When a wealthy farmer sold his possessions for a sack of cowry shells and travelled with them to another province, he trusted that upon reaching his destination other people would be willing to sell him rice, houses and fields in exchange for the shells. Money is accordingly a system of mutual trust, and not just any system of mutual trust: money is the most universal and most efficient system of mutual trust ever devised. The silver shekel was not a coin, but rather 0.
The legal term is lese-majesty violating majesty , and was typically punished by torture and death. The Indians had such a strong confidence in the denarius and the image of the emperor that when local rulers struck coins of their own they closely imitated the denarius, down to the portrait of the Roman emperor! The dinar is still the official name of the currency in Jordan, Iraq, Serbia, Macedonia, Tunisia and several other countries.
First, to qualify for that designation you have to rule over a significant number of distinct peoples, each possessing a different cultural identity and a separate territory. Second, empires are characterised by flexible borders and a potentially unlimited appetite. They can swallow and digest more and more nations and territories without altering their basic structure or identity. The British state of today has fairly clear borders that cannot be exceeded without altering the fundamental structure and identity of the state. A century ago almost any place on earth could have become part of the British Empire.
Evolution has made Homo sapiens, like other social mammals, a xenophobic creature. People who are not Dinka are not people. What does the word Nuer mean in Nuer language? The sun never set on the British mission to spread the twin gospels of liberalism and free trade. The Soviets felt duty-bound to facilitate the inexorable historical march from capitalism towards the utopian dictatorship of the proletariat. Many Americans nowadays maintain that their government has a moral imperative to bring Third World countries the benefits of democracy and human rights, even if these goods are delivered by cruise missiles and Fs.
Commercial tea farming did not exist in India until the mid-nineteenth century, when it was introduced by the British East India Company. It was the snobbish British sahibs who spread the custom of tea drinking throughout the subcontinent. Religion can thus be defined as a system of human norms and values that is founded on a belief in a superhuman order. This involves two distinct criteria:. Animists thought that humans were just one of many creatures inhabiting the world.
Polytheists, on the other hand, increasingly saw the world as a reflection of the relationship between gods and humans.
Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari
In fact, most polytheist and even animist religions recognised such a supreme power that stands behind all the different gods, demons and holy rocks. In classical Greek polytheism, Zeus, Hera, Apollo and their colleagues were subject to an omnipotent and all-encompassing power — Fate Moira, Ananke. The fundamental insight of polytheism, which distinguishes it from monotheism, is that the supreme power governing the world is devoid of interests and biases , and therefore it is unconcerned with the mundane desires, cares and worries of humans.
The Greeks did not waste any sacrifices on Fate, and Hindus built no temples to Atman. Hence the plurality of gods.
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The insight of polytheism is conducive to far-reaching religious tolerance. Since polytheists believe, on the one hand, in one supreme and completely disinterested power, and on the other hand in many partial and biased powers, there is no difficulty for the devotees of one god to accept the existence and efficacy of other gods. In many cases the imperial elite itself adopted the gods and rituals of subject people. The only god that the Romans long refused to tolerate was the monotheistic and evangelising god of the Christians. This was seen as a declaration of political loyalty.
When the Christians vehemently refused to do so, and went on to reject all attempts at compromise, the Romans reacted by persecuting what they understood to be a politically subversive faction. And even this was done half-heartedly. Still, if we combine all the victims of all these persecutions, it turns out that in these three centuries, the polytheistic Romans killed no more than a few thousand Christians.
In contrast, over the course of the next 1, years, Christians slaughtered Christians by the millions to defend slightly different interpretations of the religion of love and compassion. The Christian saints did not merely resemble the old polytheistic gods. Often they were these very same gods in disguise. For example, the chief goddess of Celtic Ireland prior to the coming of Christianity was Brigid.
When Ireland was Christianised, Brigid too was baptised. She became St Brigit, who to this day is the most revered saint in Catholic Ireland. Zoroastrians saw the world as a cosmic battle between the good god Ahura Mazda and the evil god Angra Mainyu. Gautama found that there was a way to exit this vicious circle.
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If, when the mind experiences something pleasant or unpleasant, it simply understands things as they are, then there is no suffering. If you experience sadness without craving that the sadness go away, you continue to feel sadness but you do not suffer from it. There can actually be richness in the sadness. If you experience joy without craving that the joy linger and intensify, you continue to feel joy without losing your peace of mind.
He encapsulated his teachings in a single law: suffering arises from craving; the only way to be fully liberated from suffering is to be fully liberated from craving; and the only way to be liberated from craving is to train the mind to experience reality as it is.
The modern age has witnessed the rise of a number of new natural-law religions, such as liberalism, Communism, capitalism, nationalism and Nazism. If a religion is a system of human norms and values that is founded on belief in a superhuman order, then Soviet Communism was no less a religion than Islam. Scientists studying the inner workings of the human organism have found no soul there.
They increasingly argue that human behaviour is determined by hormones, genes and synapses, rather than by free will — the same forces that determine the behaviour of chimpanzees, wolves, and ants. Our judicial and political systems largely try to sweep such inconvenient discoveries under the carpet. But in all frankness, how long can we maintain the wall separating the department of biology from the departments of law and political science?
This is one of the distinguishing marks of history as an academic discipline — the better you know a particular historical period, the harder it becomes to explain why things happened one way and not another. Level two chaos is chaos that reacts to predictions about it, and therefore can never be predicted accurately.
Markets, for example, are a level two chaotic system. Most scholars in the humanities disdain memetics, seeing it as an amateurish attempt to explain cultural processes with crude biological analogies. Postmodernist thinkers speak about discourses rather than memes as the building blocks of culture.
Yet they too see cultures as propagating themselves with little regard for the benefit of humankind. But the single most remarkable and defining moment of the past years came at on 16 July At that precise second, American scientists detonated the first atomic bomb at Alamogordo, New Mexico. From that point onward, humankind had the capability not only to change the course of history, but to end it.
Throughout history, societies have suffered from two kinds of poverty: social poverty, which withholds from some people the opportunities available to others; and biological poverty, which puts the very lives of individuals at risk due to lack of food and shelter. Perhaps social poverty can never be eradicated, but in many countries around the world biological poverty is a thing of the past. Astronomers predicted that the next Venus transits would occur in and So expeditions were sent from Europe to the four corners of the world in order to observe the transits from as many distant points as possible.
Many cultures drew world maps long before the modern age. Obviously, none of them really knew the whole of the world. But unfamiliar areas were simply left out, or filled with imaginary monsters and wonders. These maps had no empty spaces. They gave the impression of a familiarity with the entire world. During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, Europeans began to draw world maps with lots of empty spaces — one indication of the development of the scientific mindset, as well as of the European imperial drive.
The empty maps were a psychological and ideological breakthrough, a clear admission that Europeans were ignorant of large parts of the world.
Yuval Noah Harari: Why We Dominate the Earth
The discovery of America was the foundational event of the Scientific Revolution. It not only taught Europeans to favour present observations over past traditions, but the desire to conquer America also obliged Europeans to search for new knowledge at breakneck speed. The Aztec Empire was an extremely centralised polity, and this unprecedented situation paralysed it. Because credit was limited, people had trouble financing new businesses. Because there were few new businesses, the economy did not grow. Because it did not grow, people assumed it never would, and those who had capital were wary of extending credit.
The expectation of stagnation fulfilled itself. Today, there is so much credit in the world that governments, business corporations and private individuals easily obtain large, long-term and low-interest loans that far exceed current income.
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Smith made the following novel argument: when a landlord, a weaver, or a shoemaker has greater profits than he needs to maintain his own family, he uses the surplus to employ more assistants, in order to further increase his profits. The more profits he has, the more assistants he can employ. It follows that an increase in the profits of private entrepreneurs is the basis for the increase in collective wealth and prosperity. All this depends, however, on the rich using their profits to open new factories and hire new employees, rather than wasting them on non-productive activities.
The colony was threatened by Indians and repeatedly attacked by the British, who eventually captured it in The British changed its name to New York. In the late s the Chinese government issued a ban on drug trafficking, but British drug merchants simply ignored the law. Chinese authorities began to confiscate and destroy drug cargos. The drug cartels had close connections in Westminster and Downing Street — many MPs and Cabinet ministers in fact held stock in the drug companies — so they pressured the government to take action.
It was a walkover. Under the subsequent peace treaty, China agreed not to constrain the activities of British drug merchants and to compensate them for damages inflicted by the Chinese police. Furthermore, the British demanded and received control of Hong Kong, which they proceeded to use as a secure base for drug trafficking Hong Kong remained in British hands until This is the fly in the ointment of free-market capitalism. It cannot ensure that profits are gained in a fair way, or distributed in a fair manner.
On the contrary, the craving to increase profits and production blinds people to anything that might stand in the way. When growth becomes a supreme good, unrestricted by any other ethical considerations, it can easily lead to catastrophe. Some religions, such as Christianity and Nazism, have killed millions out of burning hatred.
Capitalism has killed millions out of cold indifference coupled with greed. The Atlantic slave trade did not stem from racist hatred towards Africans.
The individuals who bought the shares, the brokers who sold them, and the managers of the slave-trade companies rarely thought about the Africans. Nor did the owners of the sugar plantations. Many owners lived far from their plantations, and the only information they demanded were neat ledgers of profits and losses.
At first, the idea of using gunpowder to propel projectiles was so counter-intuitive that for centuries gunpowder was used primarily to produce fire bombs. But eventually — perhaps after some bomb expert ground gunpowder in a mortar only to have the pestle shoot out with force — guns made their appearance. About years passed between the invention of gunpowder and the development of effective artillery. For decades, aluminium was much more expensive than gold. In the s, Emperor Napoleon III of France commissioned aluminium cutlery to be laid out for his most distinguished guests.
Less important visitors had to make do with the gold knives and forks. Two thousand years ago, when people in the Mediterranean basin suffered from dry skin they smeared olive oil on their hands. When the two mothers were placed in close proximity, the infants held on to the cloth mother even while they reached over to suck milk from the metal mother. Today, the tables have turned. The Industrial Revolution turned the timetable and the assembly line into a template for almost all human activities. Shortly after factories imposed their time frames on human behaviour, schools too adopted precise timetables, followed by hospitals, government offices and grocery stores.
Even in places devoid of assembly lines and machines, the timetable became king. If the shift at the factory ends at 5 P. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, the daily life of most humans ran its course within three ancient frames: the nuclear family, the extended family and the local intimate community.
The family was also the welfare system, the health system, the education system, the construction industry, the trade union, the pension fund, the insurance company, the radio, the television, the newspapers, the bank and even the police. Yet throughout history, such imagined communities played second fiddle to intimate communities of several dozen people who knew each other well. In the last two centuries, the intimate communities have withered, leaving imagined communities to fill in the emotional vacuum. The two most important examples for the rise of such imagined communities are the nation and the consumer tribe.
In recent decades, national communities have been increasingly eclipsed by tribes of customers who do not know one another intimately but share the same consumption habits and interests, and therefore feel part of the same consumer tribe — and define themselves as such. This sounds very strange, but we are surrounded by examples. Madonna fans, for example, constitute a consumer tribe. They define themselves largely by shopping. They buy Madonna concert tickets, CDs, posters, shirts and ring tones, and thereby define who they are. In the year , wars caused the deaths of , individuals, and violent crime killed another , Each and every victim is a world destroyed, a family ruined, friends and relatives scarred for life.
Yet from a macro perspective these , victims comprised only 1. That year 1. In a military dictatorship was established in Brazil. It ruled the country until During these twenty years, several thousand Brazilians were murdered by the regime. Thousands more were imprisoned and tortured. Yet even in the worst years, the average Brazilian in Rio de Janeiro was far less likely to die at human hands than the average Waorani, Arawete or Yanomamo are, indigenous people who live in the depths of the Amazon forest, without army, police or prisons.
Anthropological studies have indicated that between a quarter and a half of their menfolk die sooner or later in violent conflicts over property, women or prestige. Yet the Soviet elite, and the Communist regimes through most of eastern Europe Romania and Serbia were the exceptions , chose not to use even a tiny fraction of this military power. When its members realised that Communism was bankrupt, they renounced force, admitted their failure, packed their suitcases and went home. The exponential leap happened because we could talk about things that were not real. Harari writes:.
As far as we know, only Sapiens can talk about entire kinds of entities that they have never seen, touched, or smelled. Legends, myths, gods, and religions appeared for the first time with the Cognitive Revolution. A lion! You could never convince a monkey to give you a banana by promising him limitless bananas after death in monkey heaven. Predictably, Harari mentions religion as one of the important fictions. But just as important are fictions like the limited liability corporation; the nation-state; the concept of human rights, inalienable from birth; and even money itself.
Shared beliefs allow us to do the thing that other species cannot. Because we believe, we can cooperate effectively in large groups toward larger aims. Sure, other animals cooperate. Ants and bees work in large groups with close relatives but in a very rigid manner. Changes in the environment, as we are seeing today, put the rigidity under strain.
Apes and wolves cooperate as well, and with more flexibility than ants.
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If wild animals could have organized in large numbers, you might not be reading this. Our success is intimately linked to scale. In many systems and in all species but ours, as far as we know, there are hard limits to the number of individuals that can cooperate in groups in a flexible way. Sapiens diverged when they—or I should say we—hit on the ability of a collective myth to advance us beyond what we could do individually.
As long as we shared some beliefs we could work toward something larger than ourselves—itself a shared fiction. With this in mind, there was almost no limit to the number of cooperating, believing individuals who could belong to a belief-group. With that, it becomes easier to understand why we see different results from communication in human culture than in whale culture, or dolphin culture, or bonobo culture: a shared trust in something outside of ourselves, something larger.
And the result can be extreme, lollapalooza even, when a lot of key things converge in one direction, from a combination of critical elements.
Churches are rooted in common religious myths. Two Catholics who have never met can nevertheless go together on crusade or pool funds to build a hospital because they both believe God was incarnated in human flesh and allowed Himself to be crucified to redeem our sins. States are rooted in common national myths. Two Serbs who have never met might risk their lives to save one another because both believe in the existence of the Serbian nation, the Serbian homeland and the Serbian flag.
Judicial systems are rooted in common legal myths. Two lawyers who have never met can nevertheless combine efforts to defend a complete stranger because they both believe in the existence of laws, justice, human rights, and money paid out in fees. Shared fictions can create literal truths. For example, if I trust that you believe in money as much as I do, we can use it as an exchange of value.
Hublin and his colleagues used a method called thermoluminescence to calculate how much time had passed since the blades were burned. They estimated that the blades were roughly , years old. The skulls, discovered in the same rock layer, must have been the same age. Despite the age of the teeth and jaws, anatomical details showed they nevertheless belonged to Homo sapiens, not to another hominin group, such as the Neanderthals.
But the new research is also notable for the discovery of several early humans rather than just one, as so often happens, said Marta Mirazon Lahr, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Cambridge who was not involved in the new study. The people at Jebel Irhoud shared a general resemblance to one another — and to living humans. Their brows were heavy, their chins small, their faces flat and wide. But all in all, they were not so different from people today. Hublin said. The flattened faces of early Homo sapiens may have something to do with the advent of speech, speculated Christopher Stringer, a paleoanthropologist at the Natural History Museum in London.
Stringer said. The brains of the inhabitants of Jebel Irhoud, on the other hand, were less like our own. Although they were as big as modern human brains, they did not yet have its distinctively round shape. They were long and low, like those of earlier hominins. Gunz, of the Max Planck Institute, said that the human brain may have become rounder at a later phase of evolution.
Two regions in the back of the brain appear to have become enlarged over thousands of years. Still, he added, no one knows how a rounder brain changed how we think. The people of Jebel Irhoud were certainly sophisticated. They could make fires and craft complex weapons, such as wooden handled spears, needed to kill gazelles and other animals that grazed the savanna that covered the Sahara , years ago.
The flint is interesting for another reason: Researchers traced its origin to another site about 20 miles south of Jebel Irhoud.
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