Summary Series: Sapiens - P4, Ch18

Posted on June 30, 2018 by Janey Muñoz
Tags: nonfiction, Sapiens, reading, summary, modern-thinkers

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

Part 4: The Scientific Revolution, Chapter 18: A Permanent Revolution


Liberation was brought the masses from the Industrial Revolution, and many other societal changes followed. The rate at which society has changed in the last two centuries, and the upheaval to existing systems that was wrought is hard to overstate: humans began organizing their time around shared clocks, the world became largely urban, peasantry widely disappeared, a middle-class emerged, democracy in some form become common, youth culture was born, the patriarchy diminished, and most notably, the family and local community structure all but vanished. The state as a nation and the market as a “consumer tribe” began to fulfill the function that community and family had filled in the past.

The nation is the imagined community of the state. The consumer tribe is the imagined community of the market. … Consumerism and nationalism work extra hours to make us imagine that millions of strangers belong to the same community as ourselves, that we all have a common past, common interests and a common future. This isn’t a lie. It’s imagination.

Perhaps counter to common wisdom, “the nation” was less important to people of the distant past simply because the state was less important; a person likely felt more loyalty to their local community that provided for basically all needs. In the very recent past, the consumer culture has begun to have greater precedence than the nation, and many modern people find their identity in what they consume more so in their nation (e.g., a vegetarian may feel more closeness to another vegetarian, or an environmentalist closer to another environmentalist, regardless of either of their nationalities).

The social order has been rapidly changing to such a degree that it could now be considered a dynamic system, always in a state of flux, and seen as a thing that can be altered and improved. The world may be in its first ever state of true peace, where war is unthinkable due to its high cost and states’ dependency on inter-country trade and cooperation.

… real peace is not the mere absence of war. Real peace is the implausibility of war.

It is the first time that the elites in society see peace as a boon to their state, and war as evil; this change in mindset is influenced by the fact that today the wealth of a state is largely influenced by intangible goods, i.e., human capital, and not gold, spices, or ships. History seems to show that although the move is tenuous, these changes are creating a more globalized and peaceful society.

We are witness the formation of a global empire. Like previous empires, this one, too, enforces peace within its borders. And since its borders cover the entire globe, the World Empire effectively enforces world peace.

More Quotes

Ecological degradation is not the same as resource scarcity.

Many kingdoms and empires were in truth little more than large protection rackets.

Personal Notes

  • The way “the state” and “the market” are discussed anthropomorphizes them, making it seem like they have motivations for the way the act, and specifically the way they have taken over the role of family/community. One of the most obvious examples of this is seen in this passage: “The state and the market approached people with an offer that could not be refused. ‘Become Individuals,’ they said. ’Marry whomever you desire, without asking permission from your parents. Take up whatever job suits you, …”, so on and so forth. I get that there are authorial reasons for this choice, making it more interesting and compelling of a point to the reader; however, it begs the question, if the state and market does not have motivation, because they cannot, what propelled people toward our current state? Based on the past two chapters, I guess the simple answer is the dawn of capitalism (i.e., capitalists have the motivation provide goods/services) and then the mental/physical freedom given to humans by the outcomes of the industrial revolution (i.e., humans have the motivation to consume and live, and had broader opportunities post-IR). Though in a greater sense, this question is largely what the book is trying to answer, with the answer perhaps being summed up by the last sentence of this chapter: “History has still not decided where we will end up, and a string of coincidences might yet send us rolling in either direction.”
  • The universe is indifferent and chaotic, we are slowly moving toward unity, and it is our shared speciation that allows us to wade through the randomness and coincidence to some more unified state.
  • capitalism x industrial revolution = consumerism + individual liberty + world peace + consumer community - local community

The Fine Print

These summaries are meant to be just that, a condensation of another person's time, effort, and thoughts. What these summaries are not is an endorsement of the ideas being espoused by the work's author. My belief is that one can learn from all perspectives, even (and perhaps especially) from those with which we disagree. My motivation in writing the summaries is twofold: to dedicate time in achieving the greatest understand of the work, and to reflect upon the new information, perhaps better concretizing it in my mind. A possible additional benefit is to you, the reader, who I can only hope may be nudged toward trying a new book, or at least pondering on some of the discussed ideas.
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