We think we know far more today, but as individuals, we actually know far less. We rely on the expertise of others for almost all our needs. In one humbling experiment, people were asked to evaluate how well they understood the workings of an ordinary zip. Most people confidently replied that they understood them very well – after all, they use zips all the time. They were then asked to describe in as much detail as possible all the steps involved in the zip’s operation. Most had no idea. This is what Steven Sloman and Philip Fernbach have termed ‘the knowledge illusion’. We think we know a lot, even though individually we know very little, because we treat knowledge in the minds of others as if it were our own.

This is not necessarily bad. Our reliance on groupthink has made us masters of the world, and the knowledge illusion enables us to go through life without being caught in an impossible effort to understand everything ourselves. From an evolutionary perspective, trusting in the knowledge of others has worked extremely well for
Homo sapiens.

In the coming decades, the world will become even more complex than it is today. Individual humans – whether pawns or kings – will consequently know even less about the technological gadgets, the economic currents and the political dynamics that shape the world. As Socrates observed more than 2,000 years ago, the best we can do under such conditions is to acknowledge our own individual ignorance.

When a thousand people believe some made-up story for one month – that’s fake news. When a billion people believe it for a thousand years – that’s a religion, and we are admonished not to call it ‘fake news’ in order not to hurt the feelings of the faithful (or incur their wrath). Note, however, that I am not denying the effectiveness or potential benevolence of religion. Just the opposite. For better or worse, fiction is among the most effective tools in humanity’s toolkit. By bringing people together, religious creeds make large-scale human cooperation possible. They inspire people to build hospitals, schools and bridges in addition to armies and prisons. Adam and Eve never existed, but Chartres Cathedral is still beautiful. Much of the Bible may be fictional, but it can still bring joy to billions and can still encourage humans to be compassionate, courageous and creative – just like other great works of fiction, such as
Don Quixote, War and Peace and Harry Potter.

The Soviet propaganda machine was so efficient that it managed to hide monstrous atrocities at home while projecting a utopian vision abroad. Today Ukrainians complain that Putin has successfully deceived many Western media outlets about Russia’s actions in Crimea and Donbas. Yet in the art of deception he can hardly hold a candle to Stalin. In the early 1930s left-wing Western journalists and intellectuals were praising the USSR as an ideal society at a time when Ukrainians and other Soviet citizens were dying in their millions from the man-made famine that Stalin orchestrated. Whereas in the age of Facebook and Twitter it is sometimes hard to decide which version of events to believe, at least it is no longer possible for a regime to kill millions without the world knowing about it.

You might argue that at least in some cases, it is possible to organise people effectively through consensual agreements rather than through fictions and myths. Thus in the economic sphere, money and corporations bind people together far more effectively than any god or holy book, even though everyone knows that they are just a human convention. In the case of a holy book, a true believer would say ‘I believe that the book is sacred’ while in the case of the dollar, a true believer would say only that ‘I believe that
other people believe that the dollar is valuable’. It is obvious that the dollar is just a human creation, yet people all over the world respect it. If so, why can’t humans abandon all myths and fictions, and organise themselves on the basis of consensual conventions such as the dollar?

Pain is pain, fear is fear, and love is love – even in the matrix. It doesn’t matter if the fear you feel is inspired by a collection of atoms in the outside world or by electrical signals manipulated by a computer. The fear is still real. So if you want to explore the reality of your mind, you can do that inside the matrix as well as outside it.

At present, too many schools focus on cramming information. In the past this made sense, because information was scarce, and even the slow trickle of existing information was repeatedly blocked by censorship. If you lived, say, in a small provincial town in Mexico in 1800, it was difficult for you to know much about the wider world. There was no radio, television, daily newspapers or public libraries.1 Even if you were literate and had access to a private library, there was not much to read other than novels and religious tracts. The Spanish Empire heavily censored all texts printed locally, and allowed only a dribble of vetted publications to be imported from outside.2 Much the same was true if you lived in some provincial town in Russia, India, Turkey or China. When modern schools came along, teaching every child to read and write and imparting the basic facts of geography, history and biology, they represented an immense improvement.

In contrast, in the twenty-first century we are flooded by enormous amounts of information, and even the censors don’t try to block it. Instead, they are busy spreading misinformation or distracting us with irrelevancies. If you live in some provincial Mexican town and you have a smartphone, you can spend many lifetimes just reading Wikipedia, watching TED talks and taking free online courses. No government can hope to conceal all the information it doesn’t like. On the other hand, it is alarmingly easy to inundate the public with conflicting reports and red herrings. People all over the world are but a click away from the latest accounts of the bombardment of Aleppo or of melting ice caps in the Arctic, but there are so many contradictory accounts that it is hard to know what to believe. Besides, countless other things are just a click away, making it difficult to focus, and when politics or science look too complicated it is tempting to switch to some funny cat videos, celebrity gossip, or porn.

In such a world, the last thing a teacher needs to give her pupils is more information. They already have far too much of it. Instead, people need the ability to make sense of information, to tell the difference between what is important and what is unimportant, and above all to combine many bits of information into a broad picture of the world.

In truth, this has been the ideal of Western liberal education for centuries, but up till now even many Western schools have been rather slack in fulfilling it. Teachers allowed themselves to focus on shoving data while encouraging pupils ‘to think for themselves’. Due to their fear of authoritarianism, liberal schools had a particular horror of grand narratives. They assumed that as long as we give students lots of data and a modicum of freedom, the students will create their own picture of the world, and even if this generation fails to synthesise all the data into a coherent and meaningful story of the world, there will be plenty of time to construct a good synthesis in the future. We have now run out of time. The decisions we will take in the next few decades will shape the future of life itself, and we can take these decisions based only on our present world view. If this generation lacks a comprehensive view of the cosmos, the future of life will be decided at random.

More broadly, schools should downplay technical skills and emphasise general-purpose life skills. Most important of all will be the ability to deal with change, to learn new things and to preserve your mental balance in unfamiliar situations. In order to keep up with the world of 2050, you will need not merely to invent new ideas and products – you will above all need to reinvent yourself again and again.

This is, of course, the oldest advice in the book: know thyself. For thousands of years philosophers and prophets have urged people to know themselves. But this advice was never more urgent than in the twenty-first century, because unlike in the days of Laozi or Socrates, now you have serious competition. Coca-Cola, Amazon, Baidu and the government are all racing to hack you. Not your smartphone, not your computer and not your bank account – they are in a race to hack
you and your organic operating system. You might have heard that we are living in the era of hacking computers, but that’s hardly half the truth. In fact, we are living in the era of hacking humans.

While a good story must give me a role, and must extend beyond my horizons, it need not be true. A story can be pure fiction, and yet provide me with an identity and make me feel that my life has meaning. Indeed, to the best of our scientific understanding, none of the thousands of stories that different cultures, religions and tribes have invented throughout history is true. They are all just human inventions. If you ask for the true meaning of life and get a story in reply, know that this is the wrong answer. The exact details don’t really matter.
Any story is wrong, simply for being a story. The universe just does not work like a story.

How to make Christ real to his devotees? In the ceremony of Mass, the priest takes a piece of bread and a glass of wine, and proclaims that the bread is Christ’s flesh, the wine is Christ’s blood, and by eating and drinking them the faithful attain communion with Christ. What could be more real than actually tasting Christ in your mouth? Traditionally, the priest made these bold proclamations in Latin, the ancient language of religion, law and the secrets of life. In front of the amazed eyes of the assembled peasants the priest held high a piece of bread and exclaimed
‘Hoc est corpus!’– ‘This is the body!’ – and the bread supposedly became the flesh of Christ. In the minds of the illiterate peasants, who did not speak Latin, ‘Hoc est corpus!’ got garbled into ‘Hocus-pocus!’ and thus was born the powerful spell that can transform a frog into a prince, and a pumpkin into a carriage.

Fascism is what happens when nationalism wants to make life too easy for itself by denying all other identities and obligations. There has been a lot of confusion lately about the exact meaning of fascism. People call almost anyone they don’t like ‘a fascist’. The term is in danger of degenerating into an all-purpose term of abuse. So what does it really mean? In brief, while nationalism teaches me that my nation is unique and that I have special obligations towards it, fascism says that my nation is supreme, and that I owe my nation exclusive obligations. My nation is the only important thing in the world, and I should never prefer the interests of any group or individual over the interests of my nation, no matter what the circumstances are. Even if my nation stands to make but a paltry profit from inflicting much misery on millions of strangers in a far-off land, I should have no qualms supporting my nation. Otherwise, I am a despicable traitor. If my nation demands that I kill millions of people, I should kill millions. If my nation demands that I sacrifice my family, I should sacrifice my family. If my nation demands that I betray truth and beauty, I should betray truth and beauty.

How does a fascist evaluate art? How does a fascist know whether a movie is a good movie? Very simple. There is just one yardstick. If the movie serves the national interests, it is a good movie. If the movie does not serve the national interests, it is a bad movie. And how does a fascist decide what to teach kids in school? He uses the same yardstick. Teach the kids whatever serves the interests of the nation; the truth does not matter.

According to liberal mythology, if you stand long enough in that big supermarket, sooner or later you will experience the liberal epiphany, and you will realise the true meaning of life. All the stories on the supermarket shelves are fakes. The meaning of life isn’t a ready-made product. There is no divine script, and nothing outside me can give meaning to my life. It is I who imbue everything with meaning through my free choices and through my own feelings.

The liberal story instructs me to seek freedom to express and realise myself. But both the ‘self’ and freedom are mythological chimeras borrowed from the fairy tales of ancient times. Liberalism has a particularly confused notion of ‘free will’. Humans obviously have a will, they have desires, and they are sometimes free to fulfil their desires. If by ‘free will’ you mean the freedom to do what you desire – then yes, humans have free will. But if by ‘free will’ you mean the freedom to choose what to desire – then no, humans have no free will.

Liberalism took a radical step in denying all cosmic dramas, but then recreated the drama within the human being – the universe has no plot, so it is up to us humans to create a plot, and this is our vocation and the meaning of our life. Thousands of years before our liberal age, ancient Buddhism went further by denying not just all cosmic dramas, but even the inner drama of human creation. The universe has no meaning, and human feelings too are not part of a great cosmic tale. They are ephemeral vibrations, appearing and disappearing for no particular purpose. That’s the truth. Get over it.”

Ko bo Harari čez trideset let izdal sedemsto strani dolg zapis o tem, kaj vse bi človek v zadnjem četrt stoletju naredil lahko naredil drugače, jo bom kupila prva. Če se bo takrat še bralo knjige. In če bo takrat še obstajal človek v današnjem pomenu besede.

Preberi si tudi:
Yuval Noah Harari: A Brief History of Humankind
Yuval Noah Harari: Homo Deus. Kratka zgodovina prihodnosti
Bill Bryson: Kratka zgodovina skoraj vsega

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