Yuval Noah Harari



Some quotes from and about Sapiens:


“Brexit” is just a fantasy about being independent … there are no longer any independent countries in the world.’


Post truth

“In fact, humans have always lived in the age of post-truth. Homo sapiens is a post-truth species, whose power depends on creating and believing fictions. Ever since the stone age, self-reinforcing myths have served to unite human collectives. Indeed, Homo sapiens conquered this planet thanks above all to the unique human ability to create and spread fictions. We are the only mammals that can cooperate with numerous strangers because only we can invent fictional stories, spread them around, and convince millions of others to believe in them. As long as everybody believes in the same fictions, we all obey the same laws, and can thereby cooperate effectively.

So if you blame Facebook, Trump or Putin for ushering in a new and frightening era of post-truth, remind yourself that centuries ago millions of Christians locked themselves inside a self-reinforcing mythological bubble, never daring to question the factual veracity of the Bible, while millions of Muslims put their unquestioning faith in the Qur’an. For millennia, much of what passed for “news” and “facts” in human social networks were stories about miracles, angels, demons and witches, with bold reporters giving live coverage straight from the deepest pits of the underworld. We have zero scientific evidence that Eve was tempted by the serpent, that the souls of all infidels burn in hell after they die, or that the creator of the universe doesn’t like it when a Brahmin marries an Untouchable – yet billions of people have believed in these stories for thousands of years. Some fake news lasts for ever.

“If you are a fundamentalist Christian you are more likely to insist that every word of the Bible is literally true. Let’s assume for a moment that you are right, and that the Bible is indeed the infallible word of the one true God. What, then, do you make of the Qur’an, the Talmud, the Book of Mormon, the Vedas, the Avesta, and the Egyptian Book of the Dead? Aren’t you tempted to say that these texts are elaborate fictions created by flesh-and-blood humans (or perhaps by devils)?

Ancient religions have not been the only ones that used fiction to cement cooperation. In more recent times, each nation has created its own national mythology, while movements such as communism, fascism and liberalism fashioned elaborate self-reinforcing credos. Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda maestro and perhaps the most accomplished media-wizard of the modern age, allegedly explained his method succinctly by stating that “A lie told once remains a lie, but a lie told a thousand times becomes the truth”. In Mein Kampf, Hitler wrote that “The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly – it must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over.” Can any present-day fake-news peddler improve on that?

The Soviet propaganda machine under Joseph Stalin was equally agile with the truth, so efficient, that it managed to hide monstrous atrocities at home while projecting a utopian vision abroad. Today Ukrainians complain that Putin has successfully deceived many western media outlets about Russia’s actions in Crimea and Donbas. Yet in the art of deception he can hardly hold a candle to Stalin. In the early 1930s, leftwing western journalists and intellectuals were praising the USSR as an ideal society at a time when Ukrainians and other Soviet citizens were dying in their millions from the famine that Stalin orchestrated. Whereas in the age of Facebook and Twitter it is sometimes hard to decide which version of events to believe, at least it is no longer possible for a regime to kill millions without the world knowing about it.

Besides religions and ideologies, commercial firms too rely on fiction and fake news. Branding often involves retelling the same fictional story again and again, until people become convinced it is the truth. What images come to mind when you think about Coca-Cola? Do you think about young healthy people engaging in sports and having fun together? Or do you think about overweight diabetes patients lying in a hospital bed? Drinking lots of Coca-Cola will not make you young, will not make you healthy, and will not make you athletic – rather, it increases your chances of suffering from obesity and diabetes. Yet for decades Coca-Cola has invested billions of dollars in linking itself to youth, health and sports – and billions of humans subconsciously believe in this linkage. The truth is that truth was never high on the agenda of Homo sapiens. Many people assume that if a particular religion or ideology misrepresents reality, its adherents are bound to discover it sooner or later, because they will not be able to compete with more clear-sighted rivals. Well, that’s just another comforting myth.”



“Harari suspects that the biotechnological revolution signals the end of sapiens: we will be replaced by bioengineered post-humans, “amortal” cyborgs, capable of living forever.” (Guardian)


“modern industrial agriculture might well be the greatest crime in history”.


“He accepts the common view that the fundamental structure of our emotions and desires hasn’t been touched by any of these revolutions: “our eating habits, our conflicts and our sexuality are all a result of the way our hunter-gatherer minds interact with our current post-industrial environment, with its mega-cities, airplanes, telephones and computers … Today we may be living in high-rise apartments with over-stuffed refrigerators, but our DNA still thinks we are in the savannah.” He gives a familiar illustration – our powerful desires for sugar and fat have led to the widespread availability of foods that are primary causes of unhealthiness and ugliness. The consumption of pornography is another good example. It’s just like overeating: if the minds of pornography addicts could be seen as bodies, they would look just like the grossly obese.


Anti-Semitism in Christendom.



What is it with anti-Semites now and in the past?

“Numerous factors including theological differences, competition between Church and Synagogue, the Christian drive for converts,[4]decreed by the Great Commission, misunderstanding of Jewish beliefs and practices, and a perceived Jewish hostility toward Christians. These attitudes were reinforced in Christian preaching, art and popular teaching for two millennia, containing contempt for Jews,[5] as well as statutes which were designed to humiliate and stigmatise Jews.

Modern antisemitism has been described as primarily hatred against Jews as a race with its modern expression rooted in 18th-century racial theories, while anti-Judaism is described as hostility to Jewish religion, but in Western Christianity it effectively merged into antisemitism during the 12th century.[1]:16Scholars have debated how Christian antisemitism played a role in the Nazi Third ReichWorld War II and the Holocaust. The Holocaust has driven many within Christianity to reflect on the relationship between Christian theology, practices, and that genocide.”(Wikipedia).

If anything in the Bible is to be believed we may deduce: that Jesus was a Jew. Mary the mother of Jesus, Joseph his father, and Jesus’ brothers, sisters and cousins (including John the Baptist, were Jews. The New Testament, like the Old, was written by Jews (including the Letters of Apostle Paul). The God Christians claim to serve is the God of Judaism, no matter what casuistry concerning new and old covenants is brought to bear. Was the New Testament the origin of anti-Judaism and later anti-Semitism, or is it a kind of pagan accretion, a distortion of Christianity? Given Luther’s – and before him – most of Christendom’s persecution of the Jews, I believe it is an admixture of Christian particularism, the need to define the new religion contrast to an ‘evil other’,  emergence of pre-christian gods in the West.

The Disputation of Barcelona

The Disputation of Barcelona (July 20–24, 1263) was a formal ordered medieval debate between representatives of Christianity and Judaism regarding whether or not Jesus was the Messiah.


Ramban (Moses ben Nahman): Hebrew: מֹשֶׁה בֶּן־נָחְמָן‬ Mōšeh ben-Nāḥmān, “Moses son of Nahman”; 1194–1270), was a leading medieval Jewish scholar, Sephardic rabbi, philosopher, physician, kabbalist, and biblical commentator

It is argued that the “servant” represents the nation of Israel, which would bear excessive iniquities, pogroms, blood libels, anti-judaism, antisemitism and continue to suffer without cause (Isaiah 52:4) on behalf of others (Isaiah 53:7,11–12).





Hyam Maccoby (Hebrewחיים מכובי‎, 1924–2004) was a British Jewish scholar and dramatist specialising in the study of the Jewish and Christian religious tradition. His grandfather and namesake was Rabbi Hyam (or “Chaim”) Maccoby (1858–1916), better known as the “Kamenitzer Maggid”, a passionate religious Zionist and advocate of vegetarianism and animal welfare.

Maccoby was a Domus Exhibitioner in Classics at Balliol College, Oxford. During the Second World War he served in the Royal Signals.

Maccoby was librarian of Leo Baeck College in London. In retirement he moved to Leeds, where he held an academic position at the Centre for Jewish Studies, University of Leeds.[1] Maccoby was known for his theories of the historical Jesus and the historical origins of Christianity.

Maccoby also wrote extensively on the phenomenon of ancient and modern Anti-Semitism. He considered the Gospel traditions blaming the Jews for the death of Jesus and especially the legend of Judas Iscariot (which he believed to be a product of the Gentile Pauline Church) as the roots of Christian antisemitism. Other topics of Maccoby’s scholarship include the Talmudictradition and the history of the Jewish religion.”


Becoming Stranded


By Amée LaTour

“The image of a human being as a ‘thrown project’ is highly useful in working out what it means to become stranded. A metaphor may help. Imagine yourself as a little boat that has been thrown into a fast but shallow stream – the stream is ‘the they’. The rudder by which you steer is disengaged; however, the stream alone is not propelling boat-you; your engine is pushing you along as well. You’re both projecting yourself and being carried along by the current. But in order to be truly in control of your course (that is, your possibilities), something needs to turn you toward your steering system.

Becoming stranded is the opportunity to engage your own steering system. When boat-you runs ashore – in other words, when something interrupts your ‘just going with the flow’ – suddenly, nothing is directing you. In the absence of outside direction, you can then become aware of the fact that you can steer your own thinking: that you have the ability to reflect, think and judge for yourself, see what possibilities actually lie before you, and tap into your unique emotional engagement with the world and others.

So how does one become stranded? Heidegger often discusses the disengagement from ‘the they’ as a spontaneous, fleeting occurrence that strikes out of the blue. We are assailed by some mood, such as profound boredom or anxiety, in which we realize that the security and comfort offered by ‘the they’ are false. In such moods we realize that we’re only really grounded if we ground ourselves, as individuals, taking back our understanding and attunement, orienting ourselves toward our discourse, seeing possibilities beyond the status quo, engaging with our emotional investment in life and the world in a more personal way.

There are two approaches boat-you can take at this point of realization. You can plunge your rudder into the water and navigate your own way out of your stranded situation, returning to the world of things and people with a newfound sense of individual agency over your trajectory. This approach requires a lot of energy, responsibility, and, ultimately, struggling with the big questions. Or you could rush back to the current of ‘the they’ with its directive force, casting off the trials and tribulations involved in steering your boat-self, and opting instead for the more passive and comfortable approach to life. Just flowing downstream is the easier option; but steering your own thought is more authentic, because you actually are an individual with your own disclosive capacities.

Although Heidegger was conservative concerning the number of opportunities for becoming stranded, and skeptical of the lasting power of authentic being, I’m a bit more hopeful: I think that the stranded moments Heidegger attributed to special, rare moods, crop up constantly. For instance, we become stranded when a long-held belief is shaken or refuted. Or we become stranded when we ask where our long-held beliefs came from, or when someone else asks us this same question. We become stranded when we start to question why we’re doing what we’re doing. Of course, something has to disrupt our inertia – in keeping with the above analogy, has to run us aground – but this could be a book, an inspiring story, the death of a loved one, even a conversation. I don’t believe that these disrupters are in short supply. We just have to be willing to become stranded long enough to hear ourselves, and brave enough to to engage our steering systems when we do.

© Amée LaTour 2018

Amée LaTour has a degree in philosophy from Marlboro College in Vermont, and works as a writer.


Was Christopher Columbus a Jew?

“Some researchers have postulated that Columbus was of Iberian Jewish origins. The linguist Estelle Irizarry, in addition to arguing that Columbus was Catalan, also claims that Columbus tried to conceal a Jewish heritage.[82] In “Three Sources of Textual Evidence of Columbus, Crypto Jew,”[83] Irizarry notes that Columbus always wrote in Spanish, occasionally included Hebrew in his writing, and referenced the Jewish High Holidays in his journal during the first voyage.”






The tyranny of the Positive: a rant in red.


’ish makh’ovot means man of pains

I was a little annoyed and dare I say, demotivated this morning when I choked on a (supposedly) ‘motivational’ quote sent to my inbox by a motivational quote lover. Here is the exasperatiingly positive message – quoted in full, followed by my unashamed rant in red:

“If you want 2019 to be your year, Don’t sit on the couch and wait for it. Go out. Smile more. Throw out what you’ve been cluttering. Unfollow negative people. Go to bed early. Be fierce. Don’t gossip. Show more gratitude. Be brave”.

Before I take a closer look at this little piece of philosophy, first a quote about Voltaire”s Candide:
“Candide, ou l’Optimisme is a French satire first published in 1759 by Voltaire. It begins with a young man, Candide, who is living a sheltered life in an Edenic paradise and being indoctrinated with Leibnizian optimism by his mentor, Professor Pangloss. The work describes the abrupt cessation of this lifestyle, followed by Candide’s slow and painful disillusionment as he witnesses and experiences great hardships in the world.” (Incidentally, the great earthquake and Tsunami of 1755 had recently decimated Lisbon killing an estimated 200 000 people). “Voltaire concludes with Candide, if not rejecting Leibnizian optimism outright, advocating a deeply practical precept, “we must cultivate our garden”, in lieu of the Leibnizian mantra of Pangloss, “all is for the best” in the “best of all possible worlds”.
So let us examine the Panglossian, Leibnizian mumbojumbo expressed in this motivational quote:
“If you want 2019 to be your year”
Why should it be ”my’ year? Why should the year revolve around me? This self-at-the-centre of the universe is precisely why we’re in such a goddamned mess. It’s the self-conceit at the centre of all human folly. And it’s an expression of western selfishness and neoliberal hubris.
“Don’t sit on the couch and wait for it.” This assumes I own a couch, which I do, but which the majority of the world does not. There’s a cosy, bourgeois inclusiveness in this assumption – we’re all couch-owners, aren’t we? (And no, I don’t sit on the couch and wait for anything actually, though my dog uses it as a vantage point to observe the world go by, and that has its own value). 
“Go out.” Why? Why the emphasis on going out? Where to? For the sake of it? Because you’ve got ants in your pants? Why is ‘going out’ preferable to, say, ‘coming in’, coming home or staying still and watching the clouds crossing the sky? Go! is an action word, which is just what extroverts with impoverished inner lives love to beat introverts with. It’s all about DOING. (Here I remember Theodore Roethke’s words, “Being, not doing, is my first joy.” What an idiot the famous American poet must have been, to prefer being to doing. Did he make any money? Do monks, poets and artists make any money? If not, there’s no point, right? Yeah right – if you’re a capitalist philistine with a heart of a raptor. And ‘the doers’, of course, get RESULTS, because it’s all about MEASURABLE RESULTS, right? Heaven forbid we sit quietly, thinking things through, or in prayer or meditation or contemplation, in stillness and quiet or stasis like a Saddhu or an Anchorite. These are anathema. Make a change? Well change is as good as a holiday, right? but change for change sake? Surely we should ask what should change and why change, and what we should keep and cherish? Change constantly displaces things: its an obsessive, junk-creating upgrading of tech gadgets and cars, the restless flicking from one TV programme to another, the anxious and manic push of entertainment and the displacement of meaning. It’s the pervasive sickness of late capitalist society. We’re so addicted to constant change we no longer recognize the sickness. We can no longer stop to contemplate the stars and their passage across the sky or the movement of a leaf in the wind, the texture of old stone, to hold a 40 million year old trilobite in our hands and reflect on our impermanence. We want to fast-forward without even knowing what we’re fast-forwarding to; we are addicted to the rush and tease of the new. Is new always better? Is being inferior to doing? Why not stop at least long enough to get intel on that jerry machine gun nest before we dash over the top of the trench? Nah – there’s no time. Just do it.
“Smile more” Yep: an inane smile should about do it. An invasive TV-anchor smile, a politician’s false smile, an evangelist’s aggressive smile as he pushes his good news, a salesman’s smarmy smile, a ‘how can I help you’ smile from a shop assistant weighed down by drudgery. The smile that is a tawdry mask hiding a thousand sorrows. Fake smiles really do the job! So smile like Brian, in The life of Brian! My old man would threaten to give me something to be miserable about if I didn’t put a smile on my dial. A kind of tyranny of happiness. Yeah: smiles are so important.
“Be excited” because… visits to fun fairs are exciting but sitting quietly in a cathedral is, like, not exciting which is bad, right? Because manic American-gameshow excitement’s a virtue, right? All that shouting and excitement’s important, right?
“Throw out what you’ve been cluttering.” What does that even mean? Hopefully a page or two of some medieval manuscripts won’t find themselves on the trash pile?
“Unfollow negative people.”Well that’s me ‘unfollowed’ right there. Please, I beg you: UNFOLLOW ME! And unfollow any one who isn’t as oppressively positive as you. Of course: you’ll be unfollowing the Old Testament prophets too, and Saint John of the Apocalypse would be a definitive candidate for unfollowing if he’d had a blog. All that shit about plagues and the end of the world. Why was he so goddamned miserable? SMILE, JOHN OF PATMOS!
“Go to bed early” Right, because all the really interesting people are up and out at night, and you don’t want to meet them. Who needs to meet a Van Gogh with his silly Starry Night painting, or his paintings of night time pavement cafés in Paris or Arles? But yes: Jesus used to get up early according to one evangelical friend; so early to bed/early to rise has gotta be good, right?
“Be fierce”. Yeah. Lets all be fierce. Trump is fierce. Take what you want is fierce. Fucking Vikings were fierce but not the finest examples of human behavour. So are we talking Capitalist businessman fierce or Nazi fierce here? Or just good ol’ intolerant fierce?
“Don’t gossip.” (self-censure easily becomes puritanical disengagement. Think of the mischievous conversations of Enlightenment satirists and frequenters of ‘the coffee shops’ of eighteenth century England – the attacks bordering on calumny against establishment figures by intellectuals with their caustic wit and cartoons: we’d call them out would we, shut them up? Don’t gossip!
“Show more gratitude”. My personal favourite. There are children starving in Africa so who are you to complain? The censure by the well-healed of anyone who expresses dissatisfaction with their lot. How dare you. It also assumes there’s a sort of hierarchy of sorrows – a ‘value-chain’ of melancholy – and your sorrows are worth less than someone else’s. And of course: there’s nothing more dangerous to the status quo than a complainer. Root ’em out and shut ’em up. Yeah – be grateful: ‘Thank you Lord for the Tsunami that wiped out my family thank you Lord that I live in the first world and am not in Syria or Iraq or Afghanistan or Yemen being bombed by first world bombs amen.’
Be brave.
Can’t argue with that. ‘Rah rah over the top boys’ – and don’t mind the Jerry machine guns, the barbed wire or the bombs. Except that when you read the firsthand accounts of the men in the trenches, you’ll find this blab by non-noncombatants insulting. Facing death, fear was a constant companion and no insult to bravery. Read Siegfried Sassoon’s poems and feel his contempt for the officers, politicians and society which demanded bravery of the common soldier.
Further reading:

“He was despised and rejected—a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.  We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care. Isaiah 53:3

The Servant of God in Isaiah is a “man of sorrows.” The Hebrew phrase (’ish makh’ovot) means, literally, “man of pains,” and refers to both physical and emotional suffering. God’s Servant would not be immune from difficulties. In fact, he would be “acquainted with deepest grief.”


Sartor Resartus

Sartor Resartus (meaning ‘The tailor re-tailored’) is an 1836 philosophical novel by Thomas Carlyle.

It was overcast and rainy in Chester today, and quite dark by 4.30 in the afternoon. I stopped in at The Architect for an ale (Bragdy’r Gogarth ‘dark abbey ale’ from Great Orme in North Wales). I took a small book from the shelf: a 1906 edition of Sartor Resartus by the Scottish philosopher and satirical writer, Thomas Carlyle.



It was delightful. I ordered another half pint of Bragdy’r Gogarth and read further, loving the gentle and at times silly humour, and the strange written language that was the English of 180 years ago. I asked the barman if I could buy the book, as I doubted there’d be a big rush on Thomas Carlyle any time soon. “Have it,” he replied with a laugh, “put a few coins in the charity box”. And so for a few pennies I now own a 1906 edition of one of Thomas Carlisle’s important satirical works.

“In Carlyle’s view, civilization—that is, religion, government, and all the other institutional garments that human beings weave to clothe themselves—is frayed and shabby and needs retailoring.” –enotes

About describes we enlightened ones in  the 21st century rather well I think.

“Sartor Resartus teems with wit, irony, fun, either in the guise of, or gently
mocking from beneath, its seriousness and downright difficulty. It also playfully generates uncertainties between fiction and fact, disguise and the naked truth. The text’s humor, often lurking in obscure absurdities and a Sterne-like play with its own fictionality, tends to give way to a gravitas and profundity which
many nineteenth-century readers, particularly at first in America, found both fascinating and a solace for their evanescing religious faith.”

– Ralph Jessop