Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Yuval Harari - "21 Lessons..." - abstracted - Part 3 - Despair and Hope

This is the third installment of clips taken from "21 Lessons for the 21st Century," Harari, Yuval Noah. Kindle Edition, Random House Publishing Group. Part III. My idiosyncratic choices of text reducing the contents of each chapter to a single paragraph miss many important points, and don't begin to replace a full reading of the chapter.

Part III - Despair and Hope - Though the challenges are unprecedented, and though the disagreements are intense, humankind can rise to the occasion if we keep our fears under control and be a bit more humble about our views.

Chapter 10 Terrorism - Don’t panic.

Terrorists are masters of mind control. They kill very few people but nevertheless manage to terrify billions and rattle huge political structures such as the European Union or the United States… the terrorists hope that even though they can barely make a dent in the enemy’s material power, fear and confusion will cause the enemy to misuse his intact strength and overreact.that he will raise a much more violent military and political storm than the terrorists themselves could ever create. …States find it difficult to withstand these provocations because the legitimacy of the modern state is based on its promise to keep the public sphere free of political violence…The success or failure of terrorism depends on us. If we allow our imagination to be captured by the terrorists and then we overreact to our own fears, terrorism will succeed. If we free our imagination from the terrorists and then we react in a balanced and cool way, terrorism will fail.

Chapter 11 War - Never underestimate human stupidity.

The last few decades have been the most peaceful era in human history. … in a world now filling up with saber-rattling and bad vibes, perhaps our best guarantee of peace is that major powers aren’t familiar with recent examples of successful wars…even if it remains impossible to wage successful wars in the twenty-first century, that would not give us an absolute guarantee of peace. We should never underestimate human stupidity…One potential remedy for human stupidity is a dose of humility. National, religious, and cultural tensions are made worse by the grandiose feeling that my nation, my religion, and my culture are the most important in the world— and therefore my interests should come before the interests of anyone else, or of humankind as a whole.

Chapter 12 Humility - You are not the center of the world.

Most people tend to believe they are the center of the world, and their culture is the linchpin of human history…I will leave it to readers around the world to puncture the hot-air balloons inflated by their own tribes…morality in fact has deep evolutionary roots predating the appearance of humankind by millions of years…It makes absolutely no sense to credit Judaism and its Christian and Muslim offspring with the creation of human morality…the birth of bigotry…What about monotheism, then? Doesn’t Judaism at least deserve special praise for pioneering the belief in a single God, which was unparalleled anywhere else in the world…From an ethical perspective, monotheism was arguably one of the worst ideas in human history…What monotheism undoubtedly did was to make many people far more intolerant than before, thereby contributing to the spread of religious persecutions and holy wars…among all forms of humility, perhaps the most important is to have humility before God. Whenever they talk of God, humans all too often profess abject self-effacement, but then use the name of God to lord it over their brethren.

Chapter 13 God - Don’t take the name of God in vain.

Does God exist? That depends on which God you have in mind: the cosmic mystery, or the worldly lawgiver? The missing link between the cosmic mystery and the worldly lawgiver is usually provided through some holy book. The book is full of the most trifling regulations but is nevertheless attributed to the cosmic mystery…unlike the God of the Islamic State and the Crusades—who cares a lot about names and above all about His most holy name—the mystery of existence doesn’t care an iota what names we apes give it. As the last few centuries have proved, we don’t need to invoke God’s name in order to live a moral life. Secularism can provide us with all the values we need.

Chapter 14 Secularism - Acknowledge your shadow

…secularism is a very positive and active worldview, defined by a coherent code of values rather than by opposition to this or that religion. Unlike some sects that insist they have a monopoly over all wisdom and goodness, one of the chief characteristics of secular people is that they claim no such monopoly. … Rather, they view morality and wisdom as the natural legacy of all humans. ..secular people are comfortable with multiple, hybrid identities…The most important secular commitment is to the truth, which is based on observation and evidence rather than on mere faith. Secularists strive not to confuse truth with belief…secular movements repeatedly mutate into dogmatic creeds…Many capitalists keep repeating the mantra “free markets and economic growth” irrespective of realities on the ground, no matter what awful consequences occasionally result from modernization, industrialization, or privatization…Every religion, ideology, and creed has its shadow, and no matter which creed you follow you should acknowledge your shadow and avoid the naive reassurance that “it cannot happen to us.” Secular science has at least one big advantage over most traditional religions—namely, that it is not inherently terrified of its shadow, and it is in principle willing to admit its mistakes and blind spots.

(As an antidote to Harari's doomsaying and dystopian futures, you might glance back at a similar abstracting series of posts,starting March 1, 2018, that I did on Pinker's book "Enlightenment Now.")

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