Homo Deus. A Brief History of Tomorrow. By Yuval Noah Harari. A Critique.
To put it crudely to get the point across. Homo Deus primarily offers readers a Silicon Valley view of the future of humanity.
The metaphorical title of Homo Deus (Human Gods) serves a sensible title for the theme of the book. Mind you, the book seems to adopt the view that certain elites will get an evolutionary upgrade – a human version of the last iPhone. Tied to the West, technology and capitalism, the author’s Western ethnocentric background informs his views and opinions page after page.
Yet, this is a book which claims in its sub-title to be A Brief History of Tomorrow with chunks of the book found in varying degrees in Sapiens, his previous book about human history. The sub-title is misleading.
There is growing amount of evidence to show certain very painful probabilities in the future if we continue along the lines of the present trajectory. Unfortunately, the book singularly fails to address the processes contributing to further overpopulation, diminishing resources, exploitation of people, loss of habitat and its various consequences in the future. The book fails to refer to the remarkable environmental projects underway and their present and future benefits.
Take three examples. On a single day, Germany reached 78% of its electricity needs through renewable energy, such as wind and sun. In the author’s homeland of Israel, there is a US$900 million Red Sea–Dead Sea Canal, a joint venture between Israel and Jordan to build a large desalination (remove of salt and other minerals from seawater) plant on the Red Sea, where they share a border. The governments plan to divide the water among Israelis, Jordanians and Palestinians. Spain is the world leader in concentrated solar power through its massive use of solar panels. This is the future.
Out of the 500 pages, there are very few references to climate change, nuclear weapons, global warming, corporate plundering of resources, consumerism, ecological catastrophes and the destruction of species.
Algorithms, AI and Dataism
His new book, a number one bestseller, falls into four sections.
The New Human Agenda
How Homo Sapiens Conquered the World
Homo Sapiens Gives Meaning to the World
How Homo Sapiens Loses Control
There is little in the way of inspiration nor insights for the countless numbers of thoughtful scientists, academics, environmentalists, activists and people making lifestyle changes for a sustainable world. There is no reference to declining oil – the lifeblood of Western technology.
Harari mostly narrows the future down to information about algorithms, animal experiments, artificial intelligence, religions, God, dataism, evolution, Google, knowledge, nano-technology, Western politics and evolution. None of the above matters to the clear majority of the world’s 7 billion people. Our entire species remains vulnerable to suffering and catastrophe.
A product of Oxford University (a prominent information factory), the author shows little interest in offering a global vision of what the future will look like for the Earth and sentient beings in the next decades or 100 years.
The book contains barely any reference to the future regarding the UN, ethics, corruption, sustainability, the arts, campaigns for change and lacks depth of analysis of possible outcomes of pressing global issues.
The author has settled for a human upgrade. Homo Deus.
Yuval Noah Harari makes incredible claims. Compared to his previous best-seller, he seems to have become very self-opinionated. The first 30 pages offer a flavour of the book. He often gets a point across in a crude way – like my opening sentence in this review.
Page 2 “We know quite well what needs to be done in order to prevent famine, plague and war – and we usually succeed in doing it.” Excuse me. For example, the Global Peace Index states there are only 11 countries in the world not involved in contributing to a foreign war. Arms, the world’s biggest industry, get sold to every country to use or threaten to use.
Page 5. “Though hundreds of millions still go hungry almost every day, in most countries very few people actually starve to death.” Oh, that’s OK then?
Page 13, “Aids, seemingly the greatest medical failure of the last few decades, can be seen as a sign of progress.“ Excuse me. With more than 30 million deaths from Aids in 30 years?
Page 23. On global warming and climate change: “We have to do better.” Nothing more to be said on the subject of global warming and climate throughout the entire book.
Page 29. “In the twenty-first century, we should be able double it (life expectancy) again to 150 years.” For whom? Exploited workers, the desperately poor, victims of endless wars, the starving, the obese? Why is a greater life expectancy going backwards in the USA? Why is it grinding to a halt in the UK?
Harari dedicates the book to his Vipassana (Insight Meditation) teacher, Goenka (1924-2013) who founded a Buddhist meditation sect.
We need a book which offers a brief history of tomorrow. We need a book that looks at depending arising conditions, the reality of contingency, the process of causation and interconnection that generate a variety of consequences. We need a book as reader friendly in style as Homo Deus, yet rich in insights and imagination with a thread of deep concern and compassion running through its pages.
We need a book that enquires deeply into the past, present and future. We need a book showing empathy with sentient life instead of evolutionary superiority. We need a history of the future that shows the terrible suffering millions endure and continue to endure and signs today to make a different future.
Harari is immensely readable, entertaining, awash with personal, often unsubstantiated, views and proves himself to be a remarkable intellectual acrobat. Still a worthwhile read. Harari had a great idea for a book on the history of the future but mostly blew it. Seduced and shaped by science, technology and Silicon Valley, he seems to be the history of his Western past providing us with a brief history of his view of tomorrow. Very human, of course.
In Summary: Homo Disappointment.