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Bookstrapping: Everyone must have a right to stupidity in private, says Yuval Noah Harari, author of Unstoppable Us

Yuval Noah Harari, author of bestselling books like Sapiens, shares his views on storytelling, India, technologies like AI and more, in a two-part special series of Storyboard18’s Bookstrapping.

By  Reeta Ramamurthy GuptaDec 18, 2022 9:07 AM
Bookstrapping: Everyone must have a right to stupidity in private, says Yuval Noah Harari, author of Unstoppable Us

Unstoppably Yuval - Part Two

In our second part, we explore Yuval Noah Harari’s relationship with India and his views on corporate storytelling. In Sapiens, Harari said that ‘Money, imperialism, and religion’ are the forces that unified humankind into a global society. We begin with this theme.

On forces that unify us

Today, the big unifier is science. Money, religion and empire - other unifying forces I've spoken of before - have limits. Empires used repression, violence and war. Even religion did not unite the world. It united only a part of the world and created conflict in another part. Even money is a trust system more than a unifier. Science is the most universal value. Look at COVID - every nation, every religion, understood it in the same way. And our response was also scientific - how does the virus spread and how do we stop it?

The story of human evolution is also scientific. I would recommend to parents and corporations that in order to unite humanity - your ticket should be science. Encourage scientific thinking, build trust in scientific institutions. Because if our trust in science is destroyed, we become helpless in the face of the next pandemic or even climate change.

On AI

AI is the first technology in history that can choose by itself what to do. This is very dangerous. Very soon we may no longer have a choice about what to do with the technology. For instance,when we feed data into a computer, it will ‘decide’ whether it can offer admissions, loans etc;

On why AI is frightening

AI has made our whole life an exam. When you do something stupid at the age of ten, it's recorded somewhere and becomes a part of the decision making process that is applied to you. And no record will ever get deleted! Does this mean that we can never make mistakes? Our homes used to be a safe place, but this is changing. Where is the time when you can be with yourself? My view is that everyone, even politicians, must have a right to stupidity in private! We must hold people accountable only to what they say in public. Imagine a time, when you will not even get a good ‘cemetery’ for your burial because you did something stupid at the age of ten.

On AI… continued

After the Industrial Revolution - Britain and France colonised the world because the rest of the world didn't realise the potential of the machines and the rise in productivity and benefits to society. So they got left behind. Today, AI is the next powerful technology. We cannot ignore it. China is ahead of the rest of the world in AI which should make us realise that if we ignore its power, the colonisers of the world won't be the same as the old ones. And we have to have to cooperate to prevent colonisation again. In fact, global cooperation is the key to preventing technologies from becoming dangerous.

On present dangers

Unlike lions and tigers, which we can see and consider dangerous thanks to our evolutionary memory, corporations are a story in our minds. In an evolutionary sense, we don’t see them as harmful, but they are. And you meet corporations more often than lions and tigers; for example, Coca Cola or Facebook. Corporations are eating our information. And they have to be more responsible in the way they tell stories.

On Corporate Storytelling

You can use the learning of human evolution to manipulate people with storytelling. Storytelling is like a knife - you can kill people or you can save people. The key thing is NOT ‘how to tell stories better’, but how to help people with stories. We often see corporations effective in storytelling - but the stories themselves are harmful to humanity. And they are hacking the human emotional system.

On advertising billions guiding our choices

Many times, corporations are making money by doing harm and then they promote values like diversity in their communication. My message to corporations is, ‘focus on your core business’ and ‘focus on doing good in your core business.’ Even if you don't donate a single cent to charity, your core business must be about doing good. This is a high priority. The white washing story that a corporation tells itself is harmful. Because if you're making money by not paying fair wages or destroying the environment, it is not good.

On our sameness as ‘sapiens’

Yes, there are huge cultural differences between the peoples of the world but biologically, we are all the same. The virus saw no difference between Muslims, Christians and Hindus. While it is healthy to have cultural diversity - the world would be very boring if we did not have our differences. However, it is important to remember that whatever is not scientific; such as racism will put us all in danger. Also, cooperation is key. For example, some of our ancestors were people with disabilities. There is theological evidence of broken bones etc,, it was the community that stepped up to help them and took care of them.

On why he has a graphic version of Sapiens too

I wrote the graphic version as an alternative. Many people may find Sapiens ‘niche.’ Ultimately, it's a science book of 500 pages! So the graphic one is for those who consume information in that way.

Historian and author Yuval Noah Harari, bestselling author of six books, was in Mumbai with his trusted entourage and inimitably courteous husband Itzhik Yahav. At an event organized by Akash Gupta of Crossword Bookstores as part of their 30 year celebrations, Yuval spoke about his new book ‘Unstoppable Us’ (a version of ‘Sapiens’ for 8+). A very engaged audience filled the halls of the Sophia College auditorium. To their shock and amusement, Yuval declared that he would learn of the winner of the Argentina-France FIFA world cup final, only after the end of his two month meditation!

Gupta of Crossword probed Harari’s relationship with India to which the author said that he has been practising Vipassana for more than 20 years. And it is meditation that made it possible for him to write books like Sapiens. We are all in a state of balancing our minds between fictional stories and reality. The mind keeps wandering to a memory and cannot focus. Meditation teaches you the value of being in the moment. When you sit in an angry thought - you realise that anger is misery. You cannot be happy and angry at the same time, especially in a world that’s changing all the time.

Harari added, “I would've loved to be born in the time of the Buddha. If there was anyone who understood the world, maybe it was him.”

Reeta Ramamurthy Gupta is a columnist, biographer and bibliophile. She is credited with the internationally acclaimed Red Dot Experiment, a decadal six-nation study on how ‘culture impacts communication.’ She writes the weekly column Bookstrapping on Storyboard18. On Instagram @officialreetagupta.

First Published on Dec 18, 2022 8:25 AM