HOMO DEUS – Some remarks on Yuval Noah Harari’s book

 

Yuval Noah Harari: Homo Deus – my remarks

A friend recommended the book to me asking for my opinion on Hararis views. When I read the book in September 2017 I was first fascinated, later a bit bored, and at the end fascinated again. In the end the whole book made me rather angry. The fascination came from the compilation of many recent developments in science and information technology into a comprehensive picture, the boring part came from endless repetitions of certain theses Harari wants to promote. The anger was about the very superficial and often wrong account of the history of philosophy and the views of philosophers. Harari’s depiction of the role of Hitler as kind of an ideologue of genetic engineering is outrageous, since it plays down the murderous aspects of the Nazi ideology. Harari tries to be morally aseptic, but the result is morally negligent. Harari often apodictically states his opinions as facts, without caring much about proofs, and not taking into account that many of his assurances are disputed and quite debatable.

But let’s go back to the start:

The New Human Agenda is based on the assumption that the old problems are mainly solved: war gets more and more implausible, plagues are under control, the fight against poverty and hunger can be won soon. Harari makes his reserves and admits that there are still shortcomings, but he believes that the tendency is positive. So now mankind can care about immortality, happiness and divinity. „…having raised humanity above the beastly level of survival struggles, we will now aim to upgrade humans into gods, and turn Homo sapiens into Homo Deus“.

The wish for immortality is the basis for many religious beliefs. Harari is right when he is stating that the happy few who can afford to be between the first who live much longer – even if not immortal – will not be too similar to the homo-sapiens of today. Biological engineering may bring them to a new – not necessarily better – stage of human development, cyborg engineering may make them hybrids of genetic humans and robotic parts supporting them, robots consisting fully of non-organic material may develop skills that could replace some or all of the human skills. It is difficult to find out what the author believes himself, because he is often crossing the line between an informed forecast and pure science fiction. This must not speak against the book, but the line should be drawn clearly and with a critical mind.

The pursuit of happiness is a fundamental goal for modern democratic societies. Harari shows convincingly that pleasant feelings are bound to be short lived and do not persist. He mentions Epicurus and Buddha as teachers who understood that real happiness needs slowing down the pursuit of pleasant sensations, not accelerated. However it is a bit too simplistic to say that it is the lack of religion that makes people unhappy, such that this nihilistic hole has to be filled with new religious concepts.

The author believes that in the 21st-century the big project of humankind will be to upgrade Homo sapiens into Homo deus, re-engineering bodies and minds. Doing this the new man will attain divinity. Harari is using the word divinity in the sense that the Romans gave to it, when they called their emperors „divus“. The world will change beyond recognition. And there is nothing that could stop the dynamics, because if growth ever stops, the economy will fall to pieces. But when Harari speaks about the economy he seems not to know much beyond basics. The learned debate is much further than what he presents to his readers.

Harari has a very enlarged concept of what religion means. Every ideology is presented as a kind of a religion. By making concepts catch-all, they become catch-nothing. When the author speaks about religion and philosophy or about political ideologies,  he is utterly non-competent. The book really suffers from his lack of self-criticism and intellectual modesty.

In the end the book seems to me very superficial, the fascination about the topics, which Harari is touching in a rather eclectic way, persists, but I will look around for better books to be informed instead of just fascinated.

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