THE CROAK is a weekly environmental newsletter put out by the eCoexist team. It is the voice of the environment on its last legs, the final croak that can either be a plea for attention or a call of triumph as the frogs jump out of the well of ignorance and denial. Read more..
The stories we tell ourselves and our children, shape the way we view both our past and our future, but most importantly position us in the present. This weeks newsletter is about a person and a story he wrote that is influencing the present world powerfully. The book has been reviewed for eCoexist by Vandana Saxena Poria, who is as passionate about conservation and sustainability, as she is about finance and business.

Source: Harper Collins
A lot has been written about Yuval Noah Harari.  He has gone from being a ubiquitous researcher and history professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, to a rock-star author and philosophical thinker who has now spoken across the world. 

And it started with one book,
Sapiens: A brief history of Mankind. 
Understanding the human that is Yuval Noah Harari.

Harari admits that he only wrote the book after being given an introductory course to world history that no one else wanted to teach.  His students enjoyed the way he put the course together and therefore he turned it into a book.  He had no idea that it would be as successful as it has become and has obviously spurred him to write his other books, Homo Deus and 21 lessons for the 21st Century.

When Harari speaks, the perceived Gods of the World listen.  He is constantly amazed by this – President Obama, Bill gates and the Silicon Valley posse are all fans, despite the fact that Harari continually shuns the way they think, do business and expand. Yet they call him back for more.

Oxford-educated Harari puts much of his writing down to his ability to think clearly through meditation – he meditates twice a day for an hour each time, and once a year does a 30 day Vipassana, where he neither reads nor writes.  He is a vegan, is married to a man and lives on a co-operative farm.  Here is someone who practices what he believes.   
Photo: Pawel Bogumil
The book is divided into four parts, which for Harari, are the seminal moments where irreversible transformations in humankind took place:
  1. The cognitive revolution
  2. The agricultural revolution
  3. The unification of humankind
  4. The scientific revolution
With lucid language and incredible wit – nay - sarcasm, Harari takes us on the journey from where our ancestors, the original Homo Sapiens (wise men) came from, to why we are where we are today, and then on into where our descendants are likely to end up, setting the stage for his next book, Homo Deus.
The first part traces the development of Homos sapiens and its meteoric rise from halfway down the food chain, to the absolute top dog, exterminating all that came into its way.  How?  Through social and communication systems – that is what gave sapiens their ultimate power.  The author gives the example of the animal kingdom where chimps cannot form groups of over 50.  However, sapiens invented the ability to create groups of millions – it was the ability to get people to collaborate by creating a common fiction that the majority buy into.  Think of all major binding forces in our world:  Politics, money, business, religion or sport – they are all ultimately constructs of a human mind, that do not exist independently in reality.  These fictions, or myths, bizarrely, allow the believers to work together and collectively. This can be understood in a single sentence:

A man can be convinced to die fighting for his nation for the promise of heaven; a monkey cannot be.   

According to Harari, it was the story-telling ability that caused Sapiens to rise to the top of the food-chain, simultaneously wiping out all rivals (Neanderthals, Homo floresiensis etc) and many gigantic species in the process.
The second part outlines his assertions on the Agricultural revolution being a fundamental tipping point for both sapiens and the earth’s landscape as we know it.  He believes that our hunter-gatherer ancestors were more peaceful, less stressed and happier than their descendants who created the agricultural revolution – in many different parts of the world around the same time. 

Harari is emphatic in saying that wheat domesticated humans just as humans domesticated wheat. That the settling in one place brought up so many new mental battles, including having to worry about what if the harvest was not good, or there was a drought.  For the first time, humans were worrying about the future.  As hunter gatherers, they just moved on and their deep knowledge of food and terrain kept them strong.   He believes that when they settled, mainly growing wheat, it was not a great choice of human fuel, nor an efficient product to grow, yet our ancestors gorged on it.  The agricultural revolution led to a more complex social structure, which inevitably ended up with many working for few and not earning much at all.  It also meant that the way the land was used by humans would lead to its current decline.
At the same time, there was an ingenious rapid expansion of mankind across the globe, including from Siberia to the Americas as water levels were vastly different.  One of the great mysteries is still how humans got from the Eurasia plate into Australia, although Harari proposes some theories.  He also alludes to religion and belief systems but offers no concrete evidence of the time, beyond some theories.
Harari offers some ideas of where there has been a loss of knowledge over time, markedly by the introduction of writing.  He also discusses where the roots of discrimination, patriarchy and other social norms might come from, but it is more of a passing thought rather than an animated discourse. 
The third part looks at the unifiers of mankind, namely Money, Empires and Religion and how these factors have, over time, united disparate groups together to have those that conquer or are conquered.  The fact that money over time has varied from barley, to coins to electronic means where it doesn’t tangibly exist, yet everyone believes in the ‘system’ is one of the most “efficient systems of mutual trust ever devised!”.  Harari questions whether money has overtaken all value systems and transformed the way we ‘value’ people – if someone is bankrupt, why do we stop trusting them?  Have we intrinsically linked everything to this fictitious substance called money? Harari says sanguinely: Money is based on two universal principles:
a. Universal convertibility: with money as an alchemist, you can turn land into loyalty, justice into health, and violence into knowledge.
b. Universal trust: with money as a go-between, any two people can cooperate on any project.
The fourth and final part concentrates on the last 500 years and incredible growth from the scientific revolution.  We have gone from 500m people to 7bn and created the scientific revolution’s feedback loop of research-power-resources.  Harari examines this and the formation of the alliance between science, the European empires and economics of capitalism.  Modern history is the fallout of those.  He then delves into happiness and the human’s quest (or not) for this. 
Harari goes on to share his thoughts on the future of humankind. “we stand poised on the brink of becoming true cyborgs, of having inorganic features that are inseparable from our bodies, features that modify our abilities, desires, personalities and identities".

But the greatest honesty comes from his closing statement in the book.

“Moreover, despite the astonishing things that humans are capable of doing, we remain unsure of our goals and we seem to be as discontented as ever. We have advanced from canoes to galleys to steamships to space shuttles – but nobody knows where we’re going. We are more powerful than ever before, but have very little idea what to do with all that power. Worse still, humans seem to be more irresponsible than ever. Self-made gods with only the laws of physics to keep us company, we are accountable to no one. We are consequently wreaking havoc on our fellow animals and on the surrounding ecosystem, seeking little more than our own comfort and amusement, yet never finding satisfaction. Is there anything more dangerous than dissatisfied and irresponsible gods who don’t know what they want?” 

Many of his ideas are stretched – but how could they not be when he is covering such a long length of time.  Granted there are tenuous links between different civilisations or blanket assertions when the truth at the time would have been much more complicated than we could ever know.  However, overall, his unabashed objectiveness of our human race and his analysis of the role of fictional belief is one of the most convincing rhetorics for why we live in a world where the norm is actually the exception of the majority.  A worthwhile read.
Vandana, in a former life was a chartered accountant.  Having grown and sold companies, she learnt how to value businesses but was never taught to value lives.  She realised that profit and balance are not friends because they don't understand each other.  So she is now devoting her life to building bridges between the two.  She is known as the Human Alarm Clock as she wakes people up and disrupts their thought processes through memetics.  
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The Croak is a weekly environmental newsletter put out by the eCoexist team. It is the voice of the environment on its last legs, the final croak that can either be a plea for attention or a call of triumph as the frogs jump out of the well of ignorance and denial. Satirical, urgent and wise the newsletter brings to your attention, topics of global environmental relevance as well as emerging encouraging alternatives. Put together by a team of passionate Nature lovers, The Croak hopes to look at the environmental crisis in its face. It is a tool to reconnect readers to Nature, through questioning and self reflection. To understand the outer environment as a reflection of our own inner state, individually and as a species. And to take responsibility for enabling change.
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