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21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari – Book Review

I finally got to read this book after it stood on my to read shelf for ages and now I regret not reading this sooner, because then I would have had more time thinking about the many problems which Harari addresses in this book. There are 21 ‘lessons’ in this book, but mostly it’s about the same topics during all the chapters. The main point Harari addresses is technology. How will technology shape the 21st century? How will it evolve further? What are the consequences of these technological advances? Are there systems available that can deal with the problems facing us in the future like AI, Climate Change and rising populism.

            Disillusionment. Humans tend to think in stories not in facts and the great three stories of the 20th century were fascism, communism and liberalism. Both fascism and communism lost the battle of ideologues and liberalism came out as the winner. But now people are doubting the story of liberalism as well. Is it time to return to fascism or communism or do we need a whole new story? Or do we better op for no story at all?

            Work. For a long time, people had two types of abilities: physical and cognitive. Because of machines the physical capacities became less and less needed. But what if the cognitive abilities of humans are being outperformed by machines? People will use their jobs and even though there will be new jobs that are created, they are much more specialized than those that are being lost. Re-educating people has not really worked in the past, so we need a solution for that as well. Maybe a UBI income?

            Liberty. What if the algorithms will be ably to impeach our liberty? What if we get controlled by the machines instead of, we controlling them? We could become so dependent on algorithms that we’ll literally freeze without them.

            Equality. The gap between countries will become smaller, but the one between classes will become far larger. The famous one percent will have more and more of the total wealth. But not only wealth, it might get the most beauty, health and creativity as well. The common citizen might lose his or her value.

            Community. Technology might be able to create whole new communities of like-minded people but to be really able to talk about a community they have to see each other in real life. Humans have bodies and they are as much a part of us as the mind is.

            Civilization. Nowadays we can still speak of different civilizations, although there are far less different civilizations than a thousand years ago. Because of globalization we will evolve to one global civilization and we might need to think about which values of the different civilizations we want to implement.

            Nationalism. Even though nationalism is on the rise, it isn’t the answer to our problems. Why? Because they are global problems and they need global answers.

            Religion. Religions can be a handy tool for identity problems. They could provide many solutions to unite people to face the global problems. Unfortunately, nowadays it does more harm than good, looking at others as ‘they’ instead of ‘‘us’’.

            Immigration. We should ask ourselves the question: ‘are some cultures better than others?’ Immigration is a difficult topic but the opponents in the debate that is going on at the moment aren’t really attacking each other’s view, they are mostly just talking about two different topics. One might need to look deeper into the debate of immigration.

            Terrorism. Easily said: Don’t be afraid of terrorists. That’s what they want.

            War. Full scale war is now not as profitable as it was. So, the chances of war actually happening are slim. But we should always be on the lookout for human stupidity. Wars have been fought over for less.

            Humility. Your culture is not the superior culture. Every culture thinks itself to be highly important in the world as it is today. Even if this is the case, that doesn’t mean that your county is superior, or you are in any way.

            God. You don’t need God to have a morality

            Secularism. Be comfortable to have multiple identities and groups because during this life, you’ll need to be able to reinvent yourselves in many ways possible.

            Ignorance. You probably know less than you think. This is because the amount of information that we have has increased immensely and will only increase exponentially. How can we then still know what is the truth?

            Justice. Because of progress in the neuroscience we might discover we don’t have a free will. When we can have no responsibility of our actions, we might need to rethink our justice system.

            Post-truth. We have always lived in an era of post-truth, only now we live in an era where we might be able to find the lie behind the truth.

            Science-fiction. We might need to make some new science fiction because we might prioritize things we shouldn’t prioritize.

            Education. We need a new education system which teaches us not basic skills which computers might be able to do easily, but skills which computers will not be able to do, like being creative and inventive. We need to learn how to distinguish relevant information from irrelevant information.

            Meaning. What is the meaning of life? What do you want to accomplish in your life and what are the things you would really want to do before you die? Find out what it is before the machines find out what it is for you.

            Meditation. Mind and body are connected, they are not separate from each other.

            A lot of great questions have been raised and some Harari answers. Pick up this book if you want to think about some of the pressing matters in history that might not seem so pressing at first glance. I don’t always agree with his answers, but he invites you to at least think about the issues as they will be pressing matters in the future. And not just any future. Our future. And we need to be prepared.

By elenchusphilosophy

I'm a Philosophy student in Belgium, trying to talk and write about ideas of all kinds of sorts.

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