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Wednesday, June 12, 2019

A Fictitious History of Mankind

In his book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, Yuval Noah Harari uses his fertile imagination to conjure a dark picture of mankind’s past and future. I managed to wade through the first two parts of the four-part book, and now I have decided to take a break from Harari-ism. His book does not contain much actual history— it’s full of wild speculations, brazen lies, and dubious analysis. I don’t see any benefit in reading it to the end. Here's a review of the first two parts of the book:

Harari speculates that the homo sapiens were responsible for destruction of almost every creature that has disappeared in the last 100000 years. He sees the Homo Sapiens as a terror of the ecosystem, and suggests that they were responsible for the disappearance of Homo erectus, Neanderthals, and other creatures of the Homo genus. That our ancestors were victorious over their genetic cousins was, I think, good for us, but Harari is pessimistic about our future. He notes that mankind will vanish in another thousand years because of what the modern man is doing.

Harari hates modernity. In several passages, he suggests that a hunter-gatherer way of life is in some ways better than the life of the modern man. Here’s an excerpt:

“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. They hunt only one day out of three, and gathering takes up just three to six hours daily. In normal times, this is enough to feed the band. It may well be that ancient hunter-gatherers living in zones more fertile than the Kalahari spent even less time obtaining food and raw materials. On top of that, foragers enjoyed a lighter load of household chores. They had no dishes to wash, no carpets to vacuum, no floors to polish, no nappies to change and no bills to pay.” (Page 56)

Harari’s claims are interesting but dubious. If the life of prehistoric hunter-gatherers was as good as he claims, then why was their life expectancy so low? Most of them used to die before they were 30. He asserts that “the forager economy provided most people with more interesting lives than agriculture or industry do.” This, I think, is pure speculation. He goes on to suggest that in most places, “foraging provided ideal nutrition,” and that such a lifestyle protected the prehistoric men “from starvation and malnutrition.”  He offers an idyllic description of the lifestyle of the hunter-gatherers that we, the modern men, are expected to envy and emulate.

Environmentalism is a key concern for Harari. He holds that mankind has been destroying the environment for the last 70,000 years. He says that “historical record makes Homo sapiens look like an ecological serial killer.” (Page 74) But what is historical record that he is talking about—he does not clarify. “We are the culprits,” he proclaims like a medieval mystic out to damn the sinners. (Page 80)  He ends the Part 1 of his book with a rant about the ecological disasters that humans have caused in the past and warns that modern man is continuing to wreak havoc on the environment.

“Perhaps if more people were aware of the First Wave and Second Wave extinctions, they’d be less nonchalant about the Third Wave they are part of. If we knew how many species we’ve already eradicated, we might be more motivated to protect those that still survive. This is especially relevant to the large animals of the oceans. Unlike their terrestrial counterparts, the large sea animals suffered relatively little from the Cognitive and Agricultural Revolutions. But many of them are on the brink of extinction now as a result of industrial pollution and human overuse of oceanic resources. If things continue at the present pace, it is likely that whales, sharks, tuna and dolphins will follow the diprotodons, ground sloths and mammoths to oblivion. Among all the world’s large creatures, the only survivors of the human flood will be humans themselves, and the farmyard animals that serve as galley slaves in Noah’s Ark.” (Page 82-83)

But Harari does not offer any evidence to prove his theory of First Wave, Second Wave, and Third Wave extinctions. He has little understanding of the historical periods and he tends to make wild speculations about what transpired tens of thousands of years ago. For instance, in Part II of his book he is making the case that the movement into agricultural communities was a mistake, because a hunter-gatherer lifestyle was more easy, full of joy, and healthy. He calls the discovery of wheat, the “history’s biggest fraud,” and tries to make the case that wheat led to the downfall in the quality of life of the farmers. His theories are unbelievable.

According to Harari, mankind is a pestilence that has been ravaging the earth for tens of thousands years destroying every creature and polluting the environment. He offers blood-curdling predictions about human destiny. I don’t know why anyone will take such nonsense seriously. But it is clear that many people are taking Harari’s book seriously—it is in the bestseller list and has garnered several good reviews. That a book containing such amateurish speculation and outrageous falsification of history can become a bestseller is a testament of our low intellectual standards.

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