Notes politics

Chapter 17: Post-truth (21 Lessons for the 21st Century)

A prevalent idea today is that we live in a post-truth world. That fake news and political figures like Trump and Putin have driven the world away from their ability to recognize truth from fiction. In this chapter, Harari gives us countless examples to show how this is false.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine caused public outrage. The Ukrainians could not accept that the Russians invaded their sovereign country with impunity. They do not see themselves as attached to Russia as the latter claim.

The Russians argue that Ukraine is a fake country, that it is really part of Russia. And since Russia is a holy empire that must be protected and has been protected for thousands of years against the Mongols, Swedes, French, and most recently NATO and the U.S, reclaiming Ukraine as part of this empire is morally right. But this is not new, the Japanese created fictional enemies to justify their invasion of China. And when Israel wanted to justify its displacement of Palestinians, it argued that Palestine was a fake country – that the Palestinian people never had a sovereign state to begin with.

But fictions are not only restricted to politics. According to Harari, religions are the greatest example of fiction. In fact, a religion is merely a fiction that has existed for a very long time. While today, one would expect supporting evidence to grand claims, the same standard is not applied to ancient ideas and stories. Religious people are given immunity from this. Some apologists would claim that scripture should not be taken literally, but the same can be said about Harry Potter. Harari does not deny the usefulness and importance of religion, but this does not make it less of a fiction.

The reason why people have always lived in a post-truth (or fictional world) is that the need to control people and exert power is far more prevalent than the need to discover the truth. Power is the ultimate motivator. And if you want to become powerful, it is much more useful to rely on fictions like religion than to rely on sources of truth. It is necessary to create social unity to become powerful, and to create social unity, one must rely on fictions.

If you are willing to believe in the same fictions as your neighbour, there is no limit to what you can accomplish with him. But if your neighbour only believed what was true, what benefit would this bring to your people as a group?

One may argue that is not necessary for people to believe in fictions to unite for a cause. Shared interests that pertain to reality has been far more powerful. Money is a case in point – except for the fact that money too is a fiction. It may not seem like it, but money is only a story that people believe in. If one day, people decided to stop believing in this story, money would no longer have value.

Sport is another fiction and yet it too has enormous effects on people who care about it. Harari believes that scientists should take more responsibility in educating the public – scientists should become popular science writers and science fiction writers to convey provable truths through fictions rather than relying only on the less accessible raw data to spread their knowledge.

Read 21 Lessons For The 21st Century

"Silence is the best expression of scorn" - G.B. Shaw

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