’21 Lessons’ is a much more redeeming work when compared to the maddening fiasco that was ‘Homo Deus’. Harari points towards valid present issues and concerns and, at times, offers interesting insights and possible answers. However, almost all of the problems I had with ‘Homo Deus’ return, albeit in a more tempered discourse. Harari is still a prophet of doom when it comes to the future of society, although, as even he points out around page 169, all such prophets turned to be misguided by fear (if not downright frauds). Seems like so little time ago the world was engulfed in a Cold War and intellectuals were predicting our mass extinction by atom bombing, yet here we are, discussing a historian’s failure to learn from history. Should I even mention that the level of complexity in contemporary society is so high it is absolutely impossible to make even medium-term predictions (about almost anything)?
This is of course fulled by the paranoia about how algorithms and AI will take over but, unlike his previous two books, Harari goes much deeper this time, particularly into the how we should come to terms with the idea that there is no free will, in the libertarian sense of the term, and “move on”. He appeals to the same biologically-deterministic, pseudo-scientific (neroscience has not yet given a definitive answer about what consciousness or the mind are or whether or not free will is an illusion) argument he used in ‘Deus’, which I have already discussed and will not detail again. Long story short, firstly, it is idiotic to make such assumptions yet and secondly, David Eagleman has a great theory about how the whole is more than sum of the parts that reasonably explains free will and the self.
Harari also mis-represents post-truth by equating it to persisting lying, which is a horrible, possibly dangerous, oversimplification of what could be happening in such a world. Post-truth is not merely the absence of truth. It is the doctrine that truth doesn’t matter and we should only be connected to emotion. Is it nothing less than the thermic death of humanity.
But what stroke me as the saddest aspect of Harari’s world view was that, even though he fully understands and explains the vital interdependency between humans and stories (not in the sense of literature, but rather of ‘common fiction’, such as states, religions etc.), he nonetheless urges us to abandon them as he reached the conclusion that all phenomena are empty and there is no external meaning. Call me old fashioned, but that is simply something I am not willing to do. No matter what Buddhist epiphany a future failed intellectual and prophet may have had.