21 Lessons for the 21st Century
21 Lessons for the 21st Century

21 Lessons for the 21st Century

Table of Contents

My first book, Sapiens, surveyed the human past, examining how an insignificant ape became the ruler of planet Earth. Homo Deus, my second book, explored the long-term future of life, contemplating how humans might eventually become gods, and what might be the ultimate destiny of intelligence and consciousness. In this book I want to zoom in on the here and now. My focus is on current affairs and on the immediate future of human societies. What is happening right now? What are today’s greatest challenges and choices? What should we pay attention to? What should we teach our kids? (Location 69)

Note: Sapiens focused on the past, homo deus on the long term future and this book on the here and now

My agenda here is global. I look at the major forces that shape societies all over the world, and that are likely to influence the future of our planet as a whole. (Location 79)

Note: Looking at major forces likely to effect our planet

Certain chapters celebrate human wisdom, others highlight the crucial role of human stupidity. But the overarching question remains the same: what is happening in the world today, and what is the deep meaning of events? (Location 88)

Note: what is happening and what is the meaning of events

Terrorism works by pressing the fear button deep in our minds and hijacking the private imagination of millions of individuals. (Location 95)

Tags: terrorism

Note: .terrorism

Big Data algorithms might create digital dictatorships in which all power is concentrated in the hands of a tiny elite while most people suffer not from exploitation, but from something far worse – irrelevance. (Location 113)

Tags: elite, algorithms

corporations and entrepreneurs who lead the technological revolution naturally tend to sing the praises of their creations, it falls to sociologists, philosophers and historians like myself to sound the alarm and explain all the ways things can go terribly wrong. (Location 120)

Note: Businesses always promote the pros of their tech products and innovations, it is important to also review the cons

Philosophers are very patient people, but engineers are far less patient, and investors are the least patient of all. If you don’t know what to do with the power to engineer life, market forces will not wait a thousand years for you to come up with an answer. The invisible hand of the market will force upon you its own blind reply. Unless you are happy to entrust the future of life to the mercy of quarterly revenue reports, you need a clear idea what life is all about. (Location 138)

PART I The Technological Challenge

1 DISILLUSIONMENT The end of history has been postponed

Humans think in stories rather than in facts, numbers or equations, and the simpler the story, the better. (Location 164)

Tags: stories

Note: We think in stories rather than facts & numbers

In 1938 humans were offered three global stories to choose from, in 1968 just two, in 1998 a single story seemed to prevail; in 2018 we are down to zero. (Location 198)

Tags: politics

Note: Fascism, communism and liberalism

Humans were always far better at inventing tools than using them wisely. (Location 227)

Perhaps in the twenty-first century populist revolts will be staged not against an economic elite that exploits people, but against an economic elite that does not need them any more.6 This may well be a losing battle. It is much harder to struggle against irrelevance than against exploitation. (Location 256)

By the early 1990s, thinkers and politicians alike hailed ‘the End of History’, confidently asserting that all the big political and economic questions of the past had been settled, and that the refurbished liberal package of democracy, human rights, free markets and government welfare services remained the only game in town. (Location 286)

Tags: liberal, democracy

Note: Democracy,capitalism and welfare

Most people who voted for Trump and Brexit didn’t reject the liberal package in its entirety – they lost faith mainly in its globalising part. (Location 295)

Tags: globalisation, brexit

Note: Brexiters and trump supporters reject globalisation

Democracy is based on Abraham Lincoln’s principle that ‘you can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time’. ... government control of the media undermines Lincoln’s logic, because it prevents citizens from realising the truth. Through its monopoly over the media, the ruling oligarchy can repeatedly blame all its failures on others, and divert attention to external threats – either real or imaginary. (Location 307)

Tags: media

Note: Controlling the media controls the publics' access to the truth. You can diver the attention of the public as you please.

When you live under such an oligarchy, there is always some crisis or other that takes priority over boring stuff such as healthcare and pollution. If the nation is facing external invasion or diabolical subversion, who has time to worry about overcrowded hospitals and polluted rivers? By manufacturing a never-ending stream of crises, a corrupt oligarchy can prolong its rule indefinitely. (Location 312)

Tags: 1984

Note: This is similar to 1984. External crisis - war & invasion, prevents people from worrying of other issues in the country

the numerous shortcomings of the liberal package, it has a much better record than any of its alternatives. Most humans never enjoyed greater peace or prosperity than they did under the aegis of the liberal order of the early twenty-first century. For the first time in history, infectious diseases kill fewer people than old age, famine kills fewer people than obesity, and violence kills fewer people than accidents. (Location 363)

Tags: liberal


Note: The advancement of AI will enable computers to do cognitive jobs better than humans and ultimately replace us. This will create a large under-employed population.

Humans have two types of abilities – physical and cognitive. In the past, machines competed with humans mainly in raw physical abilities, while humans retained an immense edge over machines in cognition. Hence as manual jobs in agriculture and industry were automated, new service jobs emerged that required the kind of cognitive skills only humans possessed: learning, analysing, communicating and above all understanding human emotions. However, AI is now beginning to outperform humans in more and more of these skills, including in the understanding of human emotions.2 We don’t know of any third field of activity – beyond the physical and the cognitive – where humans will always retain a secure edge. (Location 413)

Tags: future of work, ai

Note: Humans have physical and cognitive abilities. Previous innovations replaced the need for human physical ability, ai may replace human cognitive abilities

Vaunted ‘human intuition’ is in reality ‘pattern recognition’.3 Good drivers, bankers and lawyers don’t have magical intuitions about traffic, investment or negotiation – rather, by recognising recurring patterns, they spot and try to avoid careless pedestrians, inept borrowers and dishonest crooks. (Location 424)

Tags: intuition

Note: Intuition is pattern recognition, developed through experience

Two particularly important non-human abilities that AI possesses are connectivity and updateability. Since humans are individuals, it is difficult to connect them to one another and to make sure that they are all up to date. In contrast, computers aren’t individuals, and it is easy to integrate them into a single flexible network. Hence what we are facing is not the replacement of millions of individual human workers by millions of individual robots and computers. Rather, individual humans are likely to be replaced by an integrated network. When considering automation it is therefore wrong to compare the abilities of a single human driver to that of a single self-driving car, or of a single human doctor to that of a single AI doctor. Rather, we should compare the abilities of a collection of human individuals to the abilities of an integrated network. (Location 447)

Tags: future of work, ai

Note: Computers are great at connectivity and updateability.

if the World Health Organization identifies a new disease, or if a laboratory produces a new medicine, it is almost impossible to update all the human doctors in the world about these developments. In contrast, even if you have 10 billion AI doctors in the world – each monitoring the health of a single human being – you can still update all of them within a split second, and they can all communicate to each other their feedback on the new disease or medicine. These potential advantages of connectivity and updateability are so huge that at least in some lines of work it might make sense to replace all humans with computers, even if individually some humans still do a better job than the machines. (Location 460)

Tags: future of work, ai

Note: Updates can quickly be sent across a network

The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimated in 2012 that 31 per cent of fatal crashes in the USA involved alcohol abuse, 30 per cent involved speeding, and 21 per cent involved distracted drivers.7 Self-driving vehicles will never do any of these things. Though they suffer from their own problems and limitations, and though some accidents are inevitable, replacing all human drivers by computers is expected to reduce deaths and injuries on the road by about 90 per cent.8 In other words, switching to autonomous vehicles is likely to save the lives of a million people every year. (Location 481)

Tags: self driving cars, #newsletter

Note: The majority of road accidents involve alcohol,speeding or drivers not paying attention

would be madness to block automation in fields such as transport and healthcare just in order to protect human jobs. After all, what we ultimately ought to protect is humans – not jobs. Redundant drivers and doctors will just have to find something else to do. (Location 486)

Tags: ai, future of work

Consequently, despite the appearance of many new human jobs, we might nevertheless witness the rise of a new ‘useless’ class. We might actually get the worst of both worlds, suffering simultaneously from high unemployment and a shortage of skilled labour. Many people might share the fate not of nineteenth-century wagon drivers – who switched to driving taxis – but of nineteenth-century horses, who were increasingly pushed out of the job market altogether. (Location 579)

Note: We may see high unemployment and a shortage of skilled workers

In the nineteenth century the Industrial Revolution created new conditions and problems that none of the existing social, economic and political models could cope with. Feudalism, monarchism and traditional religions were not adapted to managing industrial metropolises, millions of uprooted workers, or the constantly changing nature of the modern economy. Consequently humankind had to develop completely new models – liberal democracies, communist dictatorships and fascist regimes – and it took more than a century of terrible wars and revolutions to experiment with these models, separate the wheat from the chaff, and implement the best solutions. (Location 634)

Note: The industrial created new problems that existing social models couldn't deal with.

governments could subsidise universal basic services rather than income. Instead of giving money to people, who then shop around for whatever they want, the government might subsidise free education, free healthcare, free transport and so forth. (Location 703)

Note: Universal basic services

Homo sapiens is just not built for satisfaction. Human happiness depends less on objective conditions and more on our own expectations. Expectations, however, tend to adapt to conditions, including to the condition of other people. When things improve, expectations balloon, and consequently even dramatic improvements in conditions might leave us as dissatisfied as before. If universal basic support is aimed at improving the objective conditions of the average person in 2050, it has a fair chance of succeeding. But if it is aimed at making people subjectively more satisfied with their lot and preventing social discontent, it is likely to fail. (Location 764)

Tags: expectation, happiness

Note: happiness is determined by our expectations

3 LIBERTY Big Data is watching you

The liberal story cherishes human liberty as its number one value. It argues that all authority ultimately stems from the free will of individual humans, as it is expressed in their feelings, desires and choices. In politics, liberalism believes that the voter knows best. It therefore upholds democratic elections. In economics, liberalism maintains that the customer is always right. It therefore hails free-market principles. In personal matters, liberalism encourages people to listen to themselves, be true to themselves, and follow their hearts – as long as they do not infringe on the liberties of others. This personal freedom is enshrined in human rights. (Location 792)

Tags: liberal

Referendums and elections are always about human feelings, not about human rationality. If democracy were a matter of rational decision-making, there would be absolutely no reason to give all people equal voting rights – or perhaps any voting rights. There is ample evidence that some people are far more knowledgeable and rational than others, certainly when it comes to specific economic and political questions. (Location 810)

Tags: democracy

Note: .democracy

scientific insights into the way our brains and bodies work suggest that our feelings are not some uniquely human spiritual quality, and they do not reflect any kind of ‘free will’. Rather, feelings are biochemical mechanisms that all mammals and birds use in order to quickly calculate probabilities of survival and reproduction. Feelings aren’t based on intuition, inspiration or freedom – they are based on calculation. (Location 838)

When a monkey, mouse or human sees a snake, fear arises because millions of neurons in the brain swiftly calculate the relevant data and conclude that the probability of death is high. Feelings of sexual attraction arise when other biochemical algorithms calculate that a nearby individual offers a high probability of successful mating, social bonding, or some other coveted goal. Moral feelings such as outrage, guilt or forgiveness derive from neural mechanisms that evolved to enable group cooperation. All these biochemical algorithms were honed through millions of years of evolution. If the feelings of some ancient ancestor made a mistake, the genes shaping these feelings did not pass on to the next generation. Feelings are thus not the opposite of rationality – they embody evolutionary rationality. (Location 841)

Tags: algorithms, emotion

Winston Churchill famously said that democracy is the worst political system in the world, except for all the others. (Location 934)

Tags: democracy, politics

Note: .politics

In a pioneering 2015 study people were presented with a hypothetical scenario of a self-driving car about to run over several pedestrians. Most said that in such a case the car should save the pedestrians even at the price of killing its owner. When they were then asked whether they personally would buy a car programmed to sacrifice its owner for the greater good, most said no. For themselves, they would prefer the Tesla Egoist. (Location 1062)

Tags: self driving cars

Note: People say the car should save pedestrians buy would buy the car to save the driver

intelligence and consciousness are very different things. Intelligence is the ability to solve problems. Consciousness is the ability to feel things such as pain, joy, love and anger. We tend to confuse the two because in humans and other mammals intelligence goes hand in hand with consciousness. Mammals solve most problems by feeling things. Computers, however, solve problems in a very different way. (Location 1193)

Note: Intelligence is the ability to solves problems and consciousness is the ability to feel emotions

three possibilities we need to consider: Consciousness is somehow linked to organic biochemistry in such a way that it will never be possible to create consciousness in non-organic systems. Consciousness is not linked to organic biochemistry, but it is linked to intelligence in such a way that computers could develop consciousness, and computers will have to develop consciousness if they are to pass a certain threshold of intelligence. There are no essential links between consciousness and either organic biochemistry or high intelligence. Hence computers might develop consciousness – but not necessarily. They could become super-intelligent while still having zero consciousness. (Location 1202)

Note: Consciousness may or may not be linked to intelligence and organic chemistry

We are unlikely to face a robot rebellion in the coming decades, but we might have to deal with hordes of bots who know how to press our emotional buttons better than our mother, and use this uncanny ability to try and sell us something – be it a car, a politician, or an entire ideology. The bots could identify our deepest fears, hatreds and cravings, and use these inner leverages against us. We have already been given a foretaste of this in recent elections and referendums across the world, when hackers have learned how to manipulate individual voters by analysing data about them and exploiting their existing prejudices.33 While science-fiction thrillers are drawn to dramatic apocalypses of fire and smoke, in reality we might be facing a banal apocalypse by clicking. (Location 1212)

Tags: ai

4 EQUALITY Those who own the data own the future

Note: Inequality will increase when the super rich can upgrade their biology through AI

ancient hunter-gatherer bands were still more egalitarian than any subsequent human society, because they had very little property. Property is a prerequisite for long-term inequality. ... Following the Agricultural Revolution, property multiplied and with it inequality. As humans gained ownership of land, animals, plants and tools, rigid hierarchical societies emerged, in which small elites monopolised most wealth and power for generation after generation. (Location 1245)

Tags: inequality, property

Note: ancient societies did not have property so there was less inequality

In the late modern era, however, equality became an ideal in almost all human societies. It was partly due to the rise of the new ideologies of communism and liberalism. But it was also due to the Industrial Revolution, which made the masses more important than ever before. Industrial economies relied on masses of common workers, while industrial armies relied on masses of common soldiers. Governments in both democracies and dictatorships invested heavily in the health, education and welfare of the masses, because they needed millions of healthy labourers to operate the production lines and millions of loyal soldiers to fight in the trenches. (Location 1252)

Tags: industrial revolution

Note: Governments invested in health and education of the population as they needed workers and soldiers im good condition

the richest 1 per cent owns half the world’s wealth. Even more alarmingly, the richest hundred people together own more than the poorest 4 billion. (Location 1264)

Tags: wealth

Note: .wealth

The super-rich will finally have something really worthwhile to do with their stupendous wealth. While hitherto they could buy little more than status symbols, soon they might be able to buy life itself. If new treatments for extending life and for upgrading physical and cognitive abilities prove to be expensive, humankind might split into biological castes. (Location 1267)

Tags: bioengineering, elite

The two processes together – bioengineering coupled with the rise of AI – might therefore result in the separation of humankind into a small class of superhumans and a massive underclass of useless Homo sapiens. To make an already ominous situation even worse, as the masses lose their economic importance and political power, the state might lose at least some of the incentive to invest in their health, education and welfare. It’s very dangerous to be redundant. The future of the masses will then depend on the goodwill of a small elite. Maybe there is goodwill for a few decades. But in a time of crisis – like climate catastrophe – it would be very tempting and easy to toss the superfluous people overboard. (Location 1276)

Tags: elite, ai

Note: There may be two classes - super rich elite with enhanced abilities and homo sapiens

The race to obtain the data is already on, headed by data-giants such as Google, Facebook, Baidu and Tencent. So far, many of these giants seem to have adopted the business model of ‘attention merchants’.2 They capture our attention by providing us with free information, services and entertainment, and they then resell our attention to advertisers. (Location 1308)

PART II The Political Challenge

5 COMMUNITY Humans have bodies

Though in the twenty-first century humans might be upgraded into gods, as of 2018 we are still Stone Age animals. In order to flourish we still need to ground ourselves in intimate communities. For millions of years, humans have been adapted to living in small bands of no more than a few dozen people. Even today most of us find it impossible to really know more than 150 individuals, irrespective of how many Facebook friends we boast.4 Without these groups, humans feel lonely and alienated. (Location 1392)

Note: Humans adapted to living in groups of up to 12 people

What makes Facebook’s gambit unique is its global scope, its corporate backing, and its deep faith in technology. Zuckerberg sounds convinced that the new Facebook AI can not only identify ‘meaningful communities’, but also ‘strengthen our social fabric and bring the world closer together’. That is far more ambitious than using AI to drive a car or diagnose cancer. (Location 1411)

Tags: facebook

Note: Facebook wants to use ai to bring communities together

We are more interested in what is happening in cyberspace than in what is happening down the street. It is easier than ever to talk to my cousin in Switzerland, but it is harder to talk to my husband over breakfast, because he constantly looks at his smartphone instead of at me. (Location 1428)

Humans lived for millions of years without religions and without nations – they can probably live happily without them in the twenty-first century, too. (Location 1444)

Tags: nations, religion

Note: humans lived for millions of years without religion and nations

6 CIVILISATION There is just one civilisation in the world

Many pundits, politicians and ordinary citizens believe that the Syrian civil war, the rise of the Islamic State, the Brexit mayhem and the instability of the European Union all result from a clash between ‘Western Civilisation’ and ‘Islamic Civilisation’. Western attempts to impose democracy and human rights on Muslim nations resulted in a violent Islamic backlash, and a wave of Muslim immigration coupled with Islamic terrorist attacks caused European voters to abandon multicultural dreams in favour of xenophobic local identities. (Location 1490)

Tags: brexit

Species often split, but they never merge. (Location 1575)

Ten thousand years ago humankind was divided into countless isolated tribes. With each passing millennium, these fused into larger and larger groups, creating fewer and fewer distinct civilisations. In recent generations the few remaining civilisations have been blending into a single global civilisation. (Location 1586)

Note: We are merging into fewer and fewer distinct tribes

People care far more about their enemies than about their trade partners. For every American film about Taiwan, there are probably fifty about Vietnam. (Location 1601)

Many of these political entities appeared and disappeared within a matter of years. As you made your preparations for the 1016 Olympics, you could not know in advance which delegations would show up, because nobody could be sure which political entities would still exist next year. If the kingdom of England had sent a delegation to the 1016 Olympics, by the time the athletes came home with their medals they would have discovered that the Danes had just captured London, and that England was being absorbed into the North Sea Empire of King Cnut the Great, together with Denmark, Norway and parts of Sweden. Within another twenty years, that empire disintegrated, but thirty years later England was conquered again, by the Duke of Normandy. Needless to say, the vast majority of these ephemeral political entities had neither anthem to play nor flag to hoist. (Location 1676)

Tags: olympics, politics

Note: Political entities came and went. There was no global agreement on national anthems and flags

So when you watch the Tokyo Games in 2020, remember that this seeming competition between nations actually represents an astonishing global agreement. For all the national pride people feel when their delegation wins a gold medal and their flag is raised, there is far greater reason to feel pride that humankind is capable of organising such an event. (Location 1684)

Tags: favorite, olympics

Note: the fact that humans can organise a global event is cause for celebration

7 NATIONALISM Global problems need global answers

Contrary to common wisdom, nationalism is not a natural and eternal part of the human psyche, and it is not rooted in human biology. True, humans are social animals through and through, with group loyalty imprinted in their genes. However, for hundreds of thousands of years Homo sapiens and its hominid ancestors lived in small intimate communities numbering no more than a few dozen people. Humans easily develop loyalty to small intimate groups such as a tribe, an infantry company or a family business, but it is hardly natural for humans to be loyal to millions of utter strangers. (Location 1755)

Tags: #newsletter, nationalism

Note: .nationalism nationalism is a relatively recent Idea, we lived in small groups for thousands of years

People went to the trouble of constructing national collectives because they confronted challenges that could not be solved by any single tribe. Take, for example, the ancient tribes that lived along the Nile River thousands of years ago. The river was their lifeblood. It watered their fields and carried their commerce. But it was an unpredictable ally. Too little rain – and people starved to death; too much rain – and the river overflowed its banks and destroyed entire villages. No tribe could solve this problem by itself, because each tribe commanded only a small section of the river and could mobilise no more than a few hundred labourers. Only a common effort to build huge dams and dig hundreds of kilometres of canals could hope to restrain and harness the mighty river. This was one of the reasons why the tribes gradually coalesced into a single nation that had the power to build dams and canals, regulate the flow of the river, build grain reserves for lean years, and establish a countrywide system of transport and communication. (Location 1761)

Tags: nationalism

Note: People created larger collectives to overcome challenges, like creating large dams to control river flow

national systems of security, health and welfare. (Location 1776)

Everything changed in 1945. The invention of nuclear weapons sharply tilted the balance of the nationalist deal. After Hiroshima people no longer feared that nationalism would lead to mere war – they began fearing it would lead to nuclear war. Total annihilation has a way of sharpening people’s minds, and thanks in no small measure to the atom bomb, the impossible happened and the nationalist genie was squeezed at least halfway back into its bottle. Just as the ancient villagers of the Nile Basin redirected some of their loyalty from local clans to a much bigger kingdom that was able to restrain the dangerous river, so in the nuclear age a global community gradually developed over and above the various nations, because only such a community could restrain the nuclear demon. (Location 1791)

Tags: nuclear war

Note: The threat of nuclear war encouraged cooperation between countries

nationalism still has a powerful hold even on the citizens of Europe and the USA, not to mention Russia, India and China. Alienated by the impersonal forces of global capitalism, and fearing for the fate of national systems of health, education and welfare, people all over the world seek reassurance and meaning in the bosom of the nation. (Location 1807)

Tags: nationalism

Note: Concerns over health, education and welfare has encouraged nationalism

the Brexit debate in Britain – a major nuclear power – revolved mainly around questions of economics and immigration, while the vital contribution of the EU to European and global peace has largely been ignored. After centuries of terrible bloodshed, French, Germans, Italians and Britons have finally built a mechanism that ensures continental harmony – only to have the British public throw a spanner into the miracle machine. (Location 1826)

Tags: brexit

Note: .brexit

we are rapidly approaching a number of tipping points, beyond which even a dramatic drop in greenhouse gas emissions will not be enough to reverse the trend and avoid a worldwide tragedy. For example, as global warming melts the polar ice sheets, less sunlight is reflected back from planet Earth to outer space. This means that the planet absorbs more heat, temperatures rise even higher, and the ice melts even faster. Once this feedback loop crosses a critical threshold it will gather an irresistible momentum, and all the ice in the polar regions will melt even if humans stop burning coal, oil and gas. Hence it is not enough that we recognise the danger we face. It is critical that we actually do something about it now. (Location 1864)

Tags: globalwarming

Note: as the ice caps melt they will reflect less sun so the earths temperature will rise further. We will be in a loop we cant reverse

According to a 2013 report by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, it takes about 15,000 litres of fresh water to produce one kilogram of beef, compared to 287 litres needed to produce a kilogram of potatoes. (Location 1882)

Tags: vegetarian, beef

Note: We need 15000 litres of water to make 1 kg of beef

in a xenophobic dog-eat-dog world, if even a single country chooses to pursue a high-risk, high-gain technological path, other countries will be forced to do the same, because nobody can afford to remain behind. In order to avoid such a race to the bottom, humankind will probably need some kind of global identity and loyalty. (Location 1929)

common enemy is the best catalyst for forging a common identity, and humankind now has at least three such enemies – nuclear war, climate change and technological disruption. If despite these common threats humans choose to privilege their particular national loyalties above everything else, the results may be far worse than in 1914 and 1939. (Location 1973)

8 RELIGION God now serves the nation

We are trapped, then, between a rock and a hard place. Humankind now constitutes a single civilisation, and problems such as nuclear war, ecological collapse and technological disruption can only be solved on the global level. On the other hand, nationalism and religion still divide our human civilisation into different and often hostile camps. This collision between global problems and local identities manifests itself in the crisis that now besets the greatest multicultural experiment in the world – the European Union. Built on the promise of universal liberal values, the EU is teetering on the verge of disintegration due to the difficulties of integration and immigration. (Location 2183)

Note: We have global problems such as nuclear war,global warming and technological disruption but local identities

9 IMMIGRATION Some cultures might be better than others

immigration as a deal with three basic conditions or terms: Term 1: The host country allows the immigrants in. Term 2: In return, the immigrants must embrace at least the core norms and values of the host country, even if that means giving up some of their traditional norms and values. Term 3: If the immigrants assimilate to a sufficient degree, over time they become equal and full members of the host country. ‘They’ become ‘us’. (Location 2205)

Tags: immigration

Note: .immigration

Numerous countries turn a blind eye to illegal immigration, or even accept foreign workers on a temporary basis, because they want to benefit from the foreigners’ energy, talents and cheap labour. However, the countries then refuse to legalise the status of these people, saying that they don’t want immigration. In the long run, this could create hierarchical societies in which an upper class of full citizens exploits an underclass of powerless foreigners, as happens today in Qatar and several other Gulf States. (Location 2234)

Tags: immigration

When evaluating the immigration deal, both sides give far more weight to violations than to compliance. If a million immigrants are law-abiding citizens, but one hundred join terrorist groups and attack the host country, does it mean that on the whole the immigrants are complying with the terms of the deal, or violating it? If a third-generation immigrant walks down the street a thousand times without being molested, but once in a while some racist shouts abuse at her, does it mean that the native population is accepting or rejecting immigrants? (Location 2305)

Tags: immigration

Note: .immigration

Traditional racism was firmly grounded in biological theories. In the 1890s or 1930s it was widely believed in countries such as Britain, Australia and the USA that some heritable biological trait makes Africans and Chinese people innately less intelligent, less enterprising and less moral than Europeans. (Location 2362)

Tags: racism

The shift from biology to culture is not just a meaningless change of jargon. It is a profound shift with far-reaching practical consequences, some good, some bad. For starters, culture is more malleable than biology. This means, on the one hand, that present-day culturists might be more tolerant than traditional racists – if only the ‘others’ adopt our culture, we will accept them as our equals. On the other hand, it could result in far stronger pressures on the ‘others’ to assimilate, and in far harsher criticism of their failure to do so. (Location 2384)

Tags: racism

Unlike racism, which is an unscientific prejudice, culturist arguments may sometimes be quite sound. If we look at statistics and discover that Warmlander firms have few Coldians in senior positions, this may result not from racist discrimination, but from good judgement. Should Coldian immigrants feel resentment at this situation, and claim that Warmland is reneging on the immigration deal? (Location 2420)

Tags: racism, culturism

Note: .culturism

PART III Despair and Hope Though the challenges are unprecedented, and though the disagreements are intense, humankind can rise to the occasion if we keep our fears under control and be a bit more humble about our views.

10 TERRORISM Don’t panic

Terrorists are masters of mind control. They kill very few people, but nevertheless manage to terrify billions and shake huge political structures such as the European Union or the United States. Since 11 September 2001, every year terrorists have killed about fifty people in the European Union, about ten people in the USA, about seven people in China, and up to 25,000 people globally (mostly in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria and Syria).1 In contrast, each year traffic accidents kill about 80,000 Europeans, 40,000 Americans, 270,000 Chinese, and 1.25 million people altogether. (Location 2447)

Tags: cars, traffic, terrorism

Note: terrorism

As the literal meaning of the word indicates, terrorism is a military strategy that hopes to change the political situation by spreading fear rather than by causing material damage. This strategy is almost always adopted by very weak parties who cannot inflict much material damage on their enemies. (Location 2454)

Tags: terrorism

Note: .terrorism

Provoking the enemy to action without eliminating any of his weapons or options is an act of desperation, taken only when there is no other option. Whenever it is possible to inflict serious material damage, nobody gives that up in favour of mere terrorism. If in December 1941 the Japanese torpedoed a civilian passenger ship in order to provoke the USA, while leaving the Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor intact, this would have been madness. (Location 2491)

Tags: terrorism

Note: .terrorism

A small coin in a big empty jar makes a lot of noise. (Location 2551)

Tags: quote

Note: .quote

The terrorists kill a hundred people – and cause 100 million to imagine that there is a murderer lurking behind every tree. It is the responsibility of every citizen to liberate his or her imagination from the terrorists, and to remind ourselves of the true dimensions of this threat. It is our own inner terror that prompts the media to obsess about terrorism, and the government to overreact. (Location 2570)

Tags: #newsletter, terrorism

Note: .terrorism

11 WAR Never underestimate human stupidity

The atom bomb has turned victory in a world war into collective suicide. It is no coincidence that ever since Hiroshima, superpowers never fought one another directly, and engaged only in what (for them) were low-stake conflicts, in which the temptation to use nuclear weapons to avert defeat was small. (Location 2735)

Tags: nuclear war

Note: Since the atomic bomb no superpowers have engaged in large wars

12 HUMILITY You are not the centre of the world

None of the religions or nations of today existed when humans colonised the world, domesticated plants and animals, built the first cities, or invented writing and money. Morality, art, spirituality and creativity are universal human abilities embedded in our DNA. Their genesis was in Stone Age Africa. It is therefore crass egotism to ascribe to them a more recent place and time, be they China in the age of the Yellow Emperor, Greece in the age of Plato, or Arabia in the age of Muhammad. (Location 2794)

Tags: nationalism, religion

Note: Present day religions and nations are a relatively recent invention

What monotheism undoubtedly did was to make many people far more intolerant than before, thereby contributing to the spread of religious persecutions and holy wars.

Polytheists found it perfectly acceptable that different people will worship different gods and perform diverse rites and rituals. They rarely if ever fought, persecuted, or killed people just because of their religious beliefs.

Monotheists, in contrast, believed that their God was the only god, and that he demanded universal obedience. Consequently, as Christianity and Islam spread around the world, so did the incidence of crusades, jihads, inquisitions and religious discrimination. (Location 2939)

Tags: holy wars, monotheism, religion

Note: monotheisism made people less tolerant of other religions

13 GOD Don’t take the name of God in vain

To the best of our scientific knowledge, all these sacred texts were written by imaginative Homo sapiens. They are just stories invented by our ancestors in order to legitimise social norms and political structures. (Location 3045)

Tags: bible

Note: .bible

Morality doesn’t mean ‘following divine commands’. It means ‘reducing suffering’. Hence in order to act morally, you don’t need to believe in any myth or story. You just need to develop a deep appreciation of suffering. If you really understand how an action causes unnecessary suffering to yourself or to others, you will naturally abstain from (Location 3078)

Tags: morality

Note: .morality

14 SECULARISM Acknowledge your shadow


15 IGNORANCE You know less than you think

16 JUSTICE Our sense of justice might be out of date

Even if we truly want to, most of us are no longer capable of understanding the major moral problems of the world. People can comprehend relations between two foragers, between twenty foragers, or between two neighbouring clans. They are ill-equipped to comprehend relations between several million Syrians, between 500 million Europeans, or between all the intersecting groups and subgroups of the planet. (Location 3459)

17 POST-TRUTH Some fake news lasts for ever

even if we agree that the Bible is the true word of God, that still leaves us with billions of devout Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Egyptians, Romans and Japanese who for thousands of years put their trust in fictions. Again, that does not mean that these fictions are necessarily worthless or harmful. They could still be beautiful and inspiring. (Location 3561)

Tags: bible

‘A lie told once remains a lie, but a lie told a thousand times becomes the truth.’ (Location 3589)

Tags: gossip, quotes, lies

In fact, false stories have an intrinsic advantage over the truth when it comes to uniting people. If you want to gauge group loyalty, requiring people to believe an absurdity is a far better test than asking them to believe the truth. If a big chief says ‘the sun rises in the east and sets in the west’, loyalty to the chief is not required in order to applaud him. But if the chief says ‘the sun rises in the west and sets in the east’, only true loyalists will clap their hands. Similarly, if all your neighbours believe the same outrageous tale, you can count on them to stand together in times of crisis. If they are willing to believe only accredited facts, what does that prove? (Location 3631)

Tags: loyalty, lies

Note: People's belief of absurd facts shows their loyalty

First, if you want reliable information – pay good money for it. If you get your news for free, you might well be the product. Suppose a shady billionaire offered you the following deal: ‘I will pay you $30 a month, and in exchange, you will allow me to brainwash you for an hour every day, installing in your mind whichever political and commercial biases I want.’ Would you take the deal? Few sane people would. So the shady billionaire offers a slightly different deal: ‘You will allow me to brainwash you for one hour every day, and in exchange, I will not charge you anything for this service.’ Now the deal suddenly sounds tempting to hundreds of millions of people. Don’t follow their example. (Location 3694)

Tags: news

Note: .news Pay for your news to reduce the liklihood of it being biased

18 SCIENCE FICTION The future is not what you see in the movies

In the early twenty-first century, perhaps the most important artistic genre is science fiction. Very few people read the latest articles in the fields of machine learning or genetic engineering. Instead, movies such as The Matrix and Her and TV series such as Westworld and Black Mirror shape how people understand the most important technological, social and economic developments of our time. This also means that science fiction needs to be far more responsible in the way it depicts scientific realities, otherwise it might imbue people with the wrong ideas or focus their attention on the wrong problems. (Location 3720)

Note: People learn about ai and bioengineering through popular science fiction shows

Aldous Huxley wrote Brave New World (Location 3814)

Tags: toread

Note: .toread

PART V Resilience

19 EDUCATION Change is the only constant (Location 3881)

The Industrial Revolution has bequeathed us the production-line theory of education. In the middle of town there is a large concrete building divided into many identical rooms, each room equipped with rows of desks and chairs. At the sound of a bell, you go to one of these rooms together with thirty other kids who were all born the same year as you. Every hour some grown-up walks in, and starts talking. They are all paid to do so by the government. One of them tells you about the shape of the earth, another tells you about the human past, and a third tells you about the human body. It is easy to laugh at this model, and almost everybody agrees that no matter its past achievements, it is now bankrupt. But so far we haven’t created a viable alternative. (Location 3991)

Tags: school

Note: .school

20 MEANING Life is not a story

What kind of an answer do people expect? In almost all cases, when people ask about the meaning of life, they expect to be told a story. Homo sapiens is a storytelling animal, that thinks in stories rather than in numbers or graphs, and believes that the universe itself works like a story, replete with heroes and villains, conflicts and resolutions, climaxes and happy endings. When we look for the meaning of life, we want a story that will explain what reality is all about and what is my particular role in the cosmic drama. This role defines who I am, and gives meaning to all my experiences and choices. (Location 4037)

Tags: story

Note: .story we think in stories

When looking at the entire range of stories that seek to define my true identity and give meaning to my actions, it is striking to realise that scale matters very little. Some stories, such as Simba’s Circle of Life, seem to stretch for eternity. It is only against the backdrop of the entire universe that I can know who I am. Other stories, such as most nationalist and tribal myths, are puny by comparison. Zionism holds sacred the adventures of about 0.2 per cent of humankind and 0.005 per cent of the earth’s surface during a tiny fraction of the span of time. The Zionist story fails to ascribe any meaning to the Chinese empires, to the tribes of New Guinea, and to the Andromeda galaxy, as well as to the countless aeons that passed before the existence of Moses, Abraham and the evolution of apes. (Location 4105)

People who doubt that some kind of soul or spirit really survives their death therefore strive to leave behind something a bit more tangible. That ‘something tangible’ could take one of two forms: cultural or biological. I might leave behind a poem, say, or some of my precious genes. My life has meaning because people will still read my poem a hundred years from now, or because my kids and grandchildren will still be around. And what is the meaning of their lives? Well, that’s their problem, not mine. The meaning of life is thus a bit like playing with a live hand grenade. Once you pass it on to somebody else, you are safe. (Location 4191)

Tags: life

Note: .life many people seek to leave something behind, like children!

most people don’t like to admit that they are fools. Consequently, the more they sacrifice for a particular belief, the stronger their faith becomes. This is the mysterious alchemy of sacrifice. In order to bring us under his power, the sacrificing priest need not give us anything – neither rain, nor money, nor victory in war. Rather, he needs to take away something. Once he convinces us to make some painful sacrifice, we are trapped. (Location 4323)

Note: Making sacrifices makes peiple believe in the idea more

Even in romance, any aspiring Romeo or Werther knows that without sacrifice, there is no true love. The sacrifice is not just a way to convince your lover that you are serious – it is also a way to convince yourself that you are really in love. Why do you think women ask their lovers to bring them diamond rings? Once the lover makes such a huge financial sacrifice, he must convince himself that it was for a worthy cause. (Location 4329)

Tags: sacrifice

Note: .sacrifice

gives you a choice: ‘Either the story is true, or I am a gullible fool.’ When you inflict suffering on others, you are also given a choice: ‘Either the story is true, or I am a cruel villain.’ And just as we don’t want to admit we are fools, we also don’t want to admit we are villains, so we prefer to believe that the story is true. (Location 4351)

Tags: sacrifice

Note: .sacrifice

nationalism teaches me that my nation is unique and that I have special obligations towards it, fascism says that my nation is supreme, and that I owe my nation exclusive obligations. My nation is the only important thing in the world, and I should never prefer the interests of any group or individual over the interests of my nation, no matter what the circumstances are. (Location 4411)

Tags: fascism

Note: .fascism

It is our own human fingers that wrote the Bible, the Quran and the Vedas, and it is our minds that give these stories power. They are no doubt beautiful stories, but their beauty is strictly in the eyes of the beholder. Jerusalem, Mecca, Varanasi and Bodh Gaya are sacred places, but only because of the feelings humans experience when they go there. In itself, the universe is only a meaningless hodge-podge of atoms. Nothing is beautiful, sacred or sexy – but human feelings make it so. It is only human feelings that make a red apple seductive and a turd disgusting. Take away human feelings, and you are left with a bunch of molecules. (Location 4503)

Tags: favorite, religion, meaning

Note: Nothing has any meaning but the meaning humans give it

21 MEDITATION Just observe

The most important thing I realised was that the deepest source of my suffering is in the patterns of my own mind. When I want something and it doesn’t happen, my mind reacts by generating suffering. Suffering is not an objective condition in the outside world. It is a mental reaction generated by my own mind. Learning this is the first step towards ceasing to generate more suffering. (Location 4733)

Note: The deepest source of suffering are the patterns in our own minds