This week I started reading ‘Homo Deus’ by Yuval Noah Harari and it’s mind boggling! Initially when I had just read the premise of the book, I thought this might just be another AI taking over the world narrative whilst predicting the future, but the nuances that the author adds to the argument set in a completely different tone to the narrative. He probes into the questions from evolution, order in society, rise of religions, difference between the conscious and the unconscious, weaving different norms etc. with the fundamental objective of giving this question of ‘what future holds ?’ a different dimensionality altogether. It’s a refreshing change from all the economics reading that I had been doing in the past couple months. Since the book had too many compelling narratives, I thought of breaking down the understanding in two posts.
The first post deals with comprehending the position that Homo Sapiens hold in the society and the shift of society from an animist belief to a theist belief. This is important to understand as a prediction of the future is baseless without our ability to contextualise the rise of Homo Sapiens . If we didn’t know how we got here how would we know where to go? The book also builds the case for understanding human and non human organism dynamic, as this dynamic presents itself as an interesting archetype for understanding the relationship between intelligent(Humans) and less intelligent(non-human organisms). Since the relationship will shift in our attempt to better the existing human model by shifting to a superhuman model( fusion of technology and man), we could experience the shift of the intelligent and less intelligent .This would imply that the humans that can afford the technology become far more intelligent and the one’s who can’t are left to fend for themselves. The second post will deal with the changing economic, social and political spheres along with the understanding of possible predictions that are being made to understand the ever-changing world.
One of the most fundamental changes that we have gone since the birth of agricultural societies is the shift from animist belief system to theist belief system. This was shift was propagated in order to justify the rise of homo sapiens in ecosystem which earlier did not differentiate between the inhabitants of the ecosystem. This animist worldview now only exists in a few hunter-gatherer communities which we perceive as tribals in today’s day and time. What’s interesting to note here is, as the book mentions, it was the rise of religion that created hierarchy within the society. The Bible preaches that we as humans are unique and are put on earth by god’s will and creation whereas animists viewed humans as just another animal. Religion was a byproduct of the birth of agricultural societies(explained here) and in order to flourish , it had to interfere in the existing man-animal relationship. This event gave rise to domesticated animals without whom we as a collective wouldn’t have imagined surplus, or growth the way we do.
Domestication doesn’t seem that bad on the facade because the animals are being fed, vaccinated, looked after until they are eventually slaughtered in most cases but had they been in the wild they would died an even more untimely death. While reading I went through those exact series of thoughts until I read that domestication suppresses their most innate physical,social and emotional drives. The most basic evolutionary trait revolves around survival and reproduction, where the former is taken away from them while keeping them in caged environments and being constantly fed and the latter is also beyond their control as they are forced to reproduce till they are eventually slaughtered. There is a redundancy that is brought to their existence in terms of when it comes to acting on the basis of sensory structures which no matter how much you try to suppress it , it doesn’t die out. The most basic learning of evolutionary psychology is that a need that was cultivated thousands of generations ago, doesn’t just fade out in matter of time. This is what we as the ‘superior’ beings have done to the what we think of as ‘inferior’ beings in order to survive,where we completely ignored their subjective interests in order to fulfil our subjective ones. This is when it comes to human-animal dynamic but what about when we become the inferior beings and the human with its bionic supplements merged with AI takes over the world, how would the superior’s subjective needs look like then ?
It might sound amusing to sit and ponder upon the emotions that pigs go through, where one would question like any reader reading this , how are we even sure that animals think in similar emotional structures or do they think through any emotional response. The author mentions a key point here by saying that we don’t humanise the animals when are attributing these varied emotions, we are in-fact ‘mammalising‘ them. Emotions are common to all mammals and it’s no human trait, it’s a mammal trait. So when we see these dairy and meat industries flourish, these flourish at the expense of breaking a lot fundamental emotional bonds between the various mammals that are bred to serve as food for most of us. It makes one reconsider all the eating habits that have been cultivated in the past few hundred years, doesn’t it?
Coming back to the initial question , is how did agricultural societies enable all this ? Religion is the key, always has been when it involved the masses.
The theology,mythology and liturgy of religions such as judaism, hinduism, and christianity initially centred on the relationship between humans, domesticated plants and farm animals.Homo Deus: A brief history of tomorrow.
The birth of theist religions is built around a narrative where we are the centre of the universe and contradicts the initial order of society that preached that we were all co-habitants. ‘God’ was created to validate that argument so that we could achieve this growth at the expense of other non-human organisms.The power of storytelling can be marvellous and we as humans are amazing at it. Always have been. It’s not that all religions do not value animal life, Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism do take into account the value of animal life, but somehow we also justify the consuming of dairy products that require repeated mating of cows so that they can produce milk. The agricultural revolution not only gave way to the birth of economy but also to the birth of religion which helps us in understanding our position in today’s world order. This shift in order didn’t stop just at differentiating between animal and human, but within humans too.The rise of bonded labour to cultivate the farm lands where one human becomes the property of the other is an example. As history suggests we flourish in hierarchies that propagate inequality as collective .If that had not been the case we wouldn’t live to see the birth of capitalist societies, but somehow at an individual level we advocate for fairness.
With the advent of scientific religion, science advanced and the questions whose answers were initially ‘god’s will’, now had much more definitive solutions. It was in this time period that people moved away from god supremacy to human supremacy ,thus giving birth to humanist religions. Humans furthered their position in hierarchy by entitling themselves with a superior meaning. We gave our lives more meaning post death also through the argument of our eternal life of soul. That soul is one single entity within us that even after we die, it continues to live. From an evolutionary perspective it doesn’t make sense because we are product of evolution and the fundamental rule of evolution is that anything and everything changes continuously. Evolution dismisses the idea of soul because of its never changing attribute along with it being one singular unit since the birth of this idea. Hence, most people will dismiss evolution as a theory since our ‘eternal’ presence justifies our need for sanctifying human lives above anything else.
In spite of all various stories that we use to justify our rise, out of which none have made a lot of sense, we have still managed to be where our in this ecosystem. As the author points out, it is because of something very fundamentally ‘animal-behaviour’ and not all the philosophical jargon that we spew every now and then. It is our ability to cooperate and that too flexibly at large scales that make it happen. Other social animals like elephants and chimpanzees who are also flexible when it comes to cooperating, but their scale is limited to the personal acquaintance. Humans are not only one’s with a sense of consciousness, a lot other mammals also exhibit that, but it’s our ability to cooperate that makes all these wonders possible.
The next question would naturally be that how do we make sure that our cooperation could be so powerful and so meaningful at the same time, such that it makes us the most powerful specie on the planet. As the author says and that is something that most of will also believe, it’s our ability to weave an intersubjective of meaning: a web of laws, forces, entities and places that exist purely in common imagination. It enables us to have a collective identity without establishing a personal relationship with another fellow individual. This is what enables our power as a collective. These intersubjective realities give birth various ideas, such as an idea of nation ,religion, economics and basically our ability to imagine the future simply out of the power of imagination.
Hence if we want to understand the future, cracking genomes and crunching numbers is hardly enough. we must also decipher the fictions that give meaning to the worldHomo Deus:A Brief History of Tomorrow