28/07/20167 min read
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind is a fantastic read full of enough points for everyone to find something to argue with. And isn’t that what makes a compelling read? I was very impressed with the neutrality of the arguments in the first 30% of the book. And the last 20% or so what a fascinating take on concepts I’ve been trying to solidify in my own mind. The middle part was where I found considerable contradictions and almost put the book down due to predictability and boredom. It started for me at 5 stars, went down to 3/5, and in a feat that has never happened, went back up to 5 stars with the ending. Fascinating book.
The first half of Sapiens was a look into biological evolution, which was interesting although there were several places where his ideas were contradictory or I disagree. One is the fact that he has a clear bias towards pastoralism and believes humans were happier as nomads. Zero evidence to suggest any of that is true. His opinions don’t invalidate, I just always find it important to make mental notes of biases or motives of the source. I am impressed how NOT biased most of it is. Although I do like his line;
“One of history’s few iron laws is that luxuries tend to become necessities and to spawn new obligations.”
He says foragers discounted the future because they lived form hand to mouth. This prevented them from getting anxious since they didn’t put focus on the future only the now. I doubt they didn’t find something to be anxious about, like wild animals. “There was no sense in worry about things that they could not influence” Really?, c’mon. We say that zen parody today but how many humans continue to worry about things we can’t control? All of us. I don’t believe for a second these noble savages were so enlightened. Furthermore, studies show that future planning is a key indicator in developing intelligence and success.
Most agree that human intelligence of forgers wasn’t less than modern day. When have you know humans to make anything simple? Haha. He mentions we don’t have artifacts to determine their beliefs, I assert we don’t have artifacts to prove how their lives were anything but carefree and simple. Reading the book he makes it seem like there have always been massive technological, societal, cultural changes. Just as gas expands to fill the container, humans fill their capacity up with stress. They worried about the office politics of the deer hunting group the same way we now go for promotions (example). We have different forms of stress but I’m not ready to say I have more stress than a Renaissance age man.
I drill down on these points mostly because I am captivated by the book, not to be negative.
One piece of misleading data is that Neanderthal archeology sites don’t have evidence of trade in year “x”, yet in the previous chapter he asserted that they went existent many generations before that. So of course there would be no trade records. That’s like saying we can’t find traces of Neanderthal computers so we’re smarter than them.
Interestingly, this passage above has tied into some research I have read recently. The basis is that civilization started with boats and trade, because once you started to use boats to survive, then you were forced to continue to trade in order to survive. With boats, mistakes means death, so you had an evolutionary race for better boats, and somewhere along the line came the metals smelters and the smiths, that traded with and lived along boat based people.
A farmer did not need to trade to survive, but a fisherman or metal-worker needed trade even if they too farmed on the side until the twentieth century in Scandinavia, although it was mostly having one cow for fresh milk in the end.
“Why did agricultural revolutions erupt in the Middle East, China, and America but not Alaska or South Africa?”
His reason is most species of plants and animals there can’t be domesticated. This dissertation has been proven false many times. This myth was made popular by Jared Diamond’s Guns Germs and Steel. (Neat how Sapiens covered the topics from other two options for the book club briefly, Debt 5000 years, and GGS) His argument for their inability to be domesticated is paraphrased like this:
Zebras aren’t domesticatable. How do we know? Because no-one ever did. Why didn’t anyone? Because they can’t be. Why can’t they be? They just aren’t. How do we know? No-one ever did. It took say, 8000 years, to domesticate the cow from aurochs. How long did people try with zebras and llamas? Not very long. Why not? Because they can’t be domesticated. How do we know? They weren’t.
A much more likely and accepted reason is that there was never a need to domesticate animals in the resource rich South Africa. Does anyone really believe that if we took zebras, and spent hundreds of years and millions of dollars breeding them, we couldn’t get horse-like draft animals? Of course we could. It would be a silly waste of resources for us, but doable. Look at what the Russians have done to domesticate the fox. And they did it in 50 years!
I was first introduced to the myth-construct in The Gervais Principle. Which should be required reading for most everything. The constructs “owning us” is well thought out. Consider the idea of “golden handcuffs“. Any large-scale human cooperation – whether a modern state, a medieval church, an ancient city or an archaic tribe – is rooted in common myths that exist only in people’s collective imagination.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are crated equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
According to the science of biology, people were not created. They evolved, and they certainly did not evolve to be equal. The idea of equality is inextricably linked with the idea of creation. Let that sink in for a bit. It’s so upsetting to some people that it’s palpable. In reality, there is no such thing. I quite enjoy the author’s revision:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men evolved differently, that they are born with certain mutable characteristics, and among these are life and the pursuit of pleasure.“
Advocates of ‘equality’ and human rights may be outraged by this line of reasoning.
I see these “Justice for Harambe” pictures online. These crazy animal rights people. “#AnimalsArePeopleToo” “Rights” are a human construct, there are no natural rights and they certainly don’t extend to animals. Do you know the only people who care about animal ethics are? Humans. Some sort of pathological altruism and masochism to remove guilt from people. A human life, even if they’re an idiot who drops their kid in a gorilla pin, is more valuable than that of an animal. If only for the sake of natures biological imperative that we protect our own species.
If you want to believe in science, you don’t get to believe in false equality. Currently, many leave science out of it. This has been the strategy of liberal humanism, which is built on the dogmatic belief in the unique worth and rights of human beings. his has embarrassingly little in common with the scientific study of humans. But does that really surprise us?
A heavier and larger book is subconsciously deemed smarter, worth more, and more accurate. Publishers know this and they know they can charge more for bigger books. That’s why most nonfiction is padded out with redundancies and fluff. Personally, I’d condense most of the middle chapters and keep the begging and the end of Sapiens.
These were just a few of my thoughts while reading Sapiens. In hindsight, I should have posted comments as I got to them in the book. It’s a daunting task to organize them all! Click the links here because they go towards funding the book club and you like helping people.