1 Jan '19
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Yuval Harari – “21 Lessons…” – abstracted – Part 2 – The Political Challenge

This is my second installment of clips taken from “21 Lessons for the 21st Century,” Harari, Yuval Noah. Kindle Edition, Random House Publishing Group. Part II. My idiosyncratic choices of text reducing the contents of each chapter to a single paragraph miss many important points, and don’t begin to replace a full reading of the chapter.

Part II – The Political Challenge – The merger of infotech and biotech threatens the core modern values of liberty and equality. Any solution the technological challenge has to involve global cooperation. But nationalism, religion, and culture divide humankind into hostile camps and make it very difficult to cooperate on a global level.

Chapter 5 Community – Humans have Bodies

 …over the past two centuries intimate communities have been disintegrating. …Zuckerberg promised that Facebook would lead the charge to rebuild communities and that his engineers would pick up the burden discarded by parish priests. priests. .. “make it easier to build communities.”…in order to truly flourish it will have to put down roots in the offline world too…Humans have bodies. During the last century technology has been distancing us from our bodies. We have been losing our ability to pay attention to what we smell and taste….Humans … cannot live happily if they are disconnected from their bodies. If you don’t feel at home in your body, you will never feel at home in the world…this appreciation too has its downside…Once the tech giants come to terms with the human body, they might end up manipulating our entire bodies in the same way they currently manipulate our eyes, fingers, and credit cards. We may come to miss the good old days when online was separated from offline.

Chapter 6 Civilization – There is just one civilization in the world Today

…a single political paradigm is accepted everywhere. The planet is divided between about two hundred sovereign states, which generally agree on the same diplomatic protocols and on common international laws….they share many more political ideas and practices than not, including at least a token belief in representative bodies, political parties, universal suffrage, and human rights…almost everybody believes in a slightly different variation on the same capitalist theme, and we are all cogs within a single global production line…the dollar bill is universally venerated across all political and religious divides…when it comes to the practical stuff—how to build a state, an economy, a hospital, or a bomb—almost all of us belong to the same civilization.

Chapter 7 Nationalism – Global problems need global answers

Will we make a world in which all humans can live together, or will we all go into the dark? Do Donald Trump, Theresa May, Vladimir Putin, Narendra Modi, and their colleagues save the world by fanning our national sentiments, or is the current nationalist spate a form of escapism from the intractable global problems we face?…A common enemy is the best catalyst for forging a common identity, and humankind now has at least three such enemies—nuclear war, climate change, and technological disruption. If despite these common threats humans choose to privilege their particular national loyalties above everything else, the results may be far worse than in 1914 and 1939.

Chapter 8 Religion – God now serves the nation.

So far, modern ideologies, scientific experts, and national governments have failed to create a viable vision for the future of humanity. Can such a vision be drawn from the deep wells of human religious traditions?..No matter how technology will develop, we can expect that arguments about religious identities and rituals will continue to influence the use of new technologies, and might well retain the power to set the world ablaze. The most up-to-date nuclear missiles and cyber bombs might well be employed to settle a doctrinal argument about medieval texts…all of this really makes traditional religions part of humanity’s problem, not part of the remedy…humankind now constitutes a single civilization, 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 civilization into different and often hostile camps.

Chapter 9 Immigration – Some cultures might be better than others.

Though globalization has greatly reduced cultural differences across the planet, it has simultaneously made it far easier to encounter strangers and become upset by their oddities…Do we enter the immigration debate with the assumption that all cultures are inherently equal, or do we think that some cultures might well be superior to others? Traditional racism is waning, but the world is now full of “culturists.”…culturism has a much firmer scientific basis than racism, and particularly scholars in the humanities and social sciences cannot deny the existence and importance of cultural differences…At present, it is far from clear whether Europe can find a middle path that will enable it to keep its gates open to strangers without being destabilized by people who don’t share its values. If Europe succeeds in finding such a path, perhaps its formula could be copied on the global level.

(As an antidote to Harari’s doomsaying and dystopian futures, you might glance back at a similar abstracting series of posts,starting March 1, 2018, that I did on Pinker’s book “Enlightenment Now.”)

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