21 Lessons for the 21st Century: By Yuval Noah Harari
Written and published before the Covid-19 pandemic.

 

 

Part I Technological Challenges:
The merger of Biotech and Infotech

1. Introduction --Beware of cultural bias: We are shaped by the dominant culture where raised. We often don't even recognize there are other ways to live. Travel and home stays help but some practices others consider normal are simply "a cultural bridge too far" for many to cross.

Feelings are king; facts his servant. People want to feel good about selves. Feeling "self-made" makes some people feel good. "Helping others" makes some people feel good.

People classify everyone they meet. On the other hand people resent being considered "less-than".

Most people can't process multiple concepts at the same time. Senior advice may be worthless given how rapidly culture and technology are changing.

 

2. Disillusionment -- The end of history has been postponed: The beauty of having only one clock is one thinks they know exactly what time it is. In reality few things are that exact and people are faced with the need to constantly make decisions.

Liberalism was originally defined as each individual, regardless of sex, race or other factors, being allowed to make major decisions and pursue the type of life they want to live as long as that doesn't interfere with the happiness or welfare of others. This works best if the goal is people living well as people doing things they enjoy increases personal satisfaction and unleashes creativity.

Unfortunately decisions made can lead to unintentional as well as intentional outcomes which leave people frustrated and confused. Furthermore people are never satisfied and always want more (Maslow).

While no one wants to live in a dysfunctional Russian style corrupt oligarchy comparison of the effective Chinese response and quick economic recovery from to Covid-19, to the disastrous US response that has killed more than 200,000 citizens and destroyed the economy, has seriously damaged our faith in our form of government and international image. Cohesiveness makes it possible for a nation able to respond to crisis. Rich parents send kids to elite schools so see no need to fund public schools.

 

3. Populism is dangerous: While elections are fraught with problems, especially in this nation after dissolution of the Fairness Doctrine and Citizens' United decision, there appears to be no better way. We must make running for office less expensive and divisive. Campaign contributions candidates use to pay for election expenses are similar to what we call "bribes" when paid in other nations. Party controlled primaries select extreme candidates that "turn-off' at least 1/3 of the electorate.

 

4 Work -- When you grow up you may not have a job: More people working from home now and many won't return to central offices.

  • Positive implications - Child care while working, Less time commuting etc.
  • Negative implications - Employees unseen easier to dehumanize, cut-off benefits and fire. Gig jobs increasing while people w/o health insurance increasing.
Is this one predecessor of a "new normal"?

Physical Work - AI does many things better than humans so jobs will change. Truck-drivers? Most manual farm work (Milking once a skill - now automatic) and so on. Need lots of grass for laborers to mow.
Cognitive Work - Ability to gather accurate predictive data makes personal intuition skills less important. What will "Quality customer service" mean when responses are AI generated?
Future Jobs - No idea what people will do for a living. Eg. Personal care, teaching, scientist, mechanic, construction???
Universal Basic Care - In Israel 50% of ultra-orthodox men do nothing but study and argue about scriptures. There are men everywhere like this -- is this sustainable? Men without a meaningful work can be dangerous to themselves and society.

 

5 Liberty -- Big data is watching you: People and governments have created systems that enable them to listen to and track smart phone messages, travel ticket purchases, purchases, attendance and so on and using this data to place us into tribes and control our emotions.

Algorithms don't have emotions. Blue Dot is an example of how an Artificial Intelligence program gathered and used "informal data" to outperform human beings.

Blue Dot accurately identified Covid-19 and predicted exactly where it would go.

COVID-19 was not BlueDot's first hit. The engine has been used to successfully predict that the Zika virus would spread to Florida in 2016, six months before it happened. The software also determined that the 2014 Ebola outbreak would not leave West Africa.

AI systems make emotionless decisions based on data. Facebook united the world; Facebook algorithms helped Russians elect DJT.

 

6 Equality -- Those who own the data own the future: We used to value shared sacrifice. I remember WWII. Before WWII ended 16 million Americans served in uniform when the population was only 135 million. After WWII we welcomed most veterans home (Blacks were excluded) with the GI Bill, VA Loans enabled veterans to obtain property plus the personal prestige of having served. Manufacturing soared because ours was the only large nation with an intact economy and infrastructure. High paying jobs were plentiful, white families were intact and a man could earn enough money to support his wife and four children while buying a house and new car every few years. Most Americans acquired real property which is the prerequisite for equality. Unlike most other large nations we had a large economically well-off white middle class.

The author assumes data miners are using big data as a way to turn us into "Target Markets" to be exploited for profit. It is his assertion t collection and use of big data makes it possible for persons to use Artificial Intelligence to manipulate people into buying goods and services, and supporting causes that will make data owners wealthy - or result in the election pf whichever candidate has the best ability to manipulate a naïve electorate as a way to gain access to the public treasury. Data is being used to turn our nation into a land of haves and have nots.

 

Part II Political Challenges:
Nationalism, religion and culture divide us into tribes.

 

7 Community--Humans have bodies: Realizing Facebook had been used by Russians and others to elect DJT Mark Zuckerberg spent months trying to understand "community development". His goal was to learn how to use social media to reverse the trend of this nation being inhabited by hostile tribes back towards togetherness.

Social media has helped creation of large impersonal communities which is opposite the biological imperative that people need wholesome intimate human relationships to become functional human beings. On the other hand can't relate to more than 150 fellow human beings. Social media algorithms create large shallow communities of like-minded persons - opposite of what is needed if the goal is to reunite the nation.

 

8 Civilization -- There is just one civilization: Human beings evolved as a distinct species with basic needs. While culture shapes behavior all Homo sapiens have the same basic needs.

Cultural behaviors can change quickly when people are confronted with existential change. Sapiens have outsized frontal cortex that allows us to create stories of unique past existence and future prospects.
Winners tend to think they're smart when in reality they may have just been lucky. Losers may blame "scapegoats" (Germany blaming Jews after WWI) or change their beliefs and behaviors in ways that make them productive (Germany and Japan after WWII).
Basic needs remain constant. Functional nation states have and fairly enforce some form of common law, have a "fair" economic system based on the dollar, use modern medical practices and have some form of central government. Failed states lack one or more of the above.
Nationalism: Global problems need global answers.

Global pandemics, climate change, food shortage, air pollution, deforestation, water pollution, ocean current change and the ability to unleash world-wide nuclear annihilation are world-wide problems beyond the ability of any nation state to manage. Isolationism is divorced from economic and biological reality. Politicians who don't realize this will get us all killed.

 

9 Religion -- God now serves the nation: The more far-fetched the story the more faith is required. Acceptance of the belief allows one to remain in the group.

Traditional religions, which place those who believe above everyone else, create more problems than solutions. While all religions preach peace all are also susceptible to being used by extremists to use religious identity to decide who is on their team and who can be mistreated with impunity. Using God as an excuse to harm others is always evil.

 

10 Immigration -- Some cultures are better than others: Native born Americans are not having enough babies to maintain our population. Immigration is necessary if moderate growth is to continue. In 21 Lessons the author states that for immigration to work…

  • The host must allow immigrants in.
  • Immigrants must embrace core norms and values of the host nation which means giving up some traditional norms and values.
  • Assimilated immigrants become "us".

The process must be mutually beneficial. We need skilled and unskilled workers.

  • We can't train enough skilled construction trade workers, and allied health workers to meet the need.
  • Citizens of this nation are unable to do field labor.
  • ASU couldn't recruit American MDs to work for on Malaria vaccine for Post-Doc salaries so they recruited Chinese MD graduates.

Populists have politicized immigration to where Congress cannot enact humane policies and procedures that would be in current citizens and immigrant's best interest. More cohesive nations have solved this problem in ways we might not like but their citizens approve.

 

Part III Despair and Hope:
Be brave and humble

 

 11 Terrorism -- Don't panic: Terrorism, unless it's weapons of mass destruction, only causes great harm when the victim over responds like we did after 911. The proper response would have been…

  • Clandestinely destroy the terrorist network
  • Media should keep attacks in perspective. Few people die, nations retain their power and attackers gain little if no one responds in ways that make things worse.
  • Don't panic - go about your business as if nothing happened.

Osama Bin Laden achieved his goals.

 

12 War -- Never underestimate stupidity: Wars are easy to start, hard to end.

  • Rational thinkers will not unleash war since most of the property and resources people used to go to war to steal are more economically purchased than taken.
  • Russian recapture of the Crimea is an anomaly. Ukraine will likely bankrupt Russia. Baltic States will fight back making conquest expensive as long as NATO exists.
  • Resources are now more in the form of big money intangibles like U.S. Bonds and Corporate profit than tangible minerals and fossil fuels.
  • Our real danger is more from internal chaos than international invasion.
  • The author doesn't address the nightmare scenario that will be unleashed here if we "Lose the grid". Access to water, fuel, HVAC, communication all depend on electricity being available.

The author also doesn't address the real problems of Russian "active measures" designed to incite internal civil war here, or genocidal wars that may engulf places like Israel. Eventually someone will make a mistake and weapons of mass destruction, or biological weapons will be unleashed.

 

13 Humility -- You are not the center of the world: People have an innate need to be essential. Dominance is needed if attacked by a hostile tribe but female nation-state leaders have generally been more successful at managing the current pandemic than male nation-state leaders.

It appears to me the innate female desire for relevance is frequently expressed in nurturance while the innate male desire for relevance is frequently expressed in the drive for dominance. Knowing one's limitations, and the value of teamwork, are functional behaviors. 

 

14 God -- Don't take the name of God in vain: The Beatitudes emphasize love and humility over force and pride as the paths to harmony. Using one's religion to dehumanize and destroy others is sacrilegious.

 

15 Secularism -- Acknowledge your shadow: "The most important secular commitment is to the truth which is based on observation and evidence rather than faith" (Page 239). This philosophy is based on the value of "Compassion" and "Equality" of all persons. Each of us lives with cultural "ghosts" that constantly interpret what we are see in terms of how past experiences and activities brought us contentment, joy and sorrow. Identify and use behaviors that reduce "Human suffering". Secularism is easier to espouse than to attain.

 

Part IV Truth:
The world is too complicated for anyone to understand.

 

16 Avoid being a victim of propaganda -- You know less than you think: Social media algorithms place each of us into "silos" with like-minded persons. This can lead to "group-think" which is dangerous. Most issues have multiple sides.

While facts are important it is dangerous to rely on facts we believe in to be believed by people with different cultural foundations no matter how obviously compelling the truth may be. (Masks, climate change, science vs. lies etc.)

Persons with different opinions are as emotionally supportive of feeling-based "beliefs" as are persons with fact-based "beliefs". Persons from individualistic cultures become angry when rewards are based on loyalty over competence whereas persons from collective cultures become angry when rewards are based on competence over loyalty. When survival is in question many persons will opt for the feelings-based option even when that is not in their own best interest.

Access to power also warps reality especially when one is surrounded by sycophants. It is important to surround one with competent persons whose competence compliments your own. It's important to value the intangible as well as tangibles because people are more driven by feelings than facts.

 

17 Justice -- Is our sense of justice out of date? Justice is an artificial construct of behaviors groups of humans create, use and enforce as a way to smooth interpersonal relationships. Behaviors one group considers "just" may be considered "heinous" by members of another group.

The author's premise is that given the size of world population, number of nation states and scope of interrelationships life has become too complicated for anyone to understand all the ramifications of actions as simple as having a cup of coffee. Ways people and nations t deal with increasingly complex include…

  • Personification by identification of an evil scapegoat.
  • Personification and acting to protect an innocent victim (3 yr-old boy drowned).
  • Inventing and acting against a conspiracy of evil doers (Q Anon Child Sex Slavery fiascos).
  • Creation and enforcement of a dogma or doctrine that provides enforcers with the intellectual comfort and moral certainty (ISIS) that one is justified in dehumanizing and harming persons who do not conform to your current beliefs. (This looks most dangerous to me)

All strategies are arbitrary constructs of the human mind. What's needed is development and humane enforcement of humane laws that a majority of persons in a given culture can agree on.

 

18 Post-Truth -- Some fake news lasts forever: Humans prefer unity to truth because it is from unity that the power to protect one's interests arises. This is why Ronald Reagans ending The Fairness Doctrine, and introduction of fake news as a way to make money and gain access to the national treasury, divided our nation into warring tribes that could not respond effectively to Covid-19. Propaganda is dangerous because it becomes the believed narrative of the masses. In my opinion Hillary Clinton was the victim of 25 years of Fake News.

 

19 Science Fiction -- Life is not like in the movies: Science fiction, in which humans always defeat overwhelming enemies, is not reality. There are no magic bullets or cures and no one really wins the lottery. Superman isn't coming. We must save ourselves from ourselves.

 

 Part V Resilience:
How do you live in an age of bewilderment, when old stories have collapsed, and no new story has yet emerged?

 

20 Education -- Change is the only constant: There is no way what information people will need during the next 50 years. We may survive and continue to develop technologically and biologically or we may stupidly destroy the comfortable way of life we have created. The main thing is to master basic reading, writing and arithmetic, develop sound relationship skills and a way to earn a living and nurture life partnerships so we can adapt to whatever life brings.

The world is changing so fast anyone who has not continued to associate on a daily basis with the emerging world both technologically and interpersonally may not have a clue about preparing for the future. Don't rely too much on older adult advice.

 

21 Meaning -- Life is not a story: Homo sapiens tell stories about the past, present and future. In 1988 I learned what students' disliked most about college was career advisement, which is planning for the future, so I created a program to help students make educated career decisions. The program was a science-based way to help students identify their dream career and "Make dreams come true."

Focused learning does tend to be more successful than random learning so the career development program helped students succeed in college. As to how well it helps anyone define a career path remains open to question.

In reality it was constant networking, being open to doing whatever needed to be done, promoting others and helping them attain their goals created my career trajectory. Unexpected doors of opportunity would open, I would walk through and like magic be on a better path - even when that was not at first obvious. Given the pace at which the world is changing that is certainly truer today than it was fifty years ago. Life is to be lived.

 

Notes by John Bradley

09/23/2020