Book Summaries History

Chapter 8: There is no Justice in History (Sapiens)

History has not been fair. People who are disadvantaged economically will have children who are likely to be disadvantaged economically. The wealthy and the educated will have offspring who are likely to be wealthy and educated. People are not born with an equal chance in the world. But today things are much better.

Slavery used to be considered normal. White Americans imported slaves from Africa because the latter had superior genes – there was an epidemic that was particularly dangerous to Americans and Europeans that Africans were immune to. It was economically expedient to look to Africa, and not to Europe for slavery.

When it comes to wealth, the extreme capitalist will say that each dollar earned is deserved. A billionaire deserves his money, every penny of it, and there is nothing wrong with the system. Some people believe that God not only determines the distribution of income, but also natural dispositions- some people have ‘slavish’ souls while others have ‘free’ souls.

But the reality is that there is a vicious circle that prevented racial equality. In the US, ‘Jim Crow’ laws led to more segregation, and less opportunities, which in turn, led to more segregation and less opportunities.

The relationship between the genders was not much better. Men used to own women they married. In fact, if a woman was raped and not married, no one cared – it was not a crime. This was permitted in Hebrew text. And if a woman was raped by her husband, it was silly to consider it a crime. It’s like accusing someone for stealing their own wallet.

No social tradition is absolute. Societies continuously transform. Take sex and gender as an example. It is easy to be a male or a female, you just need to have an XY or an XX chromosome. But gender is much more complicated.

You must deserve your gender and this takes a lifetime of work, trials, and tribulations. Women are constantly expected to prove that they are feminine, and men are expected to prove they are masculine. Many men died so they would be remembered as ‘real men’.

Biology and culture are different. Biology allows for many possibilities. Culture enables or disables them. Homosexuality used to be accepted. And what is considered today feminine, used to be considered masculine.

Alexander the Great’s mother was ruthless but did not object to her son having a male lover. King Louis of France used to dress in feminine clothing, such as high heels and stockings, but was the symbol of masculinity and virility in his time. In other cultures, men would decorate themselves with jewelry and colorful silk clothing. It is only in our times that men feel obliged to look bland and dreary.

A women, with the same biology, a few thousand years ago, could not be elected into the Greek parliament. Today, 10 to 20 percent of members of the Greek parliament are women. Nothing obstructs these women from getting into politics legally.

The trend we see is clear. Throughout history, laws and traditions are constantly in flux. Societies are constantly reshaped. Our ideas about race and gender are constantly being updated, and what is considered normal today was not considered normal in the past and vice versa.

Read Sapiens

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

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