On History


11 thoughts on “21 Lessons for the 21st Century”

Rex Lui

I value sleep a lot. Lousy sleeping pattern is worse than smoking or drugs. I don’t think there will be any other book that I will spend my valuable sleeping time just to finish it. This is the one that I can’t put it down. The last time I was that excited to losing sleep was reading Jostein Gaarder’s philosophical young adult fiction “Sophie’s World” when I was a teenager.

Note that this is a social science book. Instead of stating the objective truth like Science Books do, historian Yuval Noah Harari did not attempt to constitute yet another social construct. Rather, he tried to deconstruct many institutions we Homo sapiens currently have. That’s why sometimes I can feel more doubts than optimism in the book that is quite common in the social science universes, as social scientists study the subjective narrative of Homo sapiens more than study the objective scientific truth of Homo sapiens. When our knowledge mindset cannot escape our own narrative discourse, at best we can’t find solution to solve the problems, at worse we will be fell to yet another anthropocentric trap.

So, here comes my eleven thoughts on Homo sapiens “21 lessons” for the next 100 years:

1. We are story animals, but we are also in the extremely primitive in the evolutionary scale. We are toddlers in terms of speciation. In fact, even within our tiny little seven thousand years of civilization, our “stories” keep changing. 500 years ago, it’s OK to use religion as a knowledge guideline. At 2018 you will be a laughing stock if you base your life on religion dogma. Just like you tell others you are living your life because an astrology column told you to do so in the 20th century. This book correctly points out that religionism as an institution is disappearing.

2. I was very surprised that a historian has widely adapted almost all general scientific laws for a historical book, from evolutionary biology to quantum physics, from big bang to genetic code. When I study neuroscience every single day, I might overlook how this field has become so impactful for the world that even the social science terra is gradually leaning towards science. For one second, I thought I was reading E O Wilson (to some extend E O Wilson’s “The Meaning of Human Existence” is the scientific version of this book). When I recognized that Jared Diamond is Harari’s grand master, voila.

3. Since 2017 I coined the word Ten-Toeism to describe all the umbrella human social constructs that are based on our own attributes: nationalism based on a contexture called country; racism based on a contexture called race; religionism based on a contexture called religion; genderism based on a contexture called gender. One of the most serious problem we Homo sapiens encounter in the 21st century is that we are living separately like unlimited separated square grids on paper based on those social constructs. We use race, country, gender city, religion to live our lives instead of objective truth. At best, sure, in the administrative scale, the concept of nation is wonderful to execute social public services, from tax to fire safety, from business regulation to hospitals. But at worst, most of human’s conflicts are just ignorant arguments among those fake attributes. Technically useful doesn’t mean it’s true. Especially there are so many evil actors exploiting humanity applying these ten-toeistic attributes, we should be more cautious than passively agreeing on the “usefulness” of these tools. Harari correctly pointed out all those attributes, but failed to condemn those who apply these attributes.

4. I was glad that Harari admit that free will is just another social construct. And it’s a good thing to understand we Homo sapiens are no different than Chimpanzees or Gorillas. By admitting that we are no different than a chimp is the best response to the arrogant religionism that the universe is based on the images of some mythological creatures. I am so glad that Harari provide a new paradigm to treat those illusive hats that we wear on our heads everyday, multiculturalism. Multiculturalism doesn’t separate Homo sapiens base on countries, races, genders, cities, sexual orientations, etc. Multiculturalism value human being solely based on knowledge and abilities. That’s why we could appreciate Shakespeare even we are not English heterosexual (?) bards in the Renaissance; we could learn Marie Curie even we are not women chemical scientists; we could learn Gwen Jorgensen’s physical talents even we are not double sport professional (triathlon and marathon) women athletes in three different disciplines (swimming, cycling, running). This book correctly mentioned that in this highly transparent 21st century, ten-toeism is a dead-end.

5. I was quite shocked that Harari spend a great amount of words to bashing about religions and praising on secularism. But then, secularism is nothing more than a temporary term because we still fighting against religionism. In the last five years, we don’t even use this term that often anymore. Because, who isn’t secular? All babies are secular humanist until we brainwashed them one by one. As at this very minute, religionism is no longer the norm, we don’t even need the term secularism. There is no term “anti-voodoo”, who isn’t? This is why I value this book so high.

6. One major plot hole that I was quite surprised that Harari barely mentioned is: compassion. Compassion is unarguably the single most influential engine that pushed Homo sapiens evolving forward. That’s why we are becoming more and more calm, and less and less violent. One prominent example is: in the 20th century, no one will argue if you kill a cockroach with your slipper. In the 21st century, we start to say, let them live (at least take it out to the backyard). That missing link about the deep root in our mind: empathy, explains that why social scientists are generally more pessimistic, and why scientists are way more optimistic. If we Homo sapiens are not cooperative animal, we won’t be here today.

7. The one point that I absolutely agree is: Education. Education is the most successful institution of human civilization. In the 21st century, knowledge is recycling so fast that learning became a daily constant. The action of learning should be no different between a fifteen years old or a hundred and fifteen years old. If I have to choose one single aspect to solve the social problem of the next one hundred years, it has to be, learning.

8. The one major point that I argue against is: “if a story is useful, then true or not true is secondary”. That only works in one institution: Art. In fact, we intentionally using lies (hence the name fiction) to tell the truth. The truth should always to the theme of human being. And it can’t be applied to another institution. Do you want your doctor to tell you that “the medical machine doesn’t work, you will die anyway, but as long as you feel happy, I will keep getting your money?” No, I don’t. Therefore, quite the opposite, comparing Harry Potter to those bible creeds not only “not” insulting those dogmas, but you are insulting Harry Potter by saying that Harry Potter is as fake as those bibles (or whatever your fake doctrines you like). That’s why we should bash out as much non-truth as possible using as many methods as possible in this anti-truth era.

9. A riveting perspective Harari mentioned in the book is about sport. Sure, a bunch of folks chasing a ball is technically rather stupid. I would challenge that the action itself is not the most stupid. We are celebrating and rooting for some illusive attributes such as country would be even more stupid. Why not celebrating other attributes like Women, Men, and, Transgender folks? Why not rooting for folks wearing purple and folks wearing orange? Sport as a culture is cheesy. But sport as an institution in the 21st century has a very powerful function: to make human being calmer and happier. Neurologically speaking, sport and exercise are having a major functional shift in the 21st century. Sport celebrities and spectacular sports are not center of the universe anymore. Everyone is exercising every day. The rising of the concept “exercising” would revolutionize the concept “sport”. We no longer need sport to promote Ten-Toeism. Instead, sport is a recreational hobby that leads us toward healthy and meaningful life.

10. When we recognize that we Homo sapiens only have 350,000 years of evolutionary history, within that only 7,000 years are considered advanced (hence the name civilization), we will be humbler to the Earth, to the Universe, and to million other species that co-living with us together. We will not arrogantly be shouting about my country, my race, my gender, my city, my sexual orientation that easily. Harari successfully reprehend the harms of culture-centrism.

11. One major afterthought: history as an academic discipline is quite controversial. Since we were kids, the “History” we were studying is technically nothing more than political history within only about four thousand years. As written language was invented 4,000 years ago. No wonder the epistemological concept “History” is changing in the 21st century. We no longer just study one country or just one period of evolutionary time. “The Big History” is a groundbreaking idea that we Homo sapiens should study ourselves from the big bang. Then even for human history itself we start combing anthropology into history. So that we start to teach human history at 350,000 year point instead of 4,000 year point. History or herstory or zestory or xestory or whatnot, we Homo sapiens love to constitute social constructs so as to compensate our ignorance for what we don’t know. We better admit early that we don’t know almost everything. By only adapting this conceptual ethos, could we be more humble-minded to knowledge of the universe and less ME, ME, ME, ME, ME under this grand Enlightenment Epoch. As Harari mentioned, no matter which century, the only constant is: “Change”.

Learn, adapt, survive. Harari is Darwin. This is a highly recommended book that I think anyone who loves to learn and cares about knowledge of the next one hundred years should read.





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