Gateway Gazette

From My Bookshelf: Yuval Noah Harari

By Lynn Willoughby

Sapiens ~ Yuval Noah Harari

A friend loaned me this book of non-fiction and I had to tackle it after Christmas. The sub-title is “A Brief History of Humankind” so it seemed fairly daunting.  However turns out it is very readable.
I especially liked the author’s breakdown and timeline – beginning with “An Animal of No Significance” and ending with “The End of Homo Sapiens”. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of meat here and much of it I reread as I went along. One of my favourite chapters was “There is No Justice in History” – the ethics of a …”harsh attitude toward anyone who might become a liability to the band.” (Think infants, elderly or handicapped members). Something else that we (Sapiens) would rather not discuss is the terrible toll we took on the flora and fauna through the ages. “Within 2000 years of the Sapiens arrival most unique species were gone,  …North America lost 34 out of 47 gena of large animals.” Animal extinction at the hands of man is nothing new!
And Sapiens have been no more tolerant of their own species – the Hindu Caste system, the concept of purity and pollution (think women, Jews, Roma, gays and Blacks), wealth, slavery, disease carriers, religion, politics. “More Christians were killed by fellow Christians in those 24 hours (the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre in 1572) than in the polytheistic Roman Empire throughout its entire existence.”
Harari argues that the Agricultural Revolution caused the extinction of a huge number of plants and animals, made our diet less varied and nutritious, gives us less protection against disease and makes us much more susceptible to famine. Now we move into consumerism and the problems generated there.
“Each year the US population spends more money on diets than the amount needed to feed ALL the hungry people in the rest of the world.” Want to read that again? I know I did.
Finally, we end our “Peace in Our Time” while we tend to focus on wars as the major killer of man. We are wrong. “In the year 2000 wars caused the deaths of 310,000 individuals and violent crime killed another 520,000…yet from a macro perspective these 830,000 victims comprised only 1.5% of the 56 million people who died in 2000. That year 1.26 million people died in car accidents, and 815,000 people committed suicide.”
Does Harari end on a positive note for the future of Sapiens? You decide. “Lasting happiness comes only from serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin.” Add to our dependence on a daily dose of chemical serotonin, the development of “spy flys”, –  medicine that matches treatment to our personal DNA, cloning, superior technology for weapons, or the new singularity “…when all the concepts that give meaning to our world…will become irrelevant.” If we believe Harari, it sounds very bleak to me.

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