The age of the masses is over

I’ve long suffered from the romantic notion that when things get “bad enough,” the people, the masses, will rise up and change things. That if enough people took to the streets, they could effect change. And while that pretty much held true in the 20th century, it might not in the 21st. Historian Yuval Noah Harari:

“Generally speaking, when you look at the 20th century, it’s the era of the masses, mass politics, mass economics. Every human being has value, has political, economic, and military value, simply because he or she is a human being, and this goes back to the structures of the military and of the economy, where every human being is valuable as a soldier in the trenches and as a worker in the factory.”

“But in the 21st century, there is a good chance that most humans will lose, they are losing, their military and economic value. This is true for the military, it’s done, it’s over. The age of the masses is over. We are no longer in the First World War, where you take millions of soldiers, give each one a rifle and have them run forward. And the same thing perhaps is happening in the economy.”

Professor Harari expands on this in his conversation with Daniel Kahneman (and in his book). Another idea that really stopped me in my tracks:

“Looking from the perspective of 2015, I don’t think we now have the knowledge to solve the social problems of 2050, or the problems that will emerge as a result of all these new developments. We should be looking for new knowledge and new solutions, and starting with the realization that in all probability, nothing that exists at present offers a solution to these problems.”

Professor Harari’s book made me really consider — for the first time — that humans won’t always be around.

“It is doubtful whether Homo sapiens will still be around a thousand years from now.”

But whatever comes next will be and I’m cool with that.

Silicon Valley is more important than the Middle East

I’m a few chapters into Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, a really interesting book by Yuval Noah Harari. He’s an Oxford Ph.D. whose current research focuses on macro-historical questions: What is the relation between history and biology? Does history have a direction? Did people become happier as history unfolded?

Today I found a link to a conversation between Harari and Daniel Kahneman that was packed with interesting ideas. Here’s one:

“In terms of history, the events in Middle East, of ISIS and all of that, is just a speed bump on history’s highway. The Middle East is not very important. Silicon Valley is much more important. It’s the world of the 21st century … I’m not speaking only about technology. In terms of ideas, in terms of religions, the most interesting place today in the world is Silicon Valley, not the Middle East. This is where people like Ray Kurzweil, are creating new religions. These are the religions that will take over the world, not the ones coming out of Syria and Iraq and Nigeria.”

The best thing about the present

“The most fantastic thing about the present time is that we’re actually still here. In the early ’80s, people who knew what their situation was with the Cold War and nuclear armament didn’t necessarily expect that we’d make it this far. We’ve kind of lost that knowledge. Once the threat was gone, it was like we disremembered it as a species. It seldom comes up anymore, which is really odd.”

“The future will probably know more about what we’re actually doing than we do. Because if it stays history long enough, it doesn’t have to be secret anymore.”

From interview with William Gibson

Something new is happening

As it becomes increasingly difficult to know what’s ‘true’ and ‘accurate,’ I find myself depending (not he right word but close enough) on how something is said. Am I just talking about style or tone here? Perhaps. Anyway, Bruce Sterling (On Social Media Jihads) never disappoints.

“People are gonna kill ISIS because they want those oil wells back, not because ISIS is sort-of okay at social media and pushing viral atrocity videos. […] When you’re a top terrorist, you don’t really want to “wreak havoc” anyway. Mostly, you want to create a failed state, a place like Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, where you can take over at gunpoint and live it up in the narcotics, weapons, and oil biz.”

And this gem on U.S. foreign policy:

“It doesn’t matter how much data the U.S. military or U.S. intelligence has: They attack the wrong people for made-up reasons and they’re also [a] terribly ineffective occupation power.”

As for the Internet as a global brain uniting all of mankind…

“People don’t realize that the old-fashioned global Internet of the 90s is segregating into radicalized filter-bubbles, but it is, and fast. People are used to the Free World idea, they think the huddles masses behind the Chinese Firewall and the new Russian firewalls want to get out and be rich and happy at the West’s shopping mall. But the Chinese, Russians, and even the Greeks tried that, they don’t like it, and that’s not what is happening any more. Something new is happening.”