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In a world deluged by irrelevant information, clarity is power. Censorship works not by blocking the flow of information, but rather by flooding people with disinformation and distractions. 21 Lessons for the 21st Century cuts through these muddy waters and confronts some of the most urgent questions on today’s global agenda.

21 Lessons for the 21st Century

21 Lessons for the 21st Century

by Yuval Noah Harari

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Yuval Noah Harari starts the book by talking about the disillusionment visible in modern society. For example, the political disillusionment seen in many European countries. He argues that one of the driving factors for this disillusionment is information overload. Our brains do not easily proces...

2 – Work

The future of the workplace will include significantly more computers than we see today. As we develop a better understanding of human emotions, desires and choices, computers will become more versatile in workplaces. Harari uses the example of self-driving vehicles. He cites a study by the US Na...

3 – Liberty

Harari believes elections are not about what we think but what we feel. Despite clear flaws in democracies, most believe it is still better than all its alternatives. Harari argues that big data and AI have the potential to run the world in the future. If we can make decisions on education, work ...

4 – Equality

Data is far more accessible than our current examples of resources. Land, machines and other resources make it easy for people to acquire wealth unavailable to others. But data is everywhere and can move at the speed of light. You can make as many copies as you want. So, a future problem is under...

5 – Community

Technology addiction is significantly impacting human connection and community. The internet has helped people who live far away to keep in touch. For example, the author explains he can easily speak to his cousin in Switzerland. Without technology, he could easily lose connection with this relat...

Historically, humankind has been divided into countless isolated civilizations. Thousands of years ago, these civilizations would have consisted of merely a handful of people. Although the number of independent civilizations has reduced over time, Harari argues the future holds a single global ci...

7 – Nationalism

There is a difference between benign patriotism and nationalism. Patriotism should be built on the idea that your nation is unique (which is true of all countries). It is when people start believing their nation is superior that issues arise. The issue with nationalism is that these narrow belief...

8 – Religion

To help us understand the problem of religion in modern society, Harari outlines the three types of problems we face:

  • Technical problems
  • Policy problems
  • Identity problems

Harari points out that Karl Marx had previously argued that religion doesn’t have much ...

9 – Immigration

Harari starts by specifying the basic conditions required for immigration to occur. There are three of them and they are:

The host country allows immigrants into their country

The immigrants are expected to embrace the norms and values of the host country

If the immigrants integ...

10 – Terrorism

Harari believes the overreaction to terrorism poses a far greater threat than terrorism itself. Terrorists have killed very few people but can terrify billions due to political responses. The author points out that each year since 9/11, only 50 people are killed in the EU, 10 in the US and 7 in C...

The prevalence of war has dropped considerably over the past few decades. Harari believes this is partly due to our transition away from fighting over resources and toward fighting over knowledge. You could previously obtain wheat fields, goldmines and oil fields from warfare. You can’t conquer k...

“At present, people are happy to give away their most valuable asset—their personal data—in exchange for free email services and funny cat videos. It’s a bit like African and Native American tribes who unwittingly sold entire countries to European imperialists in excha...

12 – Humility

The highlight of this chapter is that humans naturally show humility. Apes have evolved the tendency to help the poor and needy. They evolved these behaviors millions of years before the Bible instructed ancient Israelites to do the same. So, there is no need to rely on a religious text or any ot...

13 – God

Building on his point from chapter 12, Harari also thinks you do not need to believe in God to be moral. Morality is about reducing suffering and this does not require belief in a myth or story. Again, society does not need to believe in a powerful God to be scared into doing the right thing. Imm...

“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.”

14 – Secularism

The alternative to building a society on God is building one on secularism. Harari notes we must remember the foundation of the secular code:

  • Truth
  • Compassion
  • Equality
  • Freedom
  • Courage
  • Responsibility

15 – Ignorance

Just like animals, humans make most decisions based on emotional reactions and shortcuts. But, emotions and heuristics are not sufficient in the modern world. The key to human success in the modern world is our ability to think together in large groups. This has allowed us to rely on others’ skil...

16 and 17 – Post-Truth

The modern world is full of fake news. Harari describes modern fake news as one thousand people believing a made-up story for one month. When a billion people believe a made-up story for a thousand years, that’s what Harari calls religion. We can learn about the power of fiction by looking at re...

18 – Science Fiction

Building on from the last chapter, Harari spends some time talking in greater depth about science fiction. He believes that it is the most important artistic genre in the 21st century. That said, the most popular science fiction is not necessarily very accurate, e.g., The Matrix and Westworld. So...

19 – Education

Much of what children learn today will be irrelevant in 2050. So, teachers need to stop overloading their students with information and develop their ability to make sense of new information. Future adults need to identify important information among all the irrelevant data.

“In a world deluged by irrelevant information, clarity is power.”

20 – Meaning

Harari includes the teachings of Buddha to explain the fluidity of meaning. The Buddha taught that there are three basic universal realities:

  1. Everything is constantly changing
  2. Nothing has any enduring essence
  3. Nothing is completely satisfied

Because everythin...

21 – Meditation

Harari agrees with ancient philosophers by arguing that the deepest source of our suffering is our minds. In fact, suffering does not objectively exist outside of minds. Meditation allows you to better understand this reality and challenge your mind. It helps you focus on your consciousness, whic...

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