Book review, Economics

International Internet Magazine. Baltic States news & analytics Wednesday, 14.04.2021, 23:44

Investigating the future: 21 challenges in the 21st century

Eugene Eteris, European Studies Faculty, RSU, BC International Editor, Copenhagen, 12.12.2018.Print version
In the new book, Yuval Noah Harari investigates most urgent and interesting issues concerning mankind’s future. The book is already a bestseller by the New York Times, as well as his previous Home Deus. In presenting complex contemporary challenges in the most accessible and visionary way, the book makes an essential reading.

The author presents his vision of a very different future’s perspective (he called them “lessons”): for example, how to retain freedom of choice when Big Data is watching from computers and smart phones; what will the future of workforce look like; how to treat terrorism issues and whether modern liberal democracy is in crisis? And many more…*)


*) Harari Y. N. 21 lessons for the 21st century. –Spiegel & Grau/Penguin Random House LLC, New York. 2018. -372 pp. International edition ISBN 9781984801494.


The book has an introduction and five parts; here most prominent global challenges are revealed (the number of pages devoted to each chapter shows the author’s preferences): first, it is obviously the technological ones with the most pages to deliver, i.e. about eighty pages (!). There are sections dealing with such issues as work, equality, freedom and …”disillusionment”, by which the author  means being inspired by the events of the modern technological break-through rather than being nihilist in the old and new “stories”, presently called narratives. Humans are losing faith in the western liberal order in the global politics; that happens at a time of biggest socio-economic changes inspired by bio- and info-tech achievements. 


The second part with about eighty-three pages is on political challenges; the issue is important in the sense that almost all global problems have to be resolved “through political means”. However, growing nationalism, religious clashes, immigration problems and cultural divides are splitting modern civilizations into hostile camps, which make it only difficult to cooperate.   


With 59 pages, part three discusses “despair and hope” lessons. The author is of opinion that “if we keep our fears under control and be a bit more humble about our views” than the mankind can face all modern and often unprecedented challenges fully equipped (p. 159).


It is a very “passionate” advice, in particular, when the author deals with such sensitive issues as threats of terrorism and war, the humiliation and issues of faith, as well as secularism. The latter deserves additional attention as churches in the Western-Nordic part of the world are in decline, e.g. in Denmark tens of them is regarded as just a “real estate”.


Secularism is often described as negation of religion: these people don’t believe in any gods or angels; Danes often say that they instead believe in themselves. In modern secularism, people reject a monopoly over all wisdom and goodness: “they don’t think that morality and wisdom came down from heaven in one particular place and time”, the author asserts (p. 207).


Rather they view morality and wisdom as the humanity’s natural legacy; the idea enshrined into the EU’s Lisbon Treaty as the European values, common and accepted by all religions. No wonder that most of Western countries are secular states; however, people have “moral compass” and ethical commitments, though it is often difficult to live up to an ideal…


Then, the author tries to explain a present people’s fair of terrorism; the definition suggests that terrorism is a military strategy with an idea of changing a political system/situation by spreading fair rather than by causing some material damage. 


He is of an opinion that “terrorists are masters of mind control” and provides some arguments in support. Thus, on a lucky year” terrorists killed in the EU about 50 people, about 10 in the US, 7 in China and over 25 thousand elsewhere in the world, mostly in Far East. In contrast, each year traffic accidents kill about 80,000 Europeans, 40,000 Americans, 270,000 Chinese, and 1.25 million altogether (p.161). Only chronic air pollution kills about 7 million a year worldwide!   


Bottom-line: “it is our own inner terror that prompts the media to obsess about terrorism and the government to overreact”, the author assumes (p.169).


Part four with just forty pages is about some “lessons of truth”: such as ignorance, justice, post-truth and science fiction. In the preface to this chapter, the author acknowledges that people are often confused about global “predicament” as globalisation has become rather complicated for a lay person to fully grasp.


Hence, people are often fall victims to propaganda and misinformation. But what’s to be done? The author is really in doubt: on one side, an “average individual” knows very little about the world at large; on another side providing people with more information seems unlikely to greatly improve matters as humans’ perceptions are actually guided by “communal groupthink” rather than individual rationality (p. 223).       


Part five (62 pages) deals with the resilience’s “warnings’ lessons”, including education, meditation and the “meaning of life”. The author provides some recipes on how to survive in an age of bewilderment “when the old stories have collapsed and no new story has yet emerged to replace them” (p. 261).


Assuming that “change is the only constant”, the author devoted only nine pages –the shortest section in the whole book- to education. But being short doesn’t mean genuine here: it is impossible to find any recipe for a satisfactory education policy’s reform. However, the author takes stock of some - presently main educational issues, such as for example, the teacher’s role. Nowadays, it is not necessary –as used to be before the digital revolution – to give pupils more information, they have already far too much with the click at their PCs. A teacher has to make information analysis, specify most important part of information flowst, acknowledge changes and provide the listeners with a broader picture of the world, which is changing so fast... as the strangest things become a new normal and past illusions are not any more useful!


The book ends up with a beautiful advice, I would call it a 22nd lesson for a reader: try to investigate who you really are, what you really want in this life and do it quick!

Not all of the urgent global challenges or lessons get author’s answers, but one thing is certain: the reader will not be disappointed as almost all pressing civilization’s challenges are having author’s trustful treatment and deliberations.



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