“Interesting and provocative” is the quote you get from Barrack Obama on the cover of the book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari. I could not agree more. The book is indeed provocative and makes you think and reflect upon the history of mankind and yourself as a human being.
Our world is shaped by our imagination
In order to cooperate in a large group, Homo sapiens creates imagined orders that everyone believes in: state, money, religion, democracy, capitalism. None of these exists in nature. All of these ideologies and concepts are taught and imbedded in our thoughts from the day we were born.
Without these imagined orders, Homo sapiens would not be able to cooperate with each other and the imagined society it tries to develop and maintain would collapse. You could trace this back to civil wars that have happened throughout history. Take Yemen, a country that has been locked in a civil war since 2011. It all started with a loss of belief in the government, the existing imagined order, and a growing belief in creating a new and better imagined order by a group of people.
These imagined orders are what made us humans. They have given us both triumphs and defeats. They gave us the greatest inventions, civilizations, cultures and history but also brought us war, despair and misery.
We are never content
Following the Agricultural Revolution, human beings began to settle down permanently and abandon the hunting-nomad life. Over time, we improve and develop new tools in pursuit of an easier life. We have invented countless devices to supposedly make our life easier: washing machines, dishwashers, phones, computers and so forth. These devices are meant to free our precious time so we can spend it doing something else, such as live a meaningful life, pursue our dreams, like those mindful and inspirational quotes would tell us. But we take these luxuries for granted. Our life has never been easier. We have become so dependent on our own inventions that we cannot imagine our lives without them.
When I was young, my family did not have any washing machine or dishwasher. We gathered water in a big pot, cooked half of it and then mixed with the other half to get warm water for a bath. We had a squat toilet. We had no Internet. I didn’t complain then. I don’t recall my childhood being unhappy with this lifestyle. Most of what I remember is playtime with my cat, dog and neighbors. Still, today, I cannot imagine living like back then. Every time I enter a new building, the first thing I wonder is “Is there any free Wi-Fi here?” I despise squat toilet. Even my mom who spent half of her life using squat toilet does not want to use it unless she has no other choice. But are we happier? I am not sure. We work harder in order to afford newer and better tools. And it is not just that. We are never content with what we have. With excess money, we began to buy bigger house, stack more luxurious tools and spend our free time on expensive vacations, as if our life is meaningless without them. Just like an ancient Egyptian pharaoh spent his wealth building pyramids, modern human beings use their money to consume various products and services, yet craving for even better products and services thus working harder to get more money to afford them. Our luxuries have become necessities.
After all, I am just another sapien who tries to build her own pyramid.
There are a few things I do not agree with the author. Harari claimed that the Agricultural Revolution was a mistake. It has left us being locked in a luxury trap, a vicious cycle in which we can never break free. He argued that our forager ancestors might have been happier and more content with their life. They owned very little possession, lived more in the moment and focused more on the current being.
Throughout the past few years, I have stopped focusing on having to purchase decorations to make my apartment more stylish, trendy clothes and accessories to make me look chic and cool. I have focused more on being in the present and felt more peaceful then. I do find that mindlessly scrolling through Facebook and Instagram on my phone makes me feel depressed because I then compare my life with the perfect life others portray on social media. Does that mean our forager ancestors were happier? We don’t know. All we know about them were bones, fossils and drawings found in cages. We don’t know how their societies were shaped and what they thought. Did they think they were happy? Were they satisfied with their life? A forage life was nevertheless hard: high child mortality, death in childbirth, and higher chances of being attacked by other animals and tribes, or stabbed to death by a fellow tribe member. The Agricultural Revolution did leave us with a longer life and our inventions have helped us combat diseases and illnesses that would have been deadly thousands of years ago. Had it not been for the Agricultural Revolution would Yuval Noah Harari not be here to write a book about Homo sapiens.
Homo sapiens is the dissatisfied and irresponsible animal that plays God
I agree with the author that we are a destructive species. We have caused extinctions of countless species and many more to come. We create gigantic farms, lock animals in tiny cage for mass food production. We build and expand cities without regard to nature and the environment. We create plastics as a solution for an easier life then mindlessly dump them into the forest and ocean after usage. We are on our way to create a new life form, artificial intelligence and can even resurrect the death: bringing back mammoth and Neanderthal. We may even find a way to combat all the deadly diseases and old age, ending up living forever. Whatever solutions we are working on, we are doing so irresponsibly. We take no accountability for our actions and disregard the impact we have on our planet.
If you haven’t read this book, I highly recommend you to do so. Unless you are a fixed believer that your religion, state and way of life is the true one and only way, you would be offended and get nothing out of this book.