What Yuval Noah Harari has done
Sapiens, a Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari has changed many things for many people. It is the first history book I have read that treats the world as a society. Most other history books treat the world as a collection of diverse, interesting, developing and declining nations.To see the world from its point of view rather than from ours is as refreshing as an eastern sunrise.
I gave a copy to Dr Catherine Lim, herself a notable writer and philosopher. Her encouraging thanks included the fact that she had read it twice – once for what it said and the second time for the music of the writing. I, too, am on my second reading for the same reason. The words sing as they gently but firmly harrow their meaning into my consciousness. Beautiful writing inspires.
Everyone from the age of ten should read it. It gives us perspective, a view over time that reminds us how very small our efforts are. And yet it does so in a way that makes us redouble them rather than give up. Our time on earth may be short but it is being very productive. As a society we have made progress undreamt of even fifty years ago, let alone when I was a child.
Yuval Noah Harari’s book reminds us of the imperative of making great decisions now that will determine our future. We have brought our children up to make a world more successful than the one we inherited and more cohesive than the one we subsequently fashion. Whatever the short-term vicissitudes, our mission must remain in sight. But what is success in daily strife when we have the big questions to answer?
We must determine how individuals will develop – half bionically or fully so? How much control over our lifespan do we want to have? What do we want to do about population size and control? When can we make rules about suicide and euthanasia that make logical rather than theological sense? What level of sensitivity and appreciation do we want to include in our newly-fashioned human? How closed / disclosed a society do we want to be? The village was pretty open and for 600 people that presented no major threat. Today’s poachers are of a different genre.
The title, ‘Sapiens’, makes us ask ourselves if we are worthy of such an accolade. The development of humankind as seen over 350,000 years is as humbling an experience as I can remember. The development of thought, originally so slow now so fast, makes us spectacular but is leaving us unbalanced. Do we work for ourselves more than for others? Are we losing the purpose and meaning of sacrifice? Is our competitive capitalism less suitable for the kind of world we live in or would like to create? What does a lifetime of love and devotion mean? To whom? Does it reward the devotee and if so how and when?
Sapiens raises issues we usually put in the mañana tray. It jolts us into a sense of responsibility for the incredible gift we have of choice. It speaks to reason while recognising and understanding how unreasonable we are at times. Sapiens shows us the overwhelming case for cooperation. Such a message is long overdue for managers of businesses. Cooperation is a profitable strategy.
I suggest you read Sapiens at a pace that allows the beautiful writing to soothe the tough messages and enliven your mind to face the fiery future with fortitude.
May you become even wiser by the pen of Yuval Noah Harari.