Yuval Noah Harari, the Israeli bestselling author has managed to make a name for himself as a prominent philosopher, historian, and futurologist at the same time. He has also rapidly become a guru of liberals, expounding on the whole world with suspicious ease and heralding the imminent creation of a new species of man. Could his populist teachings, which are rife with errors, be dangerous?
“Homo sapiens has it that it is simply inherently difficult to please. Human happiness depends less on objective conditions than on our expectations.” – Yuval Noah Harari argues. The career of this writer is both a confirmation of this thesis and a good illustration of the “depth” of the scientific message in Harari’s books.
Thanks to his straightforward approach to issues concerning “big history,” the Israeli historian’s bestsellers, full of truisms but understandable to everyone, sell not in thousands, not in hundreds of thousands, but in millions of copies. “Sapiens. A Bried History of Humankind” “Homo deus. A Brief History of Tomorrow” or “21 Lessons for the 21st Century” have been translated into more than 20 languages, including Polish. In many countries his books are also now available as audiobooks, and Harari himself is a popular guest on TV stations, congresses, conferences, or summits with the most important people in the world.
Someone might say that embarrassing truisms are a trait of many modern writers headed by Paulo Coelho. The trouble is that Hari’s immensely popular books are not only shallow and vastly overrated, but also full of errors and contradictions. Two years ago, in his review of the book “Sapiens. From Animals to Gods,” Canadian anthropology professor Christopher Robert Hallpike noted that in those parts of Harari’s book that are “essentially correct” there are no new facts. However, when Harari tries to give some of his sensationalist theory, he often makes mistakes, sometimes serious ones. Professor Hallpike thus argues that for this reason, “Sapiens” should not be read as an attempt to make a significant contribution to science, but rather as “infotainment,” that is, entertainment designed to take “readers on a wild intellectual ride through the landscape of history, dotted with sensational displays of speculation and ending with chilling predictions about human destiny.”
The numerous errors in Harier’s June 2022 also drew the attention of the editor-in-chief of Do Rzeczy, philosopher and columnist Pawel Lisicki. Examples? Lisicki lists many of them. Harari states, for example, that “the Roman empire did not demand that Christians give up their beliefs and rituals, but expected them to recognize the protective deities of the empire and the divinity of the emperor.” “It is curious that the author, widely presented as a sage and – there is no doubt about it – a lecturer at the universities of Oxford and Jerusalem (Hebrew University), does not notice that he gets tangled up in contradictions,” Lisicki writes. “The ‘recognition of the empire’s tutelary deities and the divinity of the emperor’ was precisely the ‘recognition of the beliefs of Christians’.” “No less nonsensical is the claim that ‘Christians firmly rejected all attempts to work out a compromise’ with the emperors – where on earth did Professor Harari read about such a thing?,” inquires the Polish conservative columnist, describing the Israeli scholar as “a man of rather average intelligence, a trivialist, an ignoramus, and a huckster.”
Meanwhile, in July 2022, Current Affairs published a text titled “Yuval Noah Harari’s dangerous populist science.” Its author, Darshana Narayanan, noted that “the best-selling author is a gifted storyteller and a popular speaker. But he sacrifices science for sensationalism, and his works are full of errors.”
Intellectual “star” of the left
And although the author’s works do not stand up to scientific criticism, the marketers responsible for creating his public image deserve the highest praise. Yuval Noah Harari is no longer just a historian or philosopher. The scientist has become an extremely valuable brand, whose high-profile fans include former President Barack Obama, Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg.
Harari also became an advisor to Klaus Schwab, which earned him the title of philosopher, if not outright prophet of the World Economic Forum in Davos. Even the head of Poland’s conservative government Mateusz Morawiecki, who boasted about his meeting with the Israeli historian-futurologist on the official website of the Prime Minister’s Office, met with the “scientific” guru of the left in the limelight.
Man better than God?
What made a little-known Israeli scientist suddenly become an intellectual star of the left merely a few years ago? One argument concerns “modern morality.” Harari outright not only admits that he is gay, but publicly praises his “husband,” which already gives him ample protection from the critical inclinations of reviewers. After all, a possible opponent of the pseudo-scientist can be quickly and simply labeled a “homophobe,” and if that would not be enough, then an “anti-Semite”. In such a situation, any Western scientist dreaming of a career at a university will think three times before publicly criticizing the star of the new world.
The prophet from Davos tells his followers in simple, attractive witty language a whole lot of banalities: where they came from on Earth and how a bunch of hairless and tailless apes managed to completely dominate the entire planet.
In the vision of history according to Yuval Harari, homo sapiens was able to defeat its rivals and spread across the planet thanks to our ability to cooperate in huge herds numbering thousands, millions or now billions. According to the Israeli historian-futurologist, humans have also developed the important ability to believe “in fictional stories and fictional entities that exist only in our imagination,” as exemplified by various religions, political systems or currencies. “The dollar has no intrinsic value, you can’t eat it or drink it, but because everyone believes the stories that bankers and politicians tell about the dollar, it’s very powerful,” Harari explains, characteristically heavily oversimplifying the theory of fiat money or faith.
According to the 1976-born scholar from the Department of History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, over the course of the following thousands of years these “fictional stories” became increasingly complex, thus allowing larger groups of people to cooperate even more effectively.
In his books and interviews, the Israeli professor also points out in which direction human civilization is heading, and how those who are needed for development should live, as well as what to do with the millions of those who do not fit into this vision of the future. In his opinion, the 21st century will be a breakthrough, because until now even the most powerful and richest king from the point of view of biology was the same as his poorest peasants. “In the history of mankind, it has never really been possible to translate economic inequality into biological inequality. But in 50-100 years, this will already have changed,” Harari predicts, arguing that rapid advances in biotechnology and artificial intelligence will lead to the creation of a race of “superhumans” or “superior humans,” that is, a new bionic or at least partially computerized form of human beings.
The Israeli also explains why, in his opinion, technological development will make a large part of the population completely unnecessary. According to Harari, multitudes of humans will be replaced by computers and robots, which he believes is already evident, for example, in the field of war, where machines play a larger role than humans.
“If people become economically irrelevant … then governments lose the incentive to invest in the health of most of them,” believes the author of some of the world’s bestsellers, presenting a vision of a world in which not only health care systems are collapsing, but also the educational and economic systems established in the 19th century so that large groups of people can work, fight, and reproduce. In turn, an elite of “superhumans” is to be born on the ruins of the existing systems in the 21st century, or at the latest in the 22nd.
The vegan, globalist, and radical Darwinist dreams not only of eliminating “unnecessary” millions of people – thus more or less consciously following in the footsteps of the great criminals of human history – but also of excluding all religion from public life. “The whole story about Jesus rising from the dead and being the Son of God is fake news,” he said in an interview. He also argued in his texts and public speeches that, “the Bible represents the opinions and prejudices of a few priests in ancient Jerusalem,” and that humanity now needs “global loyalty” and “global identity” instead of religion.
After all, what’s the point of religion or free will when Harari and his most loyal fans are already publicly proclaiming a vision of the future in which humanity, enhanced by the latest advances in biotechnology, will become an entirely new species, surpassing anything God has ever managed to create.
“The only things God created are organic entities. All those trees, giraffes, and people are organic entities. We are now trying to create inorganic beings, inorganic life forms, like cyborgs and artificial intelligence. If we succeed, and there is a very good chance that we will, then in a very short time we will be above God,” the Israeli professor at the Department of History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem argued in an interview he gave in 2022. “I think that within 200 years the Earth will be dominated by beings that will be more different from us now than we are now different from Neanderthals and chimpanzees,” Yuval Harari envisions. “Eventually, we will discover that we are no longer homo sapiens, we are something else,” emphasizes the philosopher, whose opinion is that humans have never been as good as they are now.
“Dataism,” or humans as slaveless processors
“In the era of Big Data, algorithms know all the answers,” Harari says. In an article published in the Financial Times in August 2016 he argues that for thousands of years people believed that power came from the gods, only to focus more on themselves and free will in the 18th century. According to the Israeli professor, we are witnessing a new revolution. “Just as divine authority was legitimized by religious mythologies and human authority by humanistic ideologies, the high-tech gurus and prophets of Silicon Valley are creating a new universal narrative that legitimizes the authority of algorithms and Big Data. This new credo can be called ‘dataism’. In its extreme form, promoters of the dataist worldview view the entire universe as a stream of data, see organisms as little more than biochemical algorithms, and believe that humanity’s cosmic calling is to create an all-encompassing data processing system and then integrate itself into it.” In addition, Harari argued that we are already becoming “small processors in a gigantic system that no one really understands,” absorbing endless amounts of data every day through emails, phone calls or articles. “Data scientists believe that with enough biometric data and computing power, this all-encompassing system could understand people much better than we understand ourselves,” argued the Israeli philosopher, making no secret of his admiration for humanity’s biotechnological future, which could provide the influential rich with “digital immortality.”
In this new reality, there is no place for God, the human soul or even “free will.” In interviews and public speeches, the Israeli scientist has repeatedly stressed that “free will is a myth that admittedly served us well for several centuries, but is now becoming dangerous.” The Israeli scientist argues that free will and attempts to listen to ourselves must finally be put to rest. “From infancy, we are bombarded with a deluge of humanistic slogans that advise us: ‘Listen to yourself, be true to yourself, trust yourself, follow your heart, do what is right,’” Harari points out almost with revulsion, gasping all the more at the thought of politicians “listening to their hearts” when making crucial decisions for nations.
“Soon governments and corporations will know you better than you know yourself,” he predicted, in turn, in 2018 in the pages of the Guardian in a text entitled “Yuval Noah Harari: the myth of freedom,” in which he warned that “the liberal message is still fundamental to the functioning of the world order. Moreover, liberalism is now under attack from religious and nationalist fanatics who believe in nostalgic fantasies that are far more dangerous and harmful.” And again he expresses his regret about people’s “free will.” “Unfortunately, ‘free will” is not a scientific reality. It is a myth inherited from Christian theology,” states the Israeli historian, arguing that while people have a will of their own, it is not “free.” “You can’t decide what your desires are. You don’t decide whether you want to be introverted or extroverted, laid back or anxious, gay or straight. People make choices – but they are never independent choices. Every choice depends on a host of biological, social, and personal conditions that you can’t determine for yourself,” writes the star scientist of the Left, stressing that in the 21st century, belief in “free will” has suddenly “become dangerous.” “If governments and corporations succeed in hacking the human animal, the easiest people to manipulate will be those who believe in free will,” the Israeli professor argues.
So despite everything, one can hope that homo sapiens still has a chance to survive. The question, however, is whether Harari’s books and speeches increase or decrease these chances?