Run-on Sentence Summary
“Sapiens” author Yuval Noah Harari’s new futurist novel feels more provocative than convincing.
After loving Sapiens, I started this book the day it was released. I enjoyed Harari’s thought-provoking “martian” opinions about human origins and society, and his new novel, promising to analyze the confluence of human nature and modern technology, sounded like great brain candy.
Homo Deus has a lot going for it, such as the same punchy style:
"In the eighteenth century Marie Antoinette allegedly advised the starving masses that if they ran out of bread, they should just eat cake instead. Today, the poor are following this advice to the letter.”
However, it also shared a lot of ideas and felt derivative of Sapiens. It felt like the book’s goal was to get you riled up, or even frightened of modern developments, and I wasn’t having it.
The book’s philosophical arguments start with the scientific revolution:
“modernity is a surprisingly simple deal. The entire contract can be summarised in a single phrase: humans agree to give up meaning in exchange for power.”
God is dead, but if we choose to believe what science is telling us, then even free will is a lie. How did humans go on without religion to provide us ethics? We invented a new religion called humanism. Modern ideologies from liberalism to naziism to communism all stem from the same basic idea: humans are inherently valuable in their own right and give life meaning.
He argues that every time someone has told you to follow your heart or think for yourself, they are indoctrinating you with this fundamentally new ideology, and he is critical of it in the predictable ways. For example, what gives us the right to subjugate other animals and destroy the ecosystem in pursuit of our own pleasure?
Plus, the future is arriving. What happens once artificial intelligence is smarter than people? Should our betters treat us the way we treat pigs? What will happen to the superfluous poor when everything is automated and controlled by a technological elite? What about to our ideal of equality once biology allows the top end of society to become physically and mentally superior to the lower castes?
The verdict is that humanism is doomed, and we will need to find new meaning in life. Maybe it will be replaced by a nascent philosophy emerging from silicon valley, his poorly articulated ethos dubbed “dataism.” If you can’t tell, I don’t agree with many of his conclusions.
Being a nerd, I was already familiar with the basic notions of futurism and transhumanist philosophy, which probably detracted from my experience. The book is shocking and confrontational, but thought provoking and worth the read.
Only one way to find out!
“Indeed, are happiness and misery mathematical entities that can be added or subtracted in the first place? Eating ice cream is enjoyable; finding true love is more enjoyable. Do you think that if you just eat enough ice cream, the accumulated pleasure could ever equal the rapture of true love?”