Thought provoking, Yuval Noah Harari has two best sellers.
... the first page of Sapiens, ... In grippingly lucid prose, Harari sets out ... a condensed history of the universe, followed by a summary of the book’s thesis: how the cognitive revolution, the agricultural revolution and the scientific revolution have affected humans and their fellow organisms.
At the centre of the book is the contention that what made Homo sapiens the most successful human being, supplanting rivals such as Neanderthals, was our ability to believe in shared fictions. Religions, nations and money, Harari argues, are all human fictions that have enabled collaboration and organisation on a massive scale.
Last year, Harari’s follow-up, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, was published in the UK, becoming another bestseller. It develops many of the themes explored in Sapiens, and in particular examines the possible impact of biotechnological and artificial intelligence innovation on Homo sapiens, heralding perhaps the beginning of a new bionic or semi-computerised form of human.
...,comparatively, there is less violence than ever before in history.
We can’t be certain about the future but some changes make this trend seem robust.
... you have the change in the nature of the economy – that the economy switched from being a material-based economy to the knowledge-based economy.
In the past, the main economic assets were material – things like wheat fields and gold mines and slaves. So war made good sense because you could enrich yourself by waging war against your neighbours. Now the main economic asset is knowledge, and it’s very difficult to conquer knowledge through violence. Most of the large conflicts in the world today are still in those areas like the Middle East, where the main source of wealth is material – it’s oil and gas.
Esther Rantzen, broadcaster
You said that our predilection to create abstract concepts such as religion, nationality etc is the quality which singled out sapiens from other hominids. Given that is also the inspiration for wars that may bring about our destruction, is it a strength or a weakness?
The key issue is that because our power depends on collective fictions, we are not good in distinguishing between fiction and reality. Humans find it very difficult to know what is real and what is just a fictional story in their own minds, and this causes a lot of disasters, wars and problems.
The best test to know whether an entity is real or fictional is the test of suffering. A nation cannot suffer, it cannot feel pain, it cannot feel fear, it has no consciousness. Even if it loses a war, the soldier suffers, the civilians suffer, but the nation cannot suffer. Similarly, a corporation cannot suffer, the pound sterling, when it loses its value, it doesn’t suffer. All these things, they’re fictions. If people bear in mind this distinction, it could improve the way we treat one another and the other animals. It’s not such a good idea to cause suffering to real entities in the service of fictional stories. [emphasis mine, book title links added]
Harari forsees human beings changing ourselves by incorporating computers into our selves within the coming century. He imagines that climate crisis will spur risky innovations that will be positively transformational and that will save us. On this I think he underestimates the importance EROI (Energy return on energy investment, the need for high energy payout which renewables have yet to match).
On corporations, I remember a Nancy Lebovitz button:
"I'll accept corporations as people when Texas executes an innocent one."
Seriously, maybe some consciously fictional entities could help us survive and prosper, say, by putting appropriate words in the mouth of Lady Liberty, or of Gaia.
As Joan Denoo commented a while ago (can't find the original page) :
Do you have memories of a father or preacher or judge speaking with a voice of Moses spewing out some ridiculous statement? [...] Well, if they can speak with the voice and authority of Moses, I can speak with the voice and authority of Mother Earth. She outranks Moses by a whole shot!