On "21 Lessons for the 21st Century" / Review by Hagai Hoffer

"21 Lessons for the 21st Century" by Yuval Noah Harari, Dvir, 2018, 352 pp.

(Translation from Hebrew, with the help of Google Translate).



I really enjoyed Harari's first book, "A Brief History of Humanity" ("Sapiens")," and millions of others. His second book, "The History of Tomorrow," I enjoyed, albeit less. That is why I really expected his new book and quickly read it. Did he meet expectations? Well, this book is not without interest, but also not without problems, and immediately I will detail.

The book has 21 chapters, divided into five sections, but I found that it deals mainly with three major subjects.

The first issue is future predictions, and here the focus is on genetic engineering, cyborgs, computer algorithms that will control every aspect of our lives, Big Data, huge information systems, and more. Indeed, in all these issues Harari has already dealt extensively in his previous book, "The History of Tomorrow," and I felt here a sense of a certain return. Beyond that, I had a sense of speaking in the air. Although some of the things are already starting today, but another vision to date. Harari tries to predict, and perhaps predict, what will happen in 2050, but what can we really know about it? Prophecy, as we know, was given to fools, and the rational predictions rarely reach a goal. What you get is just a feeling of anxiety, maybe panic, on the one hand, and on the other, a feeling that we're seeing a mambo jumbo just to make an impression.

Still, there is value to these predictions. For example, I was very impressed by Harari's talk about the "superfluous status" that is expected to expand in the future. This is because most of the jobs will be seen by computers and machines, but many people will find themselves out of work. We must prepare ourselves for this, both personally and publicly, and in any event, this outlook is very worrying.

The second issue is the global political situation. On the one hand, there is a tendency toward globalization, and even different countries or enemies use the same economic method, for example. On the other hand, there is also a tendency to return to nationalism, and here he mentions the choice of Donald Trump and Brexit. From his previous books, I understood that Harari has a tendency to a centralized world government, but here he says – if he changed his mind or that he always did, I do not know – that this vision seems unreal, but it is worth encouraging every citizen to be involved in global issues. How important is nationalism to the takeover of computing and its consequences, or to the serious problem of global warming? New problems require new, smarter deployment.

And here Harari also talks about the problem of terrorism. He says that terrorism actually takes very few victims, much less than road accidents, for example, where more than a million people die every year. So why are we so hysterical about him? According to Harari, the reason for this is, among other things, the nature of the state, which in its definition is supposed to provide security to its residents, and therefore views any violation of its authority as serious. To this end, the media, which devote too much attention to terrorism, goes beyond the desirable.

There is a certain interest in this part, although I do not think there is anything great that we have not heard before. And by the way, by Harari himself. After all, many of the chapters here have appeared in the past as articles on various stages, as detailed at the end of the book.

The third issue is religion, especially Judaism. The discussion opens with an explanation by Harari why he hardly mentioned Judaism in his first book – because it is not important enough in the context of world history, and he explains why. Its main importance is similar to that of Freud's mother. Without her Freud would not exist, but she is not necessary to understand his method. In the same way Judaism gave birth to both Christianity and Islam, but they stand without it. Harari goes on to explain that even her principles are not unique. Helping the weak is a moral principle that also appears in animals, and certainly in other ancient cultures. And monotheism appeared earlier in Egypt's Akhenaten, though he did not grasp. In this context, Harari mentions Kemush the Moabite, who was also their exclusive god, and the difference between him and the Jewish God is not great. All this can be found both in an article published in Haaretz and in a video of a lecture on YouTube.

Harari continues to talk about Judaism and religion in general from various sides, and I can not mention everything here. This issue also appeared in his previous books, so that here too there is a certain return. And just as in the past this subject aroused resentment among readers, I suppose it will happen now.

In fact, I already saw that it provokes a lot of antagonism when I uploaded two quotes from the book to my Facebook page. The first quote said that religious people often refer to the cosmic general god, and from the moment they proved it, they leap into the particular God, for example the Biblical God, as if his existence was also proved, although in fact it is a separate thing that requires separate attention. I agree with this diagnosis, and have even mentioned it myself several times. The second quote refers to the "proof" of the famous Sinai Revelation, whereby a people can not make up such a story, and shows how such stories are naturally formed. I also accept this argument. In fact, the only problem I find in these claims is that they are almost obvious, they are too trivial. But this, too, is not really a problem, since Harari refers here to the existing conditions of the area and does not determine them.

But I saw that Harari's words were being greeted with a great deal of antagonism, which I do not think was really practical either. I do not want to constrict the reaction of the responders, on this occasion and on other occasions, but at any rate I tried to find out between myself what might be the reason for this great antagonism.

The first thing that came to my mind was that perhaps they were jealous of his great success. But this is a cheap psychological explanation that should be rejected, although in some cases it may also have some really.

The second reason I thought of was that it might be a matter of matter. His words are unacceptable. But then how is it so commercially successful?

There are other explanations, but I will immediately jump to the third explanation that seems to me the most convincing. It seems to me that Harry simply manages to touch the most important and essential points for the reader today, and he goes in enough deeply to put things his own way. Burning issues naturally raise a lot of emotions, even of resistance, and they, of course, have great potential for distribution. This is true both for Harari's first two books, and perhaps more so for this book.

And yet, I would like to point out that this explanation is only my suggestion, and you are invited to try and offer alternative explanations.

From these last words you can conclude that in my opinion the book interesting and deals with interesting topics and current, not much see their preoccupation with them. Still, I have criticism. Beyond what I have said so far, Harari's discussion nevertheless seems to me not deep enough. He did not really renew many things for me, despite the breadth of his knowledge, especially in the field of history. Perhaps the reason for this is his great dispersion and the fact that he writes about subjects he is not an expert on, as one of the respondents wrote to me. On the first topic, he reminded me of futurist David Passig. On the second topic, he reminded me of Nadav Eyal, who recently published a book, although I have not read it yet. The third issue is very reminiscent of Richard Dawkins. But it is not clear whether on every subject he reaches the level of people I mention. I am in favor of a wide range of disciplines and widths and want to see more of them, but apparently it also has a price.

My second review is more businesslike. I do not mind the third topic, the subject of religion, in which I think Harari says very plausible and almost trivial things, as mentioned. The second issue, the political one, also does not bother me, partly because I also view positively the global trend. But on the first subject there is something that bothers me. I simply say this: In my opinion, Harari is an anti-humanist futurist. A futurist by his long interest in the future, and an anti-humanist who seems to me to dismiss the human element in the future computerized world. I found a similar thing in his previous book, in which Harari said that there is no advantage to man over animals. In other places, for example, in his first book, he spoke out against humanism, at least against his exclusivity. Since I am inclined to humanism, Harari's remarks on this subject deter me. However, I found a little consolation at the end of the book, in the last chapter in which Harari talks about his experiences of vipassana, and argues that self-centered meditation can provide an answer to the computerized world that is expected to challenge the individual.

In conclusion, despite the criticism, I think that there is intelligent discussion here on very current issues, which is very necessary, and do not see much of its kind, and therefore I strongly recommend reading the book. I'm also sure he will provoke heated debates in the press and social networks later on.

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