16 February 2019
This book really disappointed me. Given his reputation, his profession, his tribal affiliations and his current employment I was very hopeful that this book might offer such great advice and relevant wisdom, such as I read in the recent classic ’12 Rules For Life’ by Jordan Peterson. The truth is, as one reviewer noted, that they are really mirror-images of each other. And it's Harari's views that are in the mirror and therefore a reflection and not real or helpful.
While this book does contain some illuminating insights into some historical events along with some interesting analysis of the potential of AI and ‘algorithms’, overall it was possibly the worst book I have read in years, and I read a lot!
There are a great many reasons for this. His presuppositions are based on very poor logic and next to no rationality; he constantly uses ‘straw man’ arguments against the ideologies and people he dislikes; he frequently mis-characterises almost everything he has an opinion on; and he can’t even get the basic definitions of important terms and concepts correct!
His conclusions are for the most part therefore flawed, distorted, error-ridden and lacking in any significant plausibility.
It does not surprise me though to see how popular he is with the whole leftist/socialist crowd because his whole flawed argument plays into their flawed and failed ideologies. It also then should come as no surprise as well that he can’t even define ‘fascism’ correctly, a term he repeatedly uses to mis-characterise whole people groups along with notable anti-fascists and anti-socialists such as President Trump.
And it is with Trump, in particular, that he exposes his serious bias and pettiness. One minute he is writing with reasonable academic rigour and thoughtful (though flawed) exposition and then the moment that he refers to Trump out comes the expletives and an emotional tirade.
While he has fallen hook, line and sinker for many seriously flawed doctrines of false science, I found his almost total failure to understand and correctly define ‘fascism’ among his most shocking failures.
He would do very well to read “The Big Lie: Exposing the Nazi Roots of the American Left” by Dinesh D'Souza, who goes into great depth in explaining the fascism of both Italy’s Mussolini and Adolf Hitler. D’Souza very clearly and articulately details how both of their nationalist movements were excellent examples of fascism and how fascism is a form of Socialism.
The Merriam Webster dictionary defines ‘fascism’ and its characteristics as:
“… including extreme militaristic nationalism, contempt for electoral democracy and political and cultural liberalism, a belief in natural social hierarchy and the rule of elites, and the desire to create a Volksgemeinschaft (German: “people’s community”), in which individual interests would be subordinated to the good of the nation.”
But I think D’Souza explains it better: “… The centralized state is the central meaning of fascism — that’s what fascism is ideologically.”
Also, if you look at fascist economics, it is state-run capitalism, the private sector stays private, but the government tells it what to do, [which is its distinguishing mark from the form of Socialism that is Communism, where there is ideally no private business, or property]. … The (USA’s) Democratic Party’s economics are more accurately described as fascist than socialist.”
- See https://www.dineshdsouza.com/news/american-fascists-marching-under-banner-of-anti-fascism/
Harari in contrast harps on about the nationalistic nature of fascism (where in truth almost all political ideologies are nationalistic whether some form of democracy, some form of socialism such as communism, or even a dictatorship or royal kingdom), but totally misses the main point regarding government control of business, public life (see it’s push for political correctness), and even the private lives of citizens (see their efforts to even ban books).
Harari states: “Fascism is what happens when Nationalism wants to make life too easy for itself, by denying all other identities and obligations … what does it (fascism) really mean … that my nation is supreme and that I owe my nation exclusive obligation.”
While the elites in fascist organisations and countries like Hitler’s Nazi Germany may have thought this way, this is not a fair or accurate representation of a fascist country or organisation.
Harari then goes on to totally mis-characterise fascism in a manner that clearly indicates his desire to attribute this flawed political ideology to many individuals and groups that he disagrees with (such as Trump, and those who voted for Brexit, which was the majority of the UK!).
And what about the irony of this statement of Harari's! "Recently there has been much confusion as to the exact meaning of fascism. People call almost all people they do not like "fascists." The term runs the risk of degenerating into generic insult. ".
This is exactly what Harari himself does! He uses it as a generic insult against people who are not actually fascists!
So, while this book has become a huge best-seller and is notably touted by true fascists who don’t want to see themselves in such a light, but rather prefer Harari’s flawed definition, I would not recommend it unless you wish to raise your blood pressure as you hear flawed argument after flawed argument and wish to hear him denigrate so many truths, and even rationality itself, as pure myth and fiction!
Others have noted some of this as well.
See for example the following quotes:
“… more concerned with broad sweep than fact and plausibility.” -
“… Much of this discussion will be familiar to readers of his previous book, “Homo Deus” (2017), and Mr. Harari repeats, too, his central ideas from “Sapiens.” Religion is generally bad, and so is nationalism; terrorism is not much of a problem, but climate change and the possibility of nuclear war definitely are. “Fake news,” meanwhile, is nothing new; in fact, the author argues, it is just the latest perverse efflorescence of exactly what has enabled the astonishing success of our species: our ability to make things up and invent stories that enable human cooperation. We are, indeed, a “post-truth species.”
The problem with this thesis is that it rather conveniently ignores the existence of science, which rigorously constrains the kinds of stories we ought to believe in. The author has, however, embraced the dubious nostrums of popular evolutionary psychology: He repeatedly asserts that “we are still Stone Age animals” and so poorly adapted for modern life. But to say that is to ignore the enormous role of culture and tradition—indeed, stories—in the making of a modern human mind.
Near the end, Mr. Harari claims, bizarrely, that rationality “is a myth,” having misinterpreted the findings of behavioral economics, which show only that humans don’t always behave in ways that fit the highly restrictive economic definition of rationality.” - See https://www.wsj.com/articles/21-lessons-for-the-21st-century-review-the-yogabots-are-coming-1536188948
"… His logic could not be more circular: all contemporary problems are in his view either technical problems, policy problems, or identity problems (page 128) Since Harari claims that because neither religions nor past ideologies have anything to say about technical problems or policies and only worsen identity frictions, they are irrelevant.
While Harari just states his opinion as fact, many historians view the laws and values of major religious traditions and modern ideologies like liberalism as the very forces that led to progress against elite domination, war, and destruction."
"Despite the semblance of analytic distance and fairness, Harari’s book has the features of a polemic – mainly directed against religion, though culture gets a hit as well. For example, Harari’s defines secularism as everything that is good: truth, responsibility, compassion.
He makes outrageous generalizations like “to the best of our scientific knowledge none of the thousands of stories that different cultures, religions, and tribes have invented throughout the ages is true.
… For thoughtful readers, I would suggest going back to the very traditional texts that Harari dismisses. The Bible’s ten big lessons are a good place to start."
- see https://jewishweek.timesofisrael.com/the-logical-shortcomings-of-yuval-hararis-lessons/