Sapiens' Eternal Search

August 12, 2016

 

I am happy. Mostly because, as the dog whisperer says, all I need in order to achieve such a blissful state is food, exercise, and attention. But, is it the same for humans? Believe it or not, that is the overarching theme of the lengthy and brainy "Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind" by Yuval Harari, a book which is currently all the rage. What Harari does is to go through the trajectory of the homo sapiens pass the cognitive, agricultural and industrial revolutions, and, all in all, present a thesis about what makes humans a successful species. He advances, of course, that what made homo sapiens triumph over its cousins (e.g. Neanderthals) was the ability to build fictions (national epics, human rights, religion, corporations) which, in turn, allowed to organize large numbers of featherless bipeds and take over the world.

 

Needless to say, Harari has the cojones to advance bold theses and speculate wildly whenever archeology, geology and biology leave gaps. And, of course, that has got him in deep shit with certain critics. But one of the most entertaining criticisms of this work is the one regarding the life of the hunter gatherer compared to current existence. Harari perorates about how domesticating wheat started an irreversible trend in which humans became enslaved by their possessions, neck breaking work and luxuries, torturing animals and destroying the environment in their way, leaving behind the simple, carefree and better life of the hunter gatherer. The usual progress-lovers went apeshit, as you can guess, citing art and advances in medicine or even Pokémon Go as irrefutable proof that life is so much better now.

 

But, is it? First thing that came to my mind is Wittgenstein. No, really. Well, first it was a juicy bone but then it was Wittgenstein. I swear. The reason I thought of Wittgenstein is because whenever I read and listen people like Harari and those who feel uncomfortable by their assertions, is not a linguistic exchange but a mix-up of pictures, models of reality which miss each other because the elements within the individual cognitive process producing the compositions are built upon differing perspectives. Is the hunter gatherer life preferable to one's own? Well, a banker's perspective-dependent worldview is definitely different than the one of a Bangladeshi child. Same goes for a vegan, camping-loving hippie as compared to an urban dwelling poet. Henceforth, their realities build different pictures and their communication is not possible. Which kind of makes the whole point moot, unless we agree in terms of adjectives which are not loaded with moral judgements, that is.

 

However, there is a commonality at the bottom of it all and that is the idea of happiness. What Harari, his supporters and his detractors are really discussing about is where did it all go wrong (or great). There is a point made which, I believe, sums it up: happiness depends on the correlation between objective conditions and subjective expectations. The history of humankind which Harari is painting is, in essence, the process by which individuals saw their subjective expectations swell and how circumstances inversely reduced the objective conditions to achieve them. And that is the tragedy of humanity. The more is not the merrier, unless you subjugate crowds or sell trinkets to a lot of people. Work is a curse --and there is a reason why people get paid to do it rather than pay for the honor or doing it. And the finitude of time makes its waste nothing less than frustrating. Nuanced as it may be, complexity has beauty as well. The question is: are the fruits of such complexity sufficient compensation for its price?

 

If there is a conclusion to be taken from the history of humankind is that, value judgements aside, the trajectory between naked brute and genetically enhanced, immortal cyborg is an eternal search soaked in a longing which I doubt humans themselves thoroughly understand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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