Book Reviews

Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari -Book Notes, Summary, and Review

Sapiens - Yuval Noah Harari

Get it on Amazon

Rating: 10/10

Date of reading: 2nd – 16th of April, 2017

Description: How did we go from the African savannah to today’s civilized world, written in the funniest possible way. You will learn how we (probably) formed religion, why are we the only surviving species of people (there were 7 types of humans on Earth), how our culture and language formed and why gossip is so important with humans. 

 

My notes:

 

Part One
The Cognitive Revolution

 

“The chimpanzees are the closest. Just 6 million years ago, a single female ape had two daughters. One became the ancestor of all chimpanzees, the other is our own grandmother.” ( :9)

“This fact has contributed greatly both to humankind’s extraordinary social abilities and to its unique social problems. Lone mothers could hardly forage enough food for their offspring and themselves with needy children in tow. Raising children required constant help from other family members and neighbours. It takes a tribe to raise a human. Evolution thus favoured those capable of forming strong social ties.” ( :12)

“As lions became deadlier, so gazelles evolved to run faster, hyenas to cooperate better, and rhinoceroses to be more bad-tempered. In contrast, humankind ascended to the top so quickly that the ecosystem was not given time to adjust. Moreover, humans themselves failed to adjust. Most top predators of the planet are majestic creatures. Millions of years of dominion have filled them with self-confidence. Sapiens by contrast is more like a banana republic dictator. Having so recently been one of the underdogs of the savannah, we are full of fears and anxieties over our position, which makes us doubly cruel and dangerous. Many historical calamities, from deadly wars to ecological catastrophes, have resulted from this over-hasty jump.” ( :13)

“(In a band of fifty individuals, there are 1,225 one-on-one relationships, and countless more complex social combinations.)” ( :20)

“‘The lion is the guardian spirit of our tribe.’ This ability to speak about fictions is the most unique feature of Sapiens language.” ( :21)

“But fiction has enabled us not merely to imagine things, but to do so collectively. We can weave common myths such as the biblical creation story, the Dreamtime myths of Aboriginal Australians, and the nationalist myths of modern states. Such myths give Sapiens the unprecedented ability to cooperate flexibly in large numbers. Ants and bees can also work together in huge numbers, but they do so in a very rigid manner and only with close relatives. Wolves and chimpanzees cooperate far more flexibly than ants, but they can do so only with small numbers of other individuals that they know intimately. Sapiens can cooperate in extremely flexible ways with countless numbers of strangers. That’s why Sapiens rule the world, whereas ants eat our leftovers and chimps are locked up in zoos and research laboratories.” ( :21)

“a typical chimpanzee troop consists of about twenty to fifty individuals. As the number of chimpanzees in a troop increases, the social order destabilises, eventually leading to a rupture and the formation of a new troop by some of the animals. Only in a handful of cases have zoologists observed groups larger than a hundred. Separate groups seldom cooperate, and tend to compete for territory and food. Researchers have documented prolonged warfare between groups, and even one case of ‘genocidal’ activity in which one troop systematically 2 slaughtered most members of a neighbouring band.” ( :22)

“150 individuals. Most people can neither intimately know, nor gossip effectively about, more than 150 human beings.” ( :22)

“But once the threshold of 150 individuals is crossed, things can no longer work that way. You cannot run a division with thousands of soldiers the same way you run a platoon. Successful family businesses usually face a crisis when they grow larger and hire more personnel. If they cannot reinvent themselves, they go bust.” ( :22)

“Large numbers of strangers can cooperate successfully by believing in common myths.” ( :22)

“Two Catholics who have never met can nevertheless go together on crusade or pool funds to build a hospital because they both believe that God was” ( :22)

“incarnated in human flesh and allowed Himself to be crucified to redeem our sins.” ( :23)

“Two Serbs who have never met might risk their lives to save one another because both believe in the existence of the Serbian nation, the Serbian homeland and the Serbian flag.” ( :23)

“because both believe in the existence of the Serbian nation, the Serbian homeland and the Serbian flag. Judicial systems are rooted in common legal myths. Two lawyers who have never met can nevertheless combine efforts to defend a complete stranger because they both believe in the existence of laws, justice, human rights – and the money paid out in fees.” ( :23)

“each full moon to dance together around the campfire. What we fail to appreciate is that our modern institutions function on exactly the same basis. Take for example the world of business corporations. Modern business-people and lawyers are, in fact, powerful sorcerers. The principal difference between them and tribal shamans is that modern lawyers tell far stranger tales. The legend of Peugeot affords us a good example.” ( :23)

“In what sense can we say that Peugeot SA (the company’s official name) exists? There are many Peugeot vehicles, but these are obviously not the company. Even if every Peugeot in the world were simultaneously junked and sold for scrap metal, Peugeot SA would not disappear. It would continue to manufacture new cars and issue its annual report. The company owns factories, machinery and showrooms, and employs mechanics, accountants and secretaries, but all these together do not comprise Peugeot. A disaster might kill every single one of Peugeot’s employees, and go on to destroy all of its assembly lines and executive offices. Even then, the company could borrow money, hire new employees, build new factories and buy new machinery. Peugeot has managers and shareholders, but neither do they constitute the company. All the managers could be dismissed and all its shares sold, but the company itself would remain intact.” ( :23)

“but Peugeot SA would immediately vanish. In short, Peugeot SA seems to have no essential connection to the physical world. Does it really exist?” ( :24)

“Lawyers call this a ‘legal fiction’.” ( :24)

“Peugeot is a figment of our collective imagination. Lawyers call this a ‘legal fiction’. It can’t be pointed at; it is not a physical object. But it exists as a legal entity. Just like you or me, it is bound by the laws of the countries in which it operates. It can open a bank account and own property. It pays taxes, and it can be sued and even prosecuted separately from any of the people who own or work for it.” ( :24)

“legal fictions called ‘limited liability companies’.” ( :24)

“This is why people began collectively to imagine the existence of limited liability companies. Such companies were legally independent of the people who set them up, or invested money in them, or managed them. Over the last few centuries such companies have become the main players in the economic arena, and we have grown so used to them that we forget they exist only in our imagination. In the US, the technical term for a limited liability company is a ‘corporation’, which is ironic, because the term derives from ‘corpus’ (‘body’ in Latin) – the one thing these corporations lack. Despite their having no real bodies, the American legal system treats corporations as legal persons, as if they were flesh-and-blood human beings.” ( :24)

“If the company borrowed millions of francs and then went bust, Armand Peugeot did not owe its creditors a single franc. The loan, after all, had been given to Peugeot, the company, not to Armand Peugeot, the Homo sapiens. Armand Peugeot died in 1915. Peugeot, the company, is still alive and well.” ( :24)

“In the case of the French curés, the crucial story was that of Christ’s life and death as told by the Catholic Church. According to this story, if a Catholic priest dressed in his sacred garments solemnly said the right words at the right moment, mundane bread and wine turned into God’s flesh and blood. The priest exclaimed ‘Hoc est corpus meum! ‘ (Latin for ‘This is my body!’) and hocus pocus – the bread turned into Christ’s flesh. Seeing that the priest had properly and assiduously observed all the procedures, millions of devout French Catholics behaved as if God really existed in the consecrated bread and wine.” ( :25)

“In the case of Peugeot SA the crucial story was the French legal code, as written by the French parliament. According to the French legislators, if a certified lawyer followed all the proper liturgy and rituals, wrote all the required spells and oaths on a wonderfully decorated piece of paper, and affixed his ornate signature to the bottom of the document, then hocus pocus – a new company was incorporated. When in 1896 Armand Peugeot wanted to create his company, he paid a lawyer to go through all these sacred procedures. Once the lawyer had performed all the right rituals and pronounced all the necessary spells and oaths, millions of upright French citizens behaved as if the Peugeot company really existed.” ( :25)

“Just try to imagine how difficult it would have been to create states, or churches, or legal systems if we could speak only about things that really exist, such as rivers, trees and lions.” ( :25)

“No one was lying when, in 2011, the UN demanded that the Libyan government respect the human rights of its citizens, even though the UN, Libya and human rights are all figments of our fertile imaginations.” ( :25)

“myths can change rapidly. In 1789 the French population switched almost overnight from believing in the myth of the divine right of kings to believing in the myth of the sovereignty of the people.” ( :26)

“enerations without any need of genetic or environmental change. As a prime example, consider the repeated appearance of childless elites, such as the Catholic priesthood, Buddhist monastic orders and Chinese eunuch bureaucracies.” ( :26)

“Nor is it the result of some quirky genetic mutation. The Catholic Church has survived for centuries, not by passing on a ‘celibacy gene’ from one pope to the next, but by passing on the stories of the New Testament and of Catholic canon law.” ( :27)

“Berlin, born in 1900 and living to the ripe age of one hundred. She spent her childhood in the Hohenzollern Empire of Wilhelm II; her adult years in the Weimar Republic, the Nazi Third Reich and Communist East Germany; and she died a citizen of a democratic and reunified Germany. She had managed to be a part of five very different sociopolitical systems, though her DNA remained exactly the same.” ( :27)

“Another example comes from the South Pacific. Sapiens bands that lived on the island of New Ireland, north of New Guinea, used a volcanic glass called obsidian to manufacture particularly strong and sharp tools. New Ireland, however, has no natural deposits of obsidian. Laboratory tests revealed that the obsidian they used was brought from deposits on New Britain, an island 250 miles away. Some of the inhabitants of these islands must have been skilled navigators who traded from island to island over long distances.” ( :28)

“Hunting techniques provide another illustration of these differences. Neanderthals usually hunted alone or in small groups. Sapiens, on the other hand, developed techniques that relied on cooperation between many dozens of individuals, and perhaps even between different bands. One particularly effective method was to surround an entire herd of animals, such as wild horses, then chase them into a narrow gorge, where it was easy to slaughter them en masse. If all went according to plan, the bands could harvest tons of meat, fat and animal skins in a single afternoon of collective effort, and either consume these riches in a giant potlatch, or dry, smoke or (in Arctic areas) freeze them for later usage. Archaeologists have discovered sites where entire herds were butchered annually in such ways. There are even sites where fences and obstacles were erected in order to create artificial traps and slaughtering grounds.” ( :28)

“The immense diversity of imagined realities that Sapiens invented, and the resulting diversity of behaviour patterns, are the main components of what we call ‘cultures’. Once cultures appeared, they never ceased to change and develop, and these unstoppable alterations are what we call ‘history’.” ( :29)

“This does not mean that Homo sapiens and human culture became exempt from biological laws. We are still animals, and our physical, emotional and cognitive abilities are still shaped by our DNA. Our societies are built from the same building blocks as Neanderthal or chimpanzee societies, and the more we examine these building blocks – sensations, emotions, family ties – the less difference we find between us and other apes.” ( :29)

“By contrast, Sapiens regularly gather by the thousands in such places. Together, they create orderly patterns – such as trade networks, mass celebrations and political institutions – that they could never have created in isolation. The real difference between us and chimpanzees is the mythical glue that binds together large numbers of individuals, families and groups. This glue has made us the masters of creation.” ( :29)

“d with the ability to cooperate with many others. How is it that we now have intercontinental missiles with nuclear warheads, whereas 30,000 years ago we had only sticks with flint spearheads?” ( :30)

“Consequently, in order to understand how Sapiens behave, we must describe the historical evolution of their actions. Referring only to our biological constraints would be like a radio sportscaster who, attending the World Cup football championships, offers his listeners a detailed description of the playing field rather than an account of what the players are doing.” ( :30)

“30,000 years ago had the same physical, emotional and intellectual abilities we have. What did they do when they woke up in the morning?” ( :30)

“It’s a puzzle why we binge on the sweetest and greasiest food we can find, until we consider the eating habits of our forager forebears. In the savannahs and forests they inhabited, high-calorie sweets were extremely rare and food in general was in short supply. A typical forager 30,000 years ago had access to only one type of sweet food – ripe fruit. If a Stone Age woman came across a tree groaning with figs, the most sensible thing to do was to eat as many of them as she could on the spot, before the local baboon band picked the tree bare. The instinct to gorge on high-calorie food was hard-wired into our genes. Today we may be living in high-rise apartments with overstuffed refrigerators, but our DNA still thinks we are in the savannah. That’s what makes some of us spoon down an entire tub of Ben & Jerry’s when we find one in the freezer and wash it down with a jumbo Coke.” ( :31)

“Rather, foragers lived in communes devoid of private property, monogamous relationships and even fatherhood. In such a band, a woman could have sex and form intimate bonds with several men (and women) simultaneously, and all of the band’s adults cooperated in parenting its children. Since no man knew definitively which of the children were his, men showed equal concern for all youngsters.” ( :31)

“sperm in a woman’s womb. A good mother will make a point of having sex with several different men, especially when she is pregnant, so that her child will enjoy the qualities (and paternal care) not merely of the best hunter, but also of the best storyteller, the strongest warrior and the most considerate lover.” ( :32)

“which both children and adults suffer, all result from forcing humans to live in nuclear families and monogamous relationships that are incompatible with our biological 1 software.” ( :32)

“Stone Age should more accurately be called the Wood Age, because most of the tools used by ancient hunter-gatherers were made of wood.” ( :32)

“We hardly notice how ubiquitous our stuff is until we have to move it to a new house. Foragers moved house every month, every week, and sometimes even every day, toting whatever they had on their backs. There were no moving companies, wagons, or even pack animals to share the burden. They consequently had to make do with only the most essential possessions.” ( :33)

“Australia. Just before the British conquest, between 300,000 and 700,000 hunter-gatherers lived on 2 the continent in 200-600 tribes, each of which was further divided into several bands.” ( :33)

“3 This, after all, was one of the main legacies of the Cognitive Revolution. Thanks to the appearance of fiction, even people with the same genetic make-up who lived under similar ecological conditions were able to create very different imagined realities, which manifested themselves in different norms and values.” ( :34)

“from our view.* The heated debates about Homo sapiens’ ‘natural way of life’ miss the main point. Ever since the Cognitive Revolution, there hasn’t been a single natural way of life for Sapiens. There are only cultural choices, from among a bewildering palette of possibilities.” ( :34)

“use it is far from obvious. Most members of agricultural and industrial societies are domesticated animals. They are not equal to their masters, of course, but they are members all the same. Today,” ( :34)

“In other words, the average forager had wider, deeper and more varied knowledge of her immediate surroundings than most of her modern descendants. Today, most people in industrial societies don’t need to know much about the natural world in order to survive. What do you really need to know in order to get by as a computer engineer, an insurance agent, a history teacher or a factory worker? You need to know a lot about your own tiny field of expertise, but for the vast majority of life’s necessities you rely blindly on the help of other experts, whose own knowledge is also limited to a tiny field of expertise. The human collective knows far more today than did the ancient bands. But at the individual level, ancient foragers were the most knowledgeable and skilful people in history.” ( :36)

“There is some evidence that the size of the average Sapiens brain has actually decreased since the 5 age of foraging. Survival in that era required superb mental abilities from everyone.” ( :36)

“They had physical dexterity that people today are unable to achieve even after years of practising yoga or t’ai chi.” ( :37)

“While people in today’s affluent societies work an average of forty to forty-five hours a week, and people in the developing world work sixty and even eighty hours a week, hunter-gatherers living today in the most inhospitable of habitats – such as the Kalahari Desert – work on average for just thirty-five to forty-five hours a week.” ( :37)

“Today, a Chinese factory hand leaves home around seven in the morning, makes her way through polluted streets to a sweatshop, and there operates the same machine, in the same way, day in, day out, for ten long and mind-numbing hours, returning home around seven in the evening in order to wash dishes and do the laundry. Thirty thousand years ago, a Chinese forager might leave camp with her companions at, say, eight in the morning. They’d roam the nearby forests and meadows, gathering mushrooms, digging up edible roots, catching frogs and occasionally running away from tigers. By early afternoon, they were back at the camp to make lunch. That left them plenty of time to gossip, tell stories, play with the children and just hang out. Of course the tigers sometimes caught them, or a snake bit them, but on the other hand they didn’t have to deal with automobile accidents and industrial pollution.” ( :37)

“malnutrition, and were generally taller and healthier than their peasant descendants. Average life expectancy was apparently just thirty to forty years, but this was due largely to the high incidence of child mortality. Children who made it through the perilous first years had a good chance of reaching the age of sixty, and some even made it to their eighties. Among modern foragers, fortyfive-year-old women can expect to live another twenty years, and about 5-8 per cent of the population is over sixty.” ( :37)

“Ancient foragers also suffered less from infectious diseases. Most of the infectious diseases that have plagued agricultural and industrial societies (such as smallpox, measles and tuberculosis) originated in domesticated animals and were transferred to humans only after the Agricultural Revolution.” ( :38)

“The Aché people, hunter-gatherers who lived in the jungles of Paraguay until the 1960s, offer a glimpse into the darker side of foraging. When a valued band member died, the Aché customarily killed a little girl and buried the two together. Anthropologists who interviewed the Aché recorded a case in which a band abandoned a middle-aged man who fell sick and was unable to keep up with the others. He was left under a tree. Vultures perched above him, expecting a hearty meal. But the man recuperated, and, walking briskly, he managed to rejoin the band. His body was covered with the birds’ faeces, so he was henceforth nicknamed ‘Vulture Droppings’.” ( :38)

“When an old Aché woman became a burden to the rest of the band, one of the younger men would sneak behind her and kill her with an axe-blow to the head. An Aché man told the inquisitive anthropologists stories of his prime years in the jungle. ‘I customarily killed old women. I used to kill my aunts . . . The women were afraid of me . . . Now, here with the whites, I have become weak.’ Babies born without hair, who were considered underdeveloped, were killed immediately. One woman recalled that her first baby girl was killed because the men in the band did not want another girl. On another occasion a man killed a small boy because he was ‘in a bad mood and the child was crying’. Another child was buried alive because ‘it was funny-looking and the other children laughed” ( :38)

“at it’.” ( :39)

“We should be careful, though, not to judge the Aché too quickly. Anthropologists who lived with them for years report that violence between adults was very rare. Both women and men were free to change partners at will. They smiled and laughed constantly, had no leadership hierarchy, and generally shunned domineering people. They were extremely generous with their few possessions, and were not obsessed with success or wealth. The things they valued most in life were good social 8 interactions and high-quality friendships. They viewed the killing of children, sick people and the elderly as many people today view abortion and euthanasia. It should also be noted that the Aché were hunted and killed without mercy by Paraguayan farmers. The need to evade their enemies probably caused the Aché to adopt an exceptionally harsh attitude towards anyone who might become a liability to the band.” ( :39)

“The sociopolitical world of the foragers is another area about which we know next to nothing. As explained above, scholars cannot even agree on the basics, such as the existence of private property, nuclear families and monogamous relationships. It’s likely that different bands had different structures. Some may have been as hierarchical, tense and violent as the nastiest chimpanzee group, while others were as laid-back, peaceful and lascivious as a bunch of bonobos.” ( :40)

“Whatever the correct answer, the Sungir children are among the best pieces of evidence that 30,000 years ago Sapiens could invent sociopolitical codes that went far beyond the dictates of our DNA and the behaviour patterns of other human and animal species.” ( :42)

“This curtain of silence shrouds tens of thousands of years of history. These long millennia may well have witnessed wars and revolutions, ecstatic religious movements, profound philosophical theories, incomparable artistic masterpieces.” ( :44)

“Yet it is vital to ask questions for which no answers are available, otherwise we might be tempted to dismiss 60,000 of 70,000 years of human history with the excuse that ‘the people who lived back then did nothing of importance’.” ( :44)

“had to evolve for aeons to develop specialised organs and a hydrodynamic body. The Sapiens in Indonesia, descendants of apes who lived on the African savannah, became Pacific seafarers without growing flippers and without having to wait for their noses to migrate to the top of their heads as whales did. Instead, they built boats and learned how to steer them. And these skills enabled them to reach and settle Australia.” ( :45)

“Within a few thousand years, virtually all of these giants vanished. Of the twenty-four Australian 2 animal species weighing 100 pounds or more, twenty-three became extinct. A large number of smaller species also disappeared. Food chains throughout the entire Australian ecosystem were broken and rearranged. It was the most important transformation of the Australian ecosystem for millions of years. Was it all the fault of Homo sapiens?” ( :46)

“1.5 million years ago and successfully weathered at least ten previous ice ages. It also survived the first peak of the last ice age, around 70,000 years ago. Why, then, did it disappear 45,000 years ago? Of course, if diprotodons had been the only large animal to disappear at this time, it might have been just a fluke. But more than 90 per cent of Australia’s megafauna disappeared along with the diprotodon. The evidence is circumstantial, but it’s hard to imagine that Sapiens, just by coincidence, arrived in Australia at the precise point that all these animals were dropping dead of the 3 chills.” ( :47)

“The Maoris, New Zealand’s first Sapiens colonisers, reached the islands about 800 years ago. Within a couple of centuries, the majority of the local megafauna was extinct, along with 60 per cent of all bird species.” ( :47)

“One body of evidence supporting this view is the fossil plant record. Eucalyptus trees were rare in Australia 45,000 years ago. But the arrival of Homo sapiens inaugurated a golden age for the species. Since eucalyptuses are particularly resistant to fire, they spread far and wide while other trees and shrubs disappeared.” ( :48)

“Andean mountain valleys or the open pampas of Argentina. And all this happened in a mere millennium or two! By 10,000 BC, humans already inhabited the most southern point in America, the island of Tierra del Fuego at the continent’s southern tip. The human blitzkrieg across America testifies to the incomparable ingenuity and the unsurpassed adaptability of Homo sapiens. No other animal had ever moved into such a huge variety of radically different habitats so quickly, everywhere using virtually the same genes.” ( :49)

“Within 2,000 years of the Sapiens arrival, most of these unique species were gone. According to current estimates, within that short interval, North America lost thirty-four out of its forty-seven genera of large mammals. South America lost fifty out of sixty. The sabre-tooth cats, after flourishing for more than 30 million years, disappeared, and so did the giant ground sloths, the oversized lions, native American horses, native American camels, the giant rodents and the mammoths.” ( :50)

 

Part Two
The Agricultural Revolution

 

“All this changed about 10,000 years ago, when Sapiens began to devote almost all their time and effort to manipulating the lives of a few animal and plant species. From sunrise to sunset humans sowed seeds, watered plants, plucked weeds from the ground and led sheep to prime pastures. This work, they thought, would provide them with more fruit, grain and meat. It was a revolution in the way humans lived – the Agricultural Revolution.” ( :54)

“The average farmer worked harder than the average forager, and got a worse diet in 2 return. The Agricultural Revolution was history’s biggest fraud.” ( :55)

“of wheat plants. It wasn’t easy. Wheat demanded a lot of them. Wheat didn’t like rocks and pebbles, so Sapiens broke their backs clearing fields. Wheat didn’t like sharing its space, water and nutrients with other plants, so men and women laboured long days weeding under the scorching sun. Wheat got sick, so Sapiens had to keep a watch out for worms and blight. Wheat was attacked by rabbits and locust swarms, so the farmers built fences and stood guard over the fields. Wheat was thirsty, so humans dug irrigation canals or lugged heavy buckets from the well to water it. Sapiens even collected animal faeces to nourish the ground in which wheat grew.” ( :56)

“In many cases, this doomed the refugees to starvation. Farmers, therefore, tended to stay put and fight to the bitter end.” ( :57)

“At first they might have camped for four weeks during the harvest. A generation later, as wheat plants multiplied and spread, the harvest camp might have lasted for five weeks, then six, and finally it became a permanent village. Evidence of such settlements has been discovered throughout the Middle East, particularly in the Levant, where the Natufian culture flourished from 12,500 to 9500 BC BC.” ( :59)

“ow many young college graduates have taken demanding jobs in high-powered firms, vowing that they will work hard to earn money that will enable them to retire and pursue their real interests when they are thirty-five? But by the time they reach that age, they have large mortgages, children to school, houses in the suburbs that necessitate at least two cars per family, and a sense that life is not worth living without really good wine and expensive holidays abroad. What are they supposed to do, go back to digging up roots? No, they double their efforts and keep slaving away.” ( :60)

“We have enough documents, letters and memoirs to prove that World War Two was not caused by food shortages or demographic pressures. But we have no documents from the Natufian culture, so when dealing with ancient periods the materialist school reigns supreme. It is difficult to prove that preliterate people were motivated by faith rather than economic necessity.” ( :61)

“e in Britain. Yet as they studied Göbekli Tepe, they discovered an amazing fact. Stonehenge dates to 2500 BC, and was built by a developed agricultural society. The structures at Göbekli Tepe are dated to about 9500 BC, and all available evidence indicates that they were built by hunter-gatherers.” ( :61)

“The only way to build Göbekli Tepe was for thousands of foragers belonging to different bands and tribes to cooperate over an extended period of time. Only a sophisticated religious or ideological system could sustain such efforts.” ( :62)

“The French Revolution was spearheaded by affluent lawyers, not by famished peasants. The Roman Republic reached the height of its power in the first century BC, when treasure fleets from throughout the Mediterranean enriched the Romans beyond their ancestors’ wildest dreams. Yet” ( :69)

“The handful of millennia separating the Agricultural Revolution from the appearance of cities, kingdoms and empires was not enough time to allow an instinct for mass cooperation to evolve.” ( :69)

“But that turned out to be wrong. Myths, it transpired, are stronger than anyone could have imagined. When the Agricultural Revolution opened opportunities for the creation of crowded cities and mighty empires, people invented stories about great gods, motherlands and joint stock companies to provide the needed social links. While human evolution was crawling at its usual snail’s pace, the human imagination was building astounding networks of mass cooperation, unlike any other ever seen on earth.” ( :70)

“The social norms that sustained them were based neither on ingrained instincts nor on personal acquaintances, but rather on belief in shared myths.” ( :71)

“known myths of history: the Code of Hammurabi of c.1776 BC, which served as a cooperation manual for hundreds of thousands of ancient Babylonians; and the American Declaration of Independence of 1776 AD, which today still serves as a cooperation manual for hundreds of millions of modern Americans.” ( :71)

“The text begins by saying that the gods Anu, Enlil and Marduk – the leading deities of the Mesopotamian pantheon – appointed Hammurabi ‘to make justice prevail in the land, to abolish the 4 wicked and the evil, to prevent the strong from oppressing the weak’. It then lists about 300 judgements, given in the set formula ‘If such and such a thing happens, such is the judgment.’ For example, judgements 196-9 and 209-14 read:” ( :72)

“Americans all people are equal, whereas according to the Babylonians people are decidedly unequal. The Americans would, of course, say that they are right, and that Hammurabi is wrong. Hammurabi, naturally, would retort that he is right, and that the Americans are wrong. In fact, they are both wrong.” ( :73)

“wrong. Hammurabi and the American Founding Fathers alike imagined a reality governed by universal and immutable principles of justice, such as equality or hierarchy. Yet the only place where such universal principles exist is in the fertile imagination of Sapiens, and in the myths they invent and tell one another. These principles have no objective validity.” ( :73)

“And what are the characteristics that evolved in humans? ‘Life’, certainly. But ‘liberty’? There is no such thing in biology. Just like equality, rights and limited liability companies, liberty is something that people invented and that exists only in their imagination. From a biological viewpoint, it is meaningless to say that humans in democratic societies are free, whereas humans in dictatorships are unfree. And what about ‘happiness’? So far biological research has failed to come up with a clear definition of happiness or a way to measure it objectively. Most biological studies acknowledge only the existence of pleasure, which is more easily defined and measured. So ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’ should be translated into ‘life and the pursuit of pleasure’.” ( :74)

“Advocates of equality and human rights may be outraged by this line of reasoning. Their response is likely to be, ‘We know that people are not equal biologically! But if we believe that we are all equal in essence, it will enable us to create a stable and prosperous society.’ I have no argument with that. This is exactly what I mean by ‘imagined order’. We believe in a particular order not because it is objectively true, but because believing in it enables us to cooperate effectively and forge a better society. Imagined orders are not evil conspiracies or useless mirages. Rather, they are the only way large numbers of humans can cooperate effectively. Bear in mind, though, that Hammurabi might have defended his principle of hierarchy using the same logic: ‘I know that superiors, commoners and slaves are not inherently different kinds of people. But if we believe that they are, it will enable us to create a stable and prosperous society.'” ( :74)

“hundred soldiers – far more cheaply and effectively. Moreover, no matter how efficient bayonets are, somebody must wield them. Why should the soldiers, jailors, judges and police maintain an imagined order in which they do not believe? Of all human collective activities, the one most difficult to organise is violence. To say that a social order is maintained by military force immediately raises the question: what maintains the military order? It is impossible to organise an army solely by coercion. At least some of the commanders and soldiers must truly believe in something, be it God, honour, motherland, manhood or money.” ( :75)

“After those needs are met, more money can be spent on building pyramids, taking holidays around the world, financing election campaigns, funding your favourite terrorist organisation, or investing in the stock market and making yet more money – all of which are activities that a true cynic would find utterly meaningless.” ( :75)

“This is why cynics don’t build empires and why an imagined order can be maintained only if large segments of the population – and in particular large segments of the elite and the security forces – truly believe in it. Christianity would not have lasted 2,000 years if the majority of bishops and priests failed to believe in Christ. American democracy would not have lasted almost 250 years if the” ( :75)

“majority of presidents and congressmen failed to believe in human rights. The modern economic system would not have lasted a single day if the majority of investors and bankers failed to believe in capitalism.” ( :76)

“People are unequal, not because Hammurabi said so, but because Enlil and Marduk decreed it.” ( :76)

“it. People are equal, not because Thomas Jefferson said so, but because God created them that way. Free markets are the best economic system, not because Adam Smith said so, but because these are the immutable laws of nature.” ( :76)

“In modern architecture, this myth leaps out of the imagination to take shape in stone and mortar. The ideal modern house is divided into many small rooms so that each child can have a private space, hidden from view, providing for maximum autonomy.” ( :76)

“autonomy. This private room almost invariably has a door, and in some households it may be accepted practice for the child to close, and perhaps lock, the door. Even parents may be forbidden to enter without knocking and asking permission. The room is usually decorated as the child sees fit, with rock-star posters on the wall and dirty socks on the floor. Somebody growing up in such a space cannot help but imagine himself ‘an individual’, his true worth emanating from within rather than from without.” ( :76)

“Medieval noblemen did not believe in individualism. Someone’s worth was determined by their place in the social hierarchy, and by what other people said about them. Being laughed at was a horrible indignity. Noblemen taught their children to protect their good name whatever the cost. Like modern individualism, the medieval value system left the imagination and was manifested in the stone of medieval castles. The castle rarely contained private rooms for children (or anyone else, for that matter). The teenage son of a medieval baron did not have a private room on the castle’s second floor, with posters of Richard the Lionheart and King Arthur on the walls and a locked door that his parents were not allowed to open. He slept alongside many other youths in a large hall. He was always on display and always had to take into account what others saw and said. Someone growing up in such conditions naturally concluded that a man’s true worth was determined by his place in the social 8 hierarchy and by what other people said of him.” ( :77)

“For instance, the most cherished desires of present-day Westerners are shaped by romantic, nationalist, capitalist and humanist myths that have been around for centuries.” ( :77)

“Romanticism tells us that in order to make the most of our human potential we must have as many different experiences as we can. We must open ourselves to a wide spectrum of emotions; we must sample various kinds of relationships; we must try different cuisines; we must learn to appreciate different styles of music. One of the best ways to do all that is to break free from our daily routine, leave behind our familiar setting, and go travelling in distant lands, where we can ‘experience’ the culture, the smells, the tastes and the norms of other people. We hear again and again the romantic myths about ‘how a new experience opened my eyes and changed my life’. Consumerism tells us that in order to be happy we must consume as many products and services as possible. If we feel that something is missing or not quite right, then we probably need to buy a product (a car, new clothes, organic food) or a service (housekeeping, relationship therapy, yoga classes). Every television commercial is another little legend about how consuming some product or service will make life better.” ( :77)

“In order to understand this, we need to understand the difference between ‘objective’, ‘subjective’, and ‘inter-subjective’.” ( :78)

“An objective phenomenon exists independently of human consciousness and human beliefs.” ( :78)

“The subjective is something that exists depending on the consciousness and beliefs of a single individual.” ( :79)

“The inter-subjective is something that exists within the communication network linking the subjective consciousness of many individuals.” ( :79)

“law, money, gods, nations.” ( :79)

“However, in order to establish such complex organisations, it’s necessary to convince many strangers to cooperate with one another. And this will happen only if these strangers believe in some shared myths.” ( :79)

“In order to dismantle Peugeot, for example, we need to imagine something more powerful, such as the French legal system. In order to dismantle the French legal system we need to imagine something even more powerful, such as the French state. And if we would like to dismantle that too, we will have to imagine something yet more powerful.” ( :79)

“‘Kus him!’ It is telling that the first recorded name in history 1 belongs to an accountant, rather than a prophet, a poet or a great conqueror.” ( :82)

“they don’t think that way their drawers will all get mixed up and they won’t be able to provide the services their government, company or organisation requires. The most important impact of script on human history is precisely this: it has gradually changed the way humans think and view the world. Free association and holistic thought have given way to compartmentalisation and bureaucracy.” ( :86)

“The sun was created from the Purusa’s eye, the moon from the Purusa’s brain, the Brahmins (priests) from its mouth, the Kshatriyas (warriors) from its arms, the Vaishyas (peasants and merchants) from its thighs, and the Shudras (servants) from its legs. Accept this explanation and the sociopolitical differences between Brahmins and Shudras are as natural and 1 eternal as the differences between the sun and the moon.” ( :90)

“You might think that people would gradually understand that these stigmas were myth rather than fact and that blacks would be able, over time, to prove themselves just as competent, law-abiding and clean as whites. In fact, the opposite happened – these prejudices became more and more entrenched as time went by. Since all the best jobs were held by whites, it became easier to believe that blacks really are inferior. ‘Look,’ said the average white citizen, ‘blacks have been free for generations, yet there are almost no black professors, lawyers, doctors or even bank tellers. Isn’t that proof that blacks are simply less intelligent and hard-working?’ Trapped in this vicious circle, blacks were not hired for white-collar jobs because they were deemed unintelligent, and the proof of their inferiority was the paucity of blacks in white-collar jobs.” ( :94)

“A good rule of thumb is ‘Biology enables, Culture forbids.’ Biology is willing to tolerate a very wide spectrum of possibilities. It’s culture that obliges people to realise some possibilities while forbidding others. Biology enables women to have children – some cultures oblige women to realise this possibility. Biology enables men to enjoy sex with one another – some cultures forbid them to realise this possibility. Culture tends to argue that it forbids only” ( :97)

“In truth, our concepts ‘natural’ and ‘unnatural’ are taken not from biology, but from Christian theology.” ( :97)

“et they are the exceptions that prove the rule. Throughout Elizabeth’s forty-five-year reign, all Members of Parliament were men, all officers in the Royal Navy and army were men, all judges and lawyers were men, all bishops and archbishops were men, all theologians and priests were men, all doctors and surgeons were men, all students and professors in all universities and colleges were men, all mayors and sheriffs were men, and almost all the writers, architects, poets, philosophers, painters, musicians and scientists were men.” ( :101)

“In forager societies, political dominance generally resides with the person possessing the best social skills rather than the most developed musculature” ( :102)

“In organised crime, the big boss is not necessarily the strongest man. He is often an older man who very rarely uses his own fists; he gets younger and fitter men to do the dirty jobs for him. A guy who thinks that the way to take over the syndicate is to beat up the don is unlikely to live long enough to learn from his mistake.” ( :102)

“In fact, in numerous societies throughout history, the top officers did not work their way up from the rank of private. Aristocrats, the wealthy and the educated were automatically assigned officer rank and never served a day in the ranks.” ( :103)

“The militarily incompetent Augustus succeeded in establishing a stable imperial regime, achieving something that eluded both Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great, who were much better generals.” ( :103)

“She needed a man. In order to ensure her own survival and the survival of her children, the woman had little choice but to agree to whatever conditions the man stipulated so that he would stick around and share some of the burden. As time went by, the feminine genes that made it to the next generation belonged to women who were submissive caretakers. Women who spent too much time fighting for power did not leave any of those powerful genes for future generations.” ( :104)

“How did it happen that in the one species whose success depends above all on cooperation,” ( :104)

“individuals who are supposedly less cooperative (men) control individuals who are supposedly more cooperative (women)? At present, we have no good answer. Maybe the common assumptions are just wrong. Maybe males of the species Homo sapiens are characterised not by physical strength, aggressiveness and competitiveness, but rather by superior social skills and a greater tendency to cooperate. We just don’t know.” ( :105)

 

Part Three
The Unification of Humankind

 

“Myths and fictions accustomed people, nearly from the moment of birth, to think in certain ways, to behave in accordance with certain standards, to want certain things, and to observe certain rules. They thereby created artificial instincts that enabled millions of strangers to cooperate effectively. This network of artificial instincts is called ‘culture’.” ( :107)

“The culture may transform itself in response to changes in its environment or through interaction with neighbouring cultures. But cultures also undergo transitions due to their own internal dynamics. Even a completely isolated culture existing in an ecologically stable environment cannot avoid change. Unlike the laws of physics, which are free of inconsistencies, every man-made order is packed with internal contradictions. Cultures are constantly trying to reconcile these contradictions, and this process fuels change.” ( :107)

“Anyone who has read a novel by Charles Dickens knows that the liberal regimes of nineteenthcentury Europe gave priority to individual freedom even if it meant throwing insolvent poor families in prison and giving orphans little choice but to join schools for pickpockets. Anyone who has read a novel by Alexander Solzhenitsyn knows how Communism’s egalitarian ideal produced brutal tyrannies that tried to control every aspect of daily life.” ( :108)

“Contemporary American politics also revolve around this contradiction. Democrats want a more equitable society, even if it means raising taxes to fund programmes to help the poor, elderly and infirm. But that infringes on the freedom of individuals to spend their money as they wish. Why should the government force me to buy health insurance if I prefer using the money to put my kids through college? Republicans, on the other hand, want to maximise individual freedom, even if it means that the income gap between rich and poor will grow wider and that many Americans will not be able to afford health care.” ( :108)

“f tensions, conflicts and irresolvable dilemmas are the spice of every culture, a human being who belongs to any particular culture must hold contradictory beliefs and be riven by incompatible values. It’s such an essential feature of any culture that it even has a name: cognitive dissonance.” ( :108)

“If, say, a Christian really wants to understand the Muslims who attend that mosque down the street, he shouldn’t look for a pristine set of values that every Muslim holds dear. Rather, he should enquire into the catch-22s of Muslim culture, those places where rules are at war and standards scuffle. It’s at the very spot where the Muslims teeter between two imperatives that you’ll understand them best.” ( :108)

“view is too myopic. We would do better to adopt instead the viewpoint of a cosmic spy satellite, which scans millennia rather than centuries. From such a vantage point it becomes crystal clear that history is moving relentlessly towards unity. The sectioning of Christianity and the collapse of the Mongol Empire are just speed bumps on history’s highway.” ( :109)

“America and Europe, too, were separate worlds for most of their histories. In 378, the Roman AD emperor Valence was defeated and killed by the Goths at the battle of Adrianople. In the same year, King Chak Tok Ich’aak of Tikal was defeated and killed by the army of Teotihuacan. (Tikal was an important Mayan city state, while Teotihuacan was then the largest city in America, with almost 250,000 inhabitants – of the same order of magnitude as its contemporary, Rome.) There was absolutely no connection between the defeat of Rome and the rise of Teotihuacan. Rome might just as well have been located on Mars, and Teotihuacan on Venus.” ( :109)

“One of the most interesting examples of this globalisation is ‘ethnic’ cuisine. In an Italian restaurant we expect to find spaghetti in tomato sauce; in Polish and Irish restaurants lots of potatoes; in an Argentinian restaurant we can choose between dozens of kinds of beefsteaks; in an Indian restaurant hot chillies are incorporated into just about everything; and the highlight at any Swiss café is thick hot chocolate under an alp of whipped cream. But none of these foods is native to those nations. Tomatoes, chilli peppers and cocoa are all Mexican in origin; they reached Europe and Asia only after the Spaniards conquered Mexico.” ( :111)

“brothers’ or ‘friends’. Yet this brotherhood was not universal. Somewhere in the next valley, or beyond the mountain range, one could still sense ‘them’. When the first pharaoh, Menes, united Egypt around 3000 BC, it was clear to the Egyptians that Egypt had a border, and beyond the border lurked ‘barbarians’. The barbarians were alien, threatening, and interesting only to the extent that they had land or natural resources that the Egyptians wanted. All the imagined orders people created tended to ignore a substantial part of humankind.” ( :112)

“When the natives questioned Cortés as to why the Spaniards had such a passion for gold, the conquistador answered, 1 ‘Because I and my companions suffer from a disease of the heart which can be cured only with gold.'” ( :114)

“As the Christians gradually gained the upper hand, they marked their victories not only by destroying mosques and building churches, but also by issuing new gold and silver coins bearing the sign of the cross and thanking God for His help in combating the infidels. Yet alongside the new currency, the victors minted another type of coin, called the millares, which carried a somewhat different message. These square coins made by the Christian conquerors were emblazoned with flowing Arabic script that declared: ‘There is no god except Allah, and Muhammad is Allah’s messenger.’ Even the Catholic bishops of Melgueil and Agde issued these faithful copies of popular 2 Muslim coins, and God-fearing Christians happily used them. Tolerance flourished on the other side of the hill too. Muslim merchants in North Africa conducted business using Christian coins such as the Florentine florin, the Venetian ducat and the Neapolitan gigliato. Even Muslim rulers who called for jihad against the infidel Christians were glad 3 to receive taxes in coins that invoked Christ and His Virgin Mother.” ( :114)

“In a barter economy, every day the shoemaker and the apple grower will have to learn anew the” ( :115)

“relative prices of dozens of commodities. If one hundred different commodities are traded in the market, then buyers and sellers will have to know 4,950 different exchange rates. And if 1,000 5 different commodities are traded, buyers and sellers must juggle 499,500 different exchange rates! How do you figure it out?” ( :116)

“Some societies tried to solve the problem by establishing a central barter system that collected products from specialist growers and manufacturers and distributed them to those who needed them. The largest and most famous such experiment was conducted in the Soviet Union, and it failed miserably. ‘Everyone would work according to their abilities, and receive according to their needs’ turned out in practice into ‘everyone would work as little as they can get away with, and receive as much as they could grab’.” ( :116)

“In fact, even today coins and banknotes are a rare form of money. The sum total of money in the 7 world is about $60 trillion, yet the sum total of coins and banknotes is less than $6 trillion. More than 90 per cent of all money – more than $50 trillion appearing in our accounts – exists only on computer servers.” ( :117)

“Money also frees apple experts from the need to search out apple-craving shoemakers, because everyone always wants money. This is perhaps its most basic quality. Everyone always wants money because everyone else also always wants money, which means you can exchange money for whatever you want or need. The shoemaker will always be happy to take your money, because no matter what he really wants -” ( :117)

“apples, goats or a divorce – he can get it in exchange for money.” ( :118)

“In other words, money isn’t a material reality – it is a psychological construct.” ( :118)

“People are willing to do such things when they trust the figments of their collective imagination. Trust is the raw material from which all types of money are minted.” ( :118)

“money is the most universal and most efficient system of mutual trust ever devised.” ( :119)

“Merchants travelling between India and the Mediterranean would notice the difference in the value of gold. In order to make a profit, they would buy gold cheaply in India and sell it dearly in the Mediterranean. Consequently, the demand for gold in India would skyrocket, as would its value. At the same time the Mediterranean would experience an influx of gold, whose value would consequently drop. Within a short time the value of gold in India and the Mediterranean would be quite similar. The mere fact that Mediterranean people believed in gold would cause Indians to start believing in it as well. Even if Indians still had no real use for gold, the fact that Mediterranean people wanted it would be enough to make the Indians value it.” ( :122)

“more than 30,000 soldiers. Scipio, who respected the fighting spirit and martial skill of the Numantians, preferred not to waste his soldiers in unnecessary combat. Instead, he encircled Numantia with a line of fortifications, blocking the town’s contact with the outside world. Hunger did his work for him. After more than a year, the food supply ran out. When the Numantians realised that all hope was lost, they burned down their town; according to Roman accounts, most of them killed themselves so as not to become Roman slaves.” ( :124)

“An empire is a political order with two important characteristics. First, to qualify for that designation you have to rule over a significant number of distinct peoples, each possessing a different cultural identity and a separate territory. How many peoples exactly? Two or three is not sufficient. Twenty or thirty is plenty. The imperial threshold passes somewhere in between. Second, empires are characterised by flexible borders and a potentially unlimited appetite. They can swallow and digest more and more nations and territories without altering their basic structure or identity. The British state of today has fairly clear borders that cannot be exceeded without altering the fundamental structure and identity of the state. A century ago almost any place on earth could have become part of the British Empire.” ( :125)

“Barrow Peninsula to the Straits of Magellan, communicate in one of four imperial languages: Spanish, Portuguese, French or English.” ( :127)

“We were always distinct from them, and owe them nothing. We don’t want to see any of them in our territory, and we don’t care an iota what happens in their territory. They are barely even human. In the language of the Dinka people of the Sudan, ‘Dinka’ simply means ‘people’. People who are not Dinka are not people. The Dinka’s bitter enemies are the Nuer. What does the word Nuer mean in Nuer language? It means ‘original people’. Thousands of miles from the Sudan deserts, in the frozen ice-lands of Alaska and north-eastern Siberia, live the Yupiks. What does Yupik mean in Yupik 3 language? It means ‘real people’.” ( :129)

“According to traditional Chinese political theory, Heaven (Tian) is the source of all legitimate authority on earth.” ( :129)

“In the late nineteenth century, many educated Indians were taught the same lesson by their British masters. One famous anecdote tells of an ambitious Indian who mastered the intricacies of the English language, took lessons in Western-style dance, and even became accustomed to eating with a knife and fork. Equipped with his new manners, he travelled to England, studied law at University College London, and became a qualified barrister. Yet this young man of law, bedecked in suit and tie, was thrown off a train in the British colony of South Africa for insisting on travelling first class instead of settling for third class, where ‘coloured’ men like him were supposed to ride. His name was Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.” ( :131)

“Gallic notables, who, he noted in a speech, through ‘customs, culture, and the ties of marriage have blended with ourselves’. Snobbish senators protested introducing these former enemies into the heart of the Roman political system. Claudius reminded them of an inconvenient truth. Most of their own senatorial families descended from Italian tribes who once fought against Rome, and were later granted Roman citizenship. Indeed, the emperor reminded them, his own family was of Sabine ancestry.” ( :131)

“Think, for example, about the love-hate relationship between the independent Indian republic of today and the British Raj. The British conquest and occupation of India cost the lives of millions of Indians, and was responsible for the continuous humiliation and exploitation of hundreds of millions more. Yet many Indians adopted, with the zest of converts, Western ideas such as self-determination and human rights, and were dismayed when the British refused to live up to their own declared values by granting native Indians either equal rights as British subjects or independence.” ( :134)

“Even if we were to completely disavow the legacy of a brutal empire in the hope of reconstructing and safeguarding the ‘authentic’ cultures that preceded it, in all probability what we will be defending is nothing but the legacy of an older and no less brutal empire.” ( :135)

“the mutilation of Indian culture by the British Raj inadvertently sanctify the legacies of the Mughal Empire and the conquering sultanate of Delhi. And whoever attempts to rescue ‘authentic Indian culture’ from the alien influences of these Muslim empires sanctifies the legacies of the Gupta Empire, the Kushan Empire and the Maurya Empire. If an extreme Hindu nationalist were to destroy all the buildings left by the British conquerors, such as Mumbai’s main train station, what about the structures left by India’s Muslim conquerors, such as the Taj Mahal?” ( :136)

“Today religion is often considered a source of discrimination, disagreement and disunion. Yet, in fact, religion has been the third great unifier of humankind, alongside money and empires. Since all social orders and hierarchies are imagined, they are all fragile, and the larger the society, the more fragile it is.” ( :138)

“Religion can thus be defined as a system of human norms and values that is founded on a belief in a superhuman order. This involves two distinct criteria:” ( :138)

“This, however, created a big problem. Farmers may have desired absolute control of their sheep, but they knew perfectly well that their control was limited. They could lock the sheep in pens, castrate rams and selectively breed ewes, yet they could not ensure that the ewes conceived and gave birth to healthy lambs, nor could they prevent the eruption of deadly epidemics. How then to safeguard the fecundity of the flocks? A leading theory about the origin of the gods argues that gods gained importance because they” ( :139)

“offered a solution to this problem. Gods such as the fertility goddess, the sky god and the god of medicine took centre stage when plants and animals lost their ability to speak, and the gods’ main role was to mediate between humans and the mute plants and animals.” ( :140)

“Animists thought that humans were just one of many creatures inhabiting the world. Polytheists, on the other hand, increasingly saw the world as a reflection of the relationship between gods and humans.” ( :140)

“eir colleagues were subject to an omnipotent and all-encompassing power – Fate (Moira, Ananke).” ( :141)

“which doomed them to perish in the cataclysm of Ragnarök (the Twilight of the Gods).” ( :141)

“anti-Christian violence of their own. Still, if we combine all the victims of all these persecutions, it turns out that in these three centuries, the polytheistic Romans killed no more 1 than a few thousand Christians. In contrast, over the course of the next 1,500 years, Christians slaughtered Christians by the millions to defend slightly different interpretations of the religion of love and compassion.” ( :142)

“The religious wars between Catholics and Protestants that swept Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries are particularly notorious. All those involved accepted Christ’s divinity and His gospel of compassion and love.” ( :142)

“and opening the gates of heaven to all those who professed faith in Him. Catholics maintained that faith, while essential, was not enough. To enter heaven, believers had to participate in church rituals and do good deeds. Protestants refused to accept this, arguing that this quid pro quo belittles God’s greatness and love. Whoever thinks that entry to heaven depends upon his or her own good deeds magnifies his own importance, and implies that Christ’s suffering on the cross and God’s love for humankind are not enough.” ( :142)

“On 23 August 1572, French Catholics who stressed the importance of good deeds attacked communities of French Protestants who highlighted God’s love for humankind. In this attack, the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, between 5,000 and 10,000 Protestants were slaughtered in less than twenty-four hours. When the pope in Rome heard the news from France, he was so overcome by joy that he organised festive prayers to celebrate the occasion and commissioned Giorgio Vasari to decorate one of the Vatican’s 2 rooms with a fresco of the massacre (the room is currently off-limits to visitors). More Christians were killed by fellow Christians in those twenty-four hours than by the polytheistic Roman Empire throughout its entire existence.” ( :142)

“The newcomers, such as Jainism and Buddhism in India, Daoism and Confucianism in China, and Stoicism, Cynicism and Epicureanism in the Mediterranean basin, were characterised by their disregard of gods.” ( :147)

“A prime example is Buddhism, the most important of the ancient natural law religions, which remains one of the major faiths. The central figure of Buddhism is not a god but a human being, Siddhartha Gautama.” ( :147)

“anxiety, frustration and discontent, all of which seem to be an inseparable part of the human condition.” ( :147)

“on. People pursue wealth and power, acquire knowledge and possessions, beget sons and daughters, and build houses and palaces. Yet no matter what they achieve, they are never content. Those who live in poverty dream of riches. Those who have a million want two million. Those who have two million want 10 million. Even the rich and famous are rarely satisfied. They too are haunted by ceaseless cares and worries, until sickness, old age and death put a bitter end to them. Everything that one has accumulated vanishes like smoke. Life is a pointless rat race. But how to escape it?” ( :147)

“Rather, suffering is caused by the behaviour patterns of one’s own mind.” ( :147)

“f, when the mind experiences something pleasant or unpleasant, it simply understands things as they are, then there is no suffering. If you experience sadness without craving that the sadness go away, you continue to feel sadness but you do not suffer from it. There can actually be richness in the sadness.” ( :148)

“‘What am I experiencing now?’ rather than on ‘What would I rather be experiencing?’ It is difficult to achieve this state of mind, but not impossible.” ( :148)

“They experience reality with the utmost clarity, free of fantasies and delusions. While they will most likely still encounter unpleasantness and pain, such experiences cause them no misery. A person who does not crave cannot suffer.” ( :148)

“The first principle of monotheist religions is ‘God exists. What does He want from me?’ The first principle of Buddhism is ‘Suffering exists. How do I escape it?'” ( :149)

“efforts, and the bloodiest wars of religion in history. The modern age has witnessed the rise of a number of new natural-law religions, such as liberalism, Communism, capitalism, nationalism and Nazism. These creeds do not like to be called religions, and refer to themselves as ideologies. But this is just a semantic exercise. If a religion is a system of human norms and values that is founded on belief in a superhuman order, then Soviet Communism was no less a religion than Islam.” ( :149)

“the voice of humanity. The chief commandments of liberal humanism are meant to protect the liberty of this inner voice against intrusion or harm. These commandments are collectively known as ‘human rights’. This, for example, is why liberals object to torture and” ( :151)

“ther important sect is socialist humanism. Socialists believe that ‘humanity’ is collective rather than individualistic. They hold as sacred not the inner voice of each individual, but the species Homo sapiens as a whole.” ( :151)

“The main ambition of the Nazis was to protect humankind from degeneration and encourage its progressive evolution. This is why the Nazis said that the Aryan race, the most advanced form of humanity, had to be protected and fostered, while degenerate kinds of Homo sapiens like Jews, Roma, homosexuals and the mentally ill had to be quarantined and even exterminated. The Nazis explained that Homo sapiens itself appeared when one ‘superior’ population of ancient humans evolved, whereas ‘inferior’ populations such as the Neanderthals became extinct.” ( :152)

“Biologists have since debunked Nazi racial theory. In particular, genetic research conducted after 1945 has demonstrated that the differences between the various human lineages are far smaller than the Nazis postulated. But these conclusions are relatively new. Given the state of scientific knowledge in 1933, Nazi beliefs were hardly outside the pale. The existence of different human races, the superiority of the white race, and the need to protect and cultivate this superior race were widely held beliefs among most Western elites.” ( :152)

“They can describe how Christianity took over the Roman Empire, but they cannot explain why this particular possibility was realised. What is the difference between describing ‘how’ and explaining ‘why’? To describe ‘how’ means to reconstruct the series of specific events that led from one point to another. To explain ‘why’ means to find causal connections that account for the occurrence of this particular series of events to the” ( :156)

“exclusion of all others.” ( :157)

“To acknowledge that history is not deterministic is to acknowledge that it is just a coincidence that most people today believe in nationalism, capitalism and human rights.” ( :157)

“Why not? Imagine that it’s 2010 and some genius political scientists in cahoots with a computer wizard have developed an infallible algorithm that, incorporated into an attractive interface, can be marketed as a revolution predictor. They offer their services to President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and, in return for a generous down payment, tell Mubarak that according to their forecasts a revolution would certainly break out in Egypt during the course of the following year. How would Mubarak react? Most likely, he would immediately lower taxes, distribute billions of dollars in handouts to the citizenry – and also beef up his secret police force, just in case. The pre-emptive measures work. The year comes and goes and, surprise, there is no revolution. Mubarak demands his money back. ‘Your algorithm is worthless!’ he shouts at the scientists. ‘In the end I could have built another palace instead of giving all that money away!’ ‘But the reason the revolution didn’t happen is because we predicted it,’ the scientists say in their defence. ‘Prophets who predict things that don’t happen?’ Mubarak remarks as he motions his guards to grab them. ‘I could have picked up a dozen of those for next to nothing in the Cairo marketplace.'” ( :158)

“For example, studying how Europeans came to dominate Africans enables us to realise that there is nothing natural or inevitable about the racial hierarchy, and that the world might well be arranged differently.” ( :158)

“A cultural idea – such as belief in Christian heaven above the clouds or Communist paradise here on earth – can compel a human to dedicate his or her life to spreading that idea, even at the price of death. The human dies, but the idea spreads. According to this approach, cultures are not conspiracies concocted by some people in order to take advantage of others (as Marxists tend to think). Rather, cultures are mental parasites that emerge accidentally, and thereafter take advantage of all people infected by them.” ( :159)

“This approach is sometimes called memetics. It assumes that, just as organic evolution is based on the replication of organic information units called ‘genes’, so cultural evolution is based on the 1 replication of cultural information units called ‘memes’. Successful cultures are those that excel in reproducing their memes, irrespective of the costs and benefits to their human hosts.” ( :159)

“memetics’ twin sister – postmodernism. Postmodernist thinkers speak about discourses rather than memes as the building blocks of culture.” ( :159)

“For example, postmodernist thinkers describe nationalism as a deadly plague that spread throughout the world in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, causing wars, oppression, hate and genocide. The moment people in one country were infected with it, those in neighbouring countries were also likely to catch the virus. The nationalist virus presented itself as being beneficial for humans, yet it has been beneficial mainly to itself.” ( :159)

“harm all players nevertheless manage to take root and spread. Arms races are a famous example. Many arms races bankrupt all those who take part in them, without really changing the military balance of power.” ( :159)

“When Pakistan enlarges its navy, India counters. At the end of the process, the balance of power may remain much as it was, but meanwhile billions of dollars that could have been invested in education or health are spent on weapons.” ( :160)

“No matter what you call it – game theory, postmodernism or memetics – the dynamics of history are not directed towards enhancing human well-being. There is no basis for thinking that the most successful cultures in history are necessarily the best ones for Homo sapiens. Like evolution, history disregards the happiness of individual organisms. And individual humans, for their part, are usually far too ignorant and weak to influence the course of history to their own advantage.” ( :160)

 

Part Four
The Scientific Revolution

 

“3 trillion. In 1500, humanity consumed about 13 trillion calories of energy per day. Today, we consume 4 1,500 trillion calories a day. (Take a second look at those figures – human population has increased fourteen-fold, production 240-fold, and energy consumption 115-fold.) Suppose a single modern battleship got transported back to Columbus’ time. In a matter of seconds it could make driftwood out of the Niña, Pinta and Santa Maria and then sink the navies of every great world power of the time without sustaining a scratch. Five modern freighters could have 5 taken onboard all the cargo borne by the whole world’s merchant fleets. A modern computer could easily store every word and number in all the codex books and scrolls in every single medieval library with room to spare. Any large bank today holds more money than all the world’s premodern kingdoms put together.” ( :162)

“Magellan included. In 1873, Jules Verne could imagine that Phileas Fogg, a wealthy British adventurer, might just be able to make it around the world in eighty days. Today anyone with a middle-class income can safely and easily circumnavigate the globe in just forty-eight hours.” ( :162)

“Muhammad began his religious career by condemning his fellow Arabs for living in ignorance of the divine truth. Yet Muhammad himself very quickly began to argue that he knew the full truth, and his followers began calling him ‘The Seal of the Prophets’. Henceforth, there was no need of revelations beyond those given to Muhammad.” ( :165)

“Modern-day science is a unique tradition of knowledge, inasmuch as it openly admits collective ignorance regarding the most important questions. Darwin never argued that he was ‘The Seal of the Biologists’, and that he had solved the riddle of life once and for all. After centuries of extensive scientific research, biologists admit that they still don’t have any good explanation for how brains produce consciousness. Physicists admit that they don’t know what caused the Big Bang, or how to reconcile quantum mechanics with the theory of general relativity.” ( :165)

“Leave science out of it and live in accordance with a non-scientific absolute truth. This has been the strategy of liberal humanism, which is built on a dogmatic belief in the unique worth and rights of human beings – a doctrine which has embarrassingly little in common with the scientific study of Homo sapiens.” ( :166)

“Henceforth, anyone who wished to understand and predict the movement of a cannonball or a planet simply had to make measurements of the object’s mass, direction and acceleration, and the forces acting on it. By inserting these numbers into Newton’s equations, the future position of the object could be predicted. It worked like magic. Only around the end of the nineteenth century did scientists come across a few observations that did not fit well with Newton’s laws, and these led to the next revolutions in physics – the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics.” ( :167)

“The real test of ‘knowledge’ is not whether it is true, but whether it empowers us.” ( :170)

“The real test is utility. A theory that enables us to do new things constitutes knowledge.” ( :170)

“If the legions of Scipio Aemilianus – the general who levelled Carthage and defeated the Numantians in the second century – had suddenly popped up 500 years later in the BC age of Constantine the Great, Scipio would have had a fair chance of beating Constantine. Now imagine what would happen to a general from a few centuries back – say Napoleon – if he led his troops against a modern armoured brigade. Napoleon was a brilliant tactician, and his men were crack professionals, but their skills would be useless in the face of modern weaponry.” ( :172)

“The story of the Tower of Babel, the story of Icarus, the story of the Golem and countless other myths taught people that any attempt to go beyond human limitations would inevitably lead to disappointment and disaster.” ( :173)

“universe, killing lions, battling scorpion-men and finding his way into the underworld. There he shattered the mysterious “stone things” of Urshanabi, the ferryman of the river of the dead, and found Utnapishtim, the last survivor of the primordial flood. Yet Gilgamesh failed in his quest. He returned home empty-handed, as mortal as ever, but with one new piece of wisdom. When the gods created man, Gilgamesh had learned, they set death as man’s inevitable destiny, and man must learn to live with it.” ( :175)

“A few serious scholars suggest that by 2050, some humans will become a-mortal (not immortal, because they could still die of some accident, but a-mortal, meaning that in the absence of fatal trauma their lives could be extended indefinitely).” ( :177)

“Christopher Columbus and Charles Darwin. If these particular geniuses had never been born, their insights would probably have occurred to others. But if the proper funding were unavailable, no intellectual brilliance could have compensated for that. If Darwin had never been born, for example, we’d today attribute the theory of evolution to Alfred Russel Wallace, who came up with the idea of evolution via natural selection independently of Darwin and just a few years later.” ( :178)

“Only at the end of the fifteenth century did Europe become a hothouse of important military,” ( :182)

“political, economic and cultural developments. Between 1500 and 1750, western Europe gained momentum and became master of the ‘Outer World’, meaning the two American continents and the oceans. Yet even then Europe was no match for the great powers of Asia. Europeans managed to conquer America and gain supremacy at sea mainly because the Asiatic powers showed little interest in them. The early modern era was a golden age for the Ottoman Empire in the Mediterranean, the Safavid Empire in Persia, the Mughal Empire in India, and the Chinese Ming and Qing dynasties. They expanded their territories significantly and enjoyed unprecedented demographic and economic growth. In 1775 Asia accounted for 80 per cent of the world economy. The combined economies of India and China alone represented two-thirds of global production. In comparison, Europe was an 3 economic dwarf.” ( :183)

“Why did the military-industrial-scientific complex blossom in Europe rather than India? When Britain leaped forward, why were France, Germany and the United States quick to follow, whereas China lagged behind? When the gap between industrial and non-industrial nations became an obvious” ( :183)

“economic and political factor, why did Russia, Italy and Austria succeed in closing it, whereas Persia, Egypt and the Ottoman Empire failed? After all, the technology of the first industrial wave was relatively simple. Was it so hard for Chinese or Ottomans to engineer steam engines, manufacture machine guns and lay down railroads?” ( :184)

“They lacked the values, myths, judicial apparatus and sociopolitical structures that took centuries to form and mature in the West and which could not be copied and internalised rapidly.” ( :184)

“What potential did Europe develop in the early modern period that enabled it to dominate the late modern world? There are two complementary answers to this question: modern science and capitalism.” ( :184)

“What forged the historical bond between modern science and European imperialism? Technology was an important factor in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but in the early modern era it was of limited importance. The key factor was that the plant-seeking botanist and the colony-seeking naval officer shared a similar mindset. Both scientist and conqueror began by admitting ignorance – they both said, ‘I don’t know what’s out there.’ They both felt compelled to go out and make new discoveries. And they both hoped the new knowledge thus acquired would make them masters of the world.” ( :185)

“As time went by, the conquest of knowledge and the conquest of territory became ever more tightly intertwined. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, almost every important military expedition that left Europe for distant lands had on board scientists who set out not to fight but to” ( :185)

“make scientific discoveries. When Napoleon invaded Egypt in 1798, he took 165 scholars with him. Among other things, they founded an entirely new discipline, Egyptology, and made important contributions to the study of religion, linguistics and botany.” ( :186)

“Most great empires extended their control only over their immediate neighbourhood – they reached far-flung lands simply because their neighbourhood kept expanding. Thus the Romans conquered Etruria in order to defend Rome (c.350-300 BC). They then conquered the Po Valley in order to defend Etruria (c.200 BC). They subsequently conquered Provence to defend the Po Valley (c.120 BC), Gaul to defend Provence (c.50 BC), and Britain in order to defend Gaul (c. 50). It took them 400 years to get from Rome to London. In 350 BC, no Roman would have AD conceived of sailing directly to Britain and conquering it.” ( :189)

“Many scholars argue that the voyages of Admiral Zheng He of the Chinese Ming dynasty heralded and eclipsed the European voyages of discovery. Between 1405 and 1433, Zheng led seven huge armadas from China to the far reaches of the Indian Ocean. The largest of these comprised almost 300 7 ships and carried close to 30,000 people. They visited Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea and East Africa. Chinese ships anchored in Jedda, the main harbour of the Hejaz, and in Malindi, on the Kenyan coast. Columbus’ fleet of 1492 – which consisted of three small ships manned 8 by 120 sailors – was like a trio of mosquitoes compared to Zheng He’s drove of dragons.” ( :189)

“The Zheng He expeditions prove that Europe did not enjoy an outstanding technological edge. What made Europeans exceptional was their unparalleled and insatiable ambition to explore and conquer. Although they might have had the ability, the Romans never attempted to conquer India or Scandinavia, the Persians never attempted to conquer Madagascar or Spain, and the Chinese never” ( :189)

“attempted to conquer Indonesia or Africa.” ( :190)

“For 300 years, Europeans enjoyed undisputed mastery in America and Oceania, in the Atlantic and the Pacific. The only significant struggles in those regions were between different European powers. The wealth and resources accumulated by the Europeans eventually enabled them to invade Asia too, defeat its empires, and divide it among themselves. When the Ottomans, Persians, Indians and Chinese woke up and began paying attention, it was too late.” ( :193)

“He was thus the first to identify what later came to be called the Indo-European family of languages.” ( :195)

“in Rudyard Kipling’s words, ‘the White Man’s burden’: Take up the White Man’s burden – Send forth the best ye breed – Go bind your sons to exile To serve your captives’ need; To wait in heavy harness, On fluttered folk and wild – Your new-caught, sullen peoples, Half-devil and half-child.” ( :196)

“consequently have the right (if not perhaps the duty) to rule over them. After William Jones argued” ( :196)

“that all Indo-European languages descend from a single ancient language many scholars were eager to discover who the speakers of that language had been. They noticed that the earliest Sanskrit speakers, who had invaded India from Central Asia more than 3,000 years ago, had called themselves Arya. The speakers of the earliest Persian language called themselves Airiia. European scholars consequently surmised that the people who spoke the primordial language that gave birth to both Sanskrit and Persian (as well as to Greek, Latin, Gothic and Celtic) must have called themselves Aryans. Could it be a coincidence that those who founded the magnificent Indian, Persian, Greek and Roman civilisations were all Aryans?” ( :197)

“McDoughnut now hires Stone, the contractor, to build and furnish her bakery. His price is $1,000,000. When she pays him, with a cheque drawn on her account, Stone deposits it in his account in the Greedy bank. So how much money does Stone have in his bank account? Right, $2 million. How much money, cash, is actually located in the bank’s safe? Yes, $1 million.” ( :199)

“How much money does Stone have in his account now? He’s got $3 million. But how much money is actually sitting in the bank? Still just $1 million. In fact, the same $1 million that’s been in the bank all along. Current US banking law permits the bank to repeat this exercise seven more times. The contractor would eventually have $10 million in his account, even though the bank still has but $1 million in its vaults. Banks are allowed to loan $10 for every dollar they actually possess, which means that 90 per 2 cent of all the money in our bank accounts is not covered by actual coins and notes. If all of the account holders at Barclays Bank suddenly demand their money, Barclays will promptly collapse (unless the government steps in to save it). The same is true of Lloyds, Deutsche Bank, Citibank, and all other banks in the world.” ( :200)

“Then came the Scientific Revolution and the idea of progress. The idea of progress is built on the notion that if we admit our ignorance and invest resources in research, things can improve. This idea was soon translated into economic terms.” ( :202)

“This may not strike you as very original, because we all live in a capitalist world that takes Smith’s argument for granted. We hear variations on this theme every day in the news. Yet Smith’s claim that the selfish human urge to increase private profits is the basis for collective wealth is one of the most revolutionary ideas in human history – revolutionary not just from an economic perspective, but even more so from a moral and political perspective. What Smith says is, in fact, that greed is good, and that by becoming richer I benefit everybody, not just myself. Egoism is altruism.” ( :203)

“In 1568 the Dutch, who were mainly Protestant, revolted against their Catholic Spanish overlord. At first the rebels seemed to play the role of Don Quixote, courageously tilting at invincible windmills. Yet within eighty years the Dutch had not only secured their independence from Spain, but had managed to replace the Spaniards and their Portuguese allies as masters of the ocean highways, build a global Dutch empire, and become the richest state in Europe.” ( :207)

“While VOC operated in the Indian Ocean, the Dutch West Indies Company, or WIC, plied the Atlantic. In order to control trade on the important Hudson River, WIC built a settlement called New Amsterdam on an island at the river’s mouth. The colony was threatened by Indians and repeatedly attacked by the British, who eventually captured it in 1664. The British changed its name to New York. The remains of the wall built by WIC to defend its colony against Indians and British are today paved over by the world’s most famous street – Wall Street.” ( :209)

“In 1840 Britain duly declared war on China in the name of ‘free trade’. It was a walkover. The overconfident Chinese were no match for Britain’s new wonder weapons – steamboats, heavy artillery, rockets and rapid-fire rifles. Under the subsequent peace treaty, China agreed not to constrain the activities of British drug merchants and to compensate them for damages inflicted by the Chinese police. Furthermore, the British demanded and received control of Hong Kong, which they proceeded to use as a secure base for drug trafficking (Hong Kong remained in British hands until 1997). In the late nineteenth century, about 40 million Chinese, a tenth of the country’s population, 3 were opium addicts.” ( :212)

“Credit ratings indicate the probability that a country will pay its debts. In addition to purely economic data, they take into account political, social and even cultural factors. An oil-rich country cursed with a despotic government, endemic warfare and a corrupt judicial system will usually receive a low credit rating. As a result, it is likely to remain relatively poor since it will not be able to raise the necessary capital to make the most of its oil bounty.” ( :213)

“Even worse, greedy bosses might curtail the workers’ freedom of movement through debt peonage or slavery. At the end of the Middle Ages, slavery was almost unknown in Christian Europe. During the early modern period, the rise of European capitalism went hand in hand with the rise of the Atlantic slave trade. Unrestrained market forces, rather than tyrannical kings or racist ideologues, were responsible for this calamity.” ( :214)

“The slave trade was not controlled by any state or government. It was a purely economic enterprise, organised and financed by the free market according to the laws of supply and demand. Private slave-trading companies sold shares on the Amsterdam, London and Paris stock exchanges. Middle-class Europeans looking for a good investment bought these shares. Relying on this money, the companies bought ships, hired sailors and soldiers, purchased slaves in Africa, and transported them to America. There they sold the slaves to the plantation owners, using the proceeds to purchase plantation products such as sugar, cocoa, coffee, tobacco, cotton and rum. They returned to Europe, sold the sugar and cotton for a good price, and then sailed to Africa to begin another round. The shareholders were very pleased with this arrangement. Throughout the eighteenth century the yield on slave-trade investments was about 6 per cent a year – they were extremely profitable, as any modern consultant would be quick to admit.” ( :215)

“Within a short time the humanitarian organisation became a business enterprise whose real aim was growth and profit. The schools and hospitals were forgotten, and the Congo basin was instead filled with mines and plantations, run by mostly Belgian officials who ruthlessly exploited the local population. The rubber industry was particularly notorious. Rubber was fast becoming an industrial staple, and rubber export was the Congo’s most important source of income. The African villagers who collected the rubber were required to provide higher and higher quotas. Those who failed to deliver their quota were punished brutally for their ‘laziness’. Their arms were chopped off and occasionally entire villages were massacred. According to the most moderate estimates, between 1885 and 1908 the pursuit of growth and profits cost the lives of 6 million individuals (at least 20 per 4 cent of the Congo’s population). Some estimates reach up to 10 million deaths.” ( :216)

“Six hundred years passed between the moment Chinese alchemists discovered gunpowder and the moment Turkish cannon pulverised the walls of Constantinople. Only forty years passed between the moment Einstein determined that any kind of mass could be converted into energy – that’s what E = mc² means – and the moment atom bombs obliterated Hiroshima and Nagasaki and nuclear power stations mushroomed all over the globe.” ( :220)

“Only a tiny proportion of the sun’s energy reaches us, yet it amounts to 3,766,800 exajoules of energy each year (a joule is a unit of energy in the metric system, about the amount you expend to lift a 2 small apple one yard straight up; an exajoule is a billion billion joules – that’s a lot of apples). All the world’s plants capture only about 3,000 of those solar exajoules through the process of 3 photosynthesis. All human activities and industries put together consume about 500 exajoules annually, equivalent to the amount of energy earth receives from the sun in just ninety minutes.” ( :221)

“During World War One, Germany was placed under blockade and suffered severe shortages of raw materials, in particular saltpetre, an essential ingredient in gunpowder and other explosives. The most important saltpetre deposits were in Chile and India; there were none at all in Germany. True, saltpetre could be replaced by ammonia, but that was expensive to produce as well. Luckily for the Germans, one of their fellow citizens, a Jewish chemist named Fritz Haber, had discovered in 1908 a process for producing ammonia literally out of thin air. When war broke out, the Germans used Haber’s discovery to commence industrial production of explosives using air as a raw material. Some scholars believe that if it hadn’t been for Haber’s discovery, Germany would have been forced 1918.6 to surrender long before November The discovery won Haber (who during the war also pioneered the use of poison gas in battle) a Nobel Prize in 1918. In chemistry, not in peace.” ( :222)

“From an objective perspective, this calf no longer needs either maternal bonding or playmates in order to survive and reproduce. But from a subjective perspective, the calf still feels a very strong urge to bond with her mother and to play with other calves. If these urges are not fulfilled, the calf suffers greatly. This is the basic lesson of evolutionary psychology: a need shaped in the wild continues to be felt subjectively even if it is no longer really necessary for survival and reproduction.” ( :224)

“Today in the United States, only 2 per cent of the population makes a living from agriculture, yet this 2 per cent produces enough not only to feed the entire US population, but also to export 9 surpluses to the rest of the world.” ( :225)

“Finally, in 1880, the British government took the unprecedented step of legislating that all timetables in Britain must follow Greenwich. For the first time in history, a country adopted a national time and obliged its population to live according to an artificial clock rather than local ones or sunrise-to-sunset cycles.” ( :230)

“life of most humans ran its course within three ancient frames: the nuclear family, the extended family and the local intimate community.*” ( :232)

“The community offered help on the basis of local traditions and an economy of favours, which often differed greatly from the supply and demand laws of the free market. In an old-fashioned medieval community, when my neighbour was in need, I helped build his hut and guard his sheep, without expecting any payment in return. When I was in need, my neighbour returned the favour. At the same time, the local potentate might have drafted all of us villagers to construct his castle without paying us a penny.” ( :232)

“In the Chinese Ming Empire (1368-1644), the population was organised into the baojia system. Ten families were grouped to form a jia, and ten jia constituted a bao. When a member of a bao commited a crime, other bao members could be punished for it, in particular the bao elders. Taxes too were levied on the bao, and it was the responsibility of the bao elders rather than of the state officials to assess the situation of each family and determine the amount of tax it should pay. From the empire’s perspective, this system had a huge advantage. Instead of maintaining thousands of revenue officials and tax collectors, who would have to monitor the earnings and expenses of every family, these tasks were left to the community elders. The elders knew how much each villager was worth and they could usually enforce tax payments without involving the imperial army.” ( :233)

“Parents and community elders were reluctant to let the younger generation be indoctrinated by nationalist education systems, conscripted into armies or turned into a rootless urban proletariat.” ( :233)

“But the liberation of the individual comes at a cost. Many of us now bewail the loss of strong families and communities and feel alienated and threatened by the power the impersonal state and market wield over our lives. States and markets composed of alienated individuals can intervene in the lives of their members much more easily than states and markets composed of strong families and communities. When neighbours in a high-rise apartment building cannot even agree on how much to pay their janitor, how can we expect them to resist the state?” ( :234)

“Kingdoms, empires and churches functioned for millennia as imagined communities.” ( :235)

“The two most important examples for the rise of such imagined communities are the nation and the consumer tribe. The nation is the imagined community of the state. The consumer tribe is the imagined community of the market. Both are imagined communities because it is impossible for all customers in a market or for all members of a nation really to know one another the way villagers knew one another in the past. No German can intimately know the other 80 million members of the German nation, or the other 500 million customers inhabiting the European Common Market (which evolved first into the European Community and finally became the European Union).” ( :236)

“e same community as ourselves, that we all have a common past, common interests and a common future. This isn’t a lie. It’s imagination.” ( :236)

“The Middle East provides ample examples. The Syrian, Lebanese, Jordanian and Iraqi nations are the product of haphazard borders drawn in the sand by French and British diplomats who ignored local history, geography and economy.” ( :236)

“If I bake a cake from flour, oil and sugar, all of which have been sitting in my pantry for the past two months, it does not mean that the cake itself is two months old.” ( :236)

“It now exists in a state of permanent flux. When we speak of modern revolutions we tend to think of 1789 (the French Revolution), 1848 (the liberal revolutions) or 1917 (the Russian Revolution). But the fact is that, these days, every year is revolutionary. Today, even a thirty-year-old can honestly tell disbelieving teenagers, ‘When I was young, the world was completely different.’ The Internet, for example, came into wide usage only in the early 1990s, hardly twenty years ago. Today we cannot imagine the world without it.” ( :237)

“The figures for 2002 are even more surprising. Out of 57 million dead, only 172,000 people died in war and 569,000 died of violent crime (a total of 741,000 victims of human violence). In contrast, 5 873,000 people committed suicide. It turns out that in the year following the 9/11 attacks, despite all the talk of terrorism and war, the average person was more likely to kill himself than to be killed by a terrorist, a soldier or a drug dealer.” ( :238)

“Today humankind has broken the law of the jungle. There is at last real peace, and not just absence of war. For most polities, there is no plausible scenario leading to full-scale conflict within one year. What could lead to war between” ( :241)

“There is a positive feedback loop between all these four factors. The threat of nuclear holocaust fosters pacifism; when pacifism spreads, war recedes and trade flourishes; and trade increases both the profits of peace and the costs of war. Over time, this feedback loop creates another obstacle to war, which may ultimately prove the most important of all. The tightening web of international connections erodes the independence of most countries, lessening the chance that any one of them might single-handedly let slip the dogs of war.” ( :243)

“So, is the modern era one of mindless slaughter, war and oppression, typified by the trenches of World War One, the nuclear mushroom cloud over Hiroshima and the gory manias of Hitler and Stalin? Or is it an era of peace, epitomised by the trenches never dug in South America, the mushroom clouds that never appeared over Moscow and New York, and the serene visages of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King?” ( :243)

“Nationalists believe that political self-determination is essential for our happiness. Communists postulate that everyone would be blissful under the dictatorship of the proletariat. Capitalists maintain that only the free market can ensure the greatest happiness of the greatest number, by creating economic growth and material abundance and by teaching people to be self-reliant and enterprising.” ( :244)

“In recent decades, psychologists and biologists have taken up the challenge of studying scientifically what really makes people happy. Is it money, family, genetics or perhaps virtue? The first step is to define what is to be measured. The generally accepted definition of happiness is ‘subjective well-being’. Happiness, according to this view, is something I feel inside myself, a sense of either immediate pleasure or long-term contentment with the way my life is going. If it’s something felt inside, how can it be measured from outside? Presumably, we can do so by asking people to tell us how they feel. So psychologists or biologists who want to assess how happy people feel give them questionnaires to fill out and tally the results.” ( :246)

“One interesting conclusion is that money does indeed bring happiness. But only up to a point, and beyond that point it has little significance.” ( :247)

“So maybe Third World discontent is fomented not merely by poverty, disease, corruption and political oppression but also by mere exposure to First World standards.” ( :249)

“Biologists hold that our mental and emotional world is governed by biochemical mechanisms shaped by millions of years of evolution. Like all other mental states, our subjective well-being is not determined by external parameters such as salary, social relations or political rights. Rather, it is determined by a complex system of nerves, neurons, synapses and various biochemical substances such as serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin.” ( :250)

“In a famous study, Daniel Kahneman, winner of the Nobel Prize in economics, asked people to recount a typical work day, going through it episode by episode and evaluating how much they enjoyed or disliked each moment. He discovered what seems to be a paradox in most people’s view of their lives. Take the work involved in raising a child. Kahneman found that when counting moments of joy and moments of drudgery, bringing up a child turns out to be a rather unpleasant affair. It consists largely of changing nappies, washing dishes and dealing with temper tantrums, which nobody likes to do. Yet most parents declare that their children are their chief source of happiness. Does it mean that people don’t really know what’s good for them?” ( :253)

“That’s one option. Another is that the findings demonstrate that happiness is not the surplus of pleasant over unpleasant moments. Rather, happiness consists in seeing one’s life in its entirety as meaningful and worthwhile.” ( :253)

“Hence any meaning that people ascribe to their lives is just a delusion. The other-worldly meanings medieval people found in their lives were no more deluded than the modern humanist, nationalist and capitalist meanings modern people find.” ( :253)

“Liberal politics is based on the idea that the voters know best, and there is no need for Big Brother to tell us what is good for us. Liberal economics is based on the idea that the customer is always right. Liberal art declares that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Students in liberal schools and universities are taught to think for themselves. Commercials urge us to ‘Just do it!’ Action films, stage dramas, soap operas, novels and catchy pop songs indoctrinate us constantly: ‘Be true to yourself’, ‘Listen to yourself’, ‘Follow your heart’. Jean-Jacques Rousseau stated this view most classically: ‘What I feel to be good – is good. What I feel to be bad – is bad.'” ( :254)

“The Buddhist position is particularly interesting. Buddhism has assigned the question of happiness more importance than perhaps any other human creed. For 2,500 years, Buddhists have systematically studied the essence and causes of happiness, which is why there is a growing interest among the scientific community both in their philosophy and their meditation practices.” ( :255)

“In meditation, you are supposed to closely observe your mind and body, witness the ceaseless arising and passing of all your feelings, and realise how pointless it is to pursue them. When the pursuit stops, the mind becomes very relaxed, clear and satisfied. All kinds of feelings go on arising and passing – joy, anger, boredom, lust – but once you stop craving particular feelings, you can just accept them for what they are. You live in the present moment instead of fantasising about what might have been.” ( :255)

“Buddha agreed with modern biology and New Age movements that happiness is independent of external conditions. Yet his more important and far more profound insight was that true happiness is also independent of our inner feelings. Indeed, the more significance we give our feelings, the more we crave them, and the more we suffer. Buddha’s recommendation was to stop not only the pursuit of external achievements, but also the pursuit of inner feelings.” ( :256)

“For close to 4 billion years, every single organism on the planet evolved subject to natural selection. Not even one was designed by an intelligent creator. The giraffe, for example, got its long neck thanks to competition between archaic giraffes rather than to the whims of a super-intelligent being.” ( :257)

“Retina Implant, a government-sponsored German company, is developing a retinal prosthesis that may allow blind people to gain partial vision. It involves implanting a small microchip inside the patient’s eye. Photocells absorb light falling on the eye and transform it into electrical energy, which stimulates the intact nerve cells in the retina. The nervous impulses from these cells stimulate the brain, where they are translated into sight. At present the technology allows patients to orientate themselves in space, identify letters, and even recognise faces.” ( :262)

“Mapping the first human genome required fifteen years and $3 billion. Today you can map a 20 person’s DNA within a few weeks and at the cost of a few hundred dollars. The era of personalised medicine – medicine that matches treatment to DNA – has begun. The family doctor could soon tell you with greater certainty that you face high risks of liver cancer, whereas you needn’t worry too much about heart attacks. She could determine that a popular medication that helps 92 per cent of people is useless to you, and you should instead take another pill, fatal to many people but just right for you. The road to near-perfect medicine stands before us.” ( :265)

“What is a spaceship compared to an eternally young cyborg who does not breed and has no sexuality, who can share thoughts directly with other beings, whose abilities to focus and remember are a thousand times greater than our own, and who is never angry or sad, but has emotions and desires that we cannot begin to imagine?” ( :265)

“When the nuclear age erupted in the 1940s, many forecasts were made about the future nuclear world of the year 2000. When sputnik and Apollo II fired the imagination of the world, everyone began predicting that by the end of the century, people would be living in space colonies on Mars and Pluto. Few of these forecasts came true. On the other hand, nobody foresaw the Internet.” ( :266)

“And yet the great debates of history are important because at least the first generation of these gods would be shaped by the cultural ideas of their human designers. Would they be created in the image of capitalism, of Islam, or of feminism? The answer to this question might send them careening in entirely different directions.” ( :267)


Check out more book notes at How I Read 90 Books In The Past 2 Years By Reading 20 Pages A Day

Interested in more book notes like these? Subscribe to my weekly newsletter.

Share life-long habits over:
error

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *