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The newest -ism on the block

As had happened in the past, upon reading on Harari’s latest book, I had an intense urge to pen my thoughts

By Asad I Mian |
PUBLISHED April 11, 2021

Upon reading Homo Deus, I was mesmerised by the mind of Yuval Noah Harari - or brain perhaps I should say, as he believes much more in the objective nature of the latter. In an attempt to summarise what I had learned from the book and to create a cheat sheet for myself, I wrote a blog on Homo Deus. I listed the five most important reasons from my perspective for reading the book, and concluded the blog with three actionable steps for the reader, which to me seemed organically linked to those five points I had raised about the book. Those three were: (i) reinvent thyself, (ii) go forth and create/innovate, (iii) allow yourself to be multi-talented.

Fast forward a few years, and I find myself in an even more dystopian world, with a pandemic raging unabatedly and unabashedly. Being an ER physician, I find myself caught at the frontlines of the Covid-19 tempest. After almost a year of being grounded because of severely restricted travel, the first opportunity I get to fly and I find Harari’s third book ‘21 Lessons for the 21st Century’ sitting in the airport’s book store. It is a sign I tell myself and I promptly obtain the book as my preferred travel companion. Soon after delving into it, I realize the wealth of treasure that the 21 Lessons represent.

As had happened in the past, upon reading and reflecting on Harari’s latest book, I had an intense urge to pen my thoughts. Hence, similar to the previous blog, you may think of this one too as more of a book report versus a review, since I’m still not a literary critic. Ergo, the primary reason for this blog remains extoling the greatness of Harari as a thought leader with a brilliant mind that is able to guide us lower mortals in this dysfunctional century.

If there is just one book you get to read this year then make it 21 Lessons, and listed below are five reasons, in no particular order, as to why I say that.

  1. True to his no nonsense, evocative and provocative style of writing, Harari continues to critique all kinds of governance, religio-political viewpoints, and institutionalised practices, ranging from (confused) liberalism of liberal democracies to (jingoistic) nationalism of dictatorships, and everything in between. Although he throws into that milieu atheism, secularism, religious fundamentalism, dataism, and other -isms, it is his effective explanation of various facets of liberalism that I found deeply insightful. Likely because I associate myself most with liberal humanistic values. However, Harari made it quite clear through his diatribe against (pseudo?) liberalism that for the 21st century what we consider liberal and equitable will likely require a redefinition.


  1. Harari continues to build our world view with regards to the exponential rise in humanity’s biotechnological prowess coupled with the ever rapid rise in our abilities for information technology. Thanks to big data, AI/ML and such, algorithms will become more powerful than ever before. Super smart algorithms will simply take over the menial jobs of their human masters. This will yield success vis-à-vis humanity’s progress in some ways, especially with newer jobs being created for humans that will require them to achieve novel skillsets. However, for the global community, particularly for the countries on the lowest rungs of the economic ladder (South Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, etc.), it will likely sound the death knell for job and gender equity and parity – even if there was any to begin with. In other words, relevancy in the 21st century will require humans to redefine their contemporary work and education best practices, keeping in mind the kind of future they want to seek for their next generation.


  1. Harari describes an interesting relationship by the formula b X c X d = ahh, where b=biological knowledge; X=multiplied by; c=computing power; d=data; ahh=ability to hack humans. This is ominous to say the least, because the formula is essentially telling you that the aforementioned tools can be used to manipulate and coerce humans. With the great strides in data science, bioengineering, InfoTech, AI/ML, etc. the question will always remain: is the data that is being collected by governments, organizations, Amazon, Google, etc. used for or against me? Keeping in mind the (mis)information overload one is faced with daily (“not all data is useful”), in a world of irrelevant information how does one put to good use information that is relevant? And who decides what is relevant – Trumpian or other governments, big companies, religious institutions, schools/colleges, someone else? Although data is much needed to make informed decisions, it is equally important, if not more, to be aware of the rise of Orwellian global digital dictatorships with their potential to restrict universal human liberty and equality.


  1. Harari’s discourse on humility piqued my interest a lot. Initially I was surprised to find a whole chapter dedicated to it. But upon reading and reflecting on it, I realized the utmost importance of humility as a virtue worthy of being pursued by all of humanity, regardless of wealth of the individual or nation (or lack thereof), religious or political affiliation, etc. I mean human beings are quick to say “with utmost humility blah blah blah” or “I am truly humbled by blah blah blah”, yet few of them are truly humble or actually show humility. I believe that a person who is really humble does not need to broadcast his or her humility. Anyhow, Harari simplifies this by stating “you are not the centre of the world”. And he goes on to say “humans of all creeds would do well to take humility seriously”. Well said! By being less egocentric we may allow real humility to come through. This is quite important as a starting point; because we can sustainably fix our issues – at the level of either the individual or race - by first humbly accepting that we indeed have created the problems that we need to solve. And that we humans are not at all at the center of ‘all cosmic drama’.


  1. Another fascinating thing that resonated with me was Harari’s discourse on meditation, and just prior to that on not obsessing about finding a meaning or purpose to your life or doggedly pursuing your desires. He makes the point that regardless of the life purpose or meaning you convince yourself of, it is storytelling after all. And you are merely being a story teller. Nothing wrong with that I suppose, as long as it doesn’t generate more angst and confusion within you or those around you. We can also stop obsessing about our emotions, feelings and desires, because we aren’t free to control them. I think this opens our mind for introspection/reflection and that’s rather well described in the chapter titled meditation. Real meditation in the current chaos of 21st century living, the pandemic notwithstanding, will help slow things down albeit in our minds.

From the 21 Lessons, I have tried to distill the aspects that I felt relatively comfortable summarizing. It should not be assumed that those are the only important points being raised by Harari in his book. I may have only covered five of 21, although in my reading of the book I felt overlap existed between several of those lessons. And in many places, 21 Lessons was reminiscent of Homo Deus’ messages. Both books pontificate on the escalating pace of change of everything, be it global biotech, InfoTech, tolerance, empathy, animal rights, environmental degradation, climate change, and so on, and we are well aware that not all change in the above has been positive.

In the final analysis, I have found Harari’s 21 Lessons to be both timely and crucial to help me make sense of a seemingly mundane, meaningless and random world where human stupidity knows no limits. This age of confusion or bewilderment that I find myself in is shared by my peers, such as Harari. Furthermore, as he explains to me the ins and outs of this world, using his splendid gift of repartee, I feel inspired, not just in thought but also action.

Hence, I propose Hararism – a philosophy or movement inspired by Harari; which I find to be reminiscent of other contemporary isms that I have delved into over the past decade, namely Stoicism, Sufism and Taoism. As with the other modern isms for the 21st century, I have picked up many practical and meaningful lessons from Hararism. Hence, my hope remains that I get to meet and chat with Harari over a cup of chai soon, with all Covid SOPs being maintained of course.