2nd Jul 2018
Encouraged by son to read this book, I have to say, it’s been a while since I’ve been so thoroughly fascinated, challenged, made to feel worried, guilty, ashamed and then infuriated by my reading material, and often in the course of a page.
The sequel to his phenomenal Homo Sapiens, in Homo Deus, Harari writes about where humans were in history, what we’ve become and where we might be heading. Drawing on a range of discoveries and thoughts in fields as diverse as the sciences, economics, philosophy, psychology, politics, humanism, liberalism, religion etc. he posits a series of facts alongside possible scenarios and invites the reader to think – deeply. Going back into early history, when humans formed an agricultural and quite violent society, he takes us forward to where we are now, a species that values not just information, but our ability to access and share it. Whereas once upon a time power was contingent on having access to a range of organic and the kind of resources that could develop strong (as in mighty) cultures, Harari argues that nowadays, alongside some traditional forms of power, knowledge is the key. He argues that historians study the past not to repeat it, but be liberated from it.
Some of the most thought-provoking and disturbing parts of the book, for me anyhow, were what he revealed about human’s relationships with animals. I felt sickened and deeply disturbed by what he reveals and I found it shored up some personal decisions. Likewise, I found his contention (based on research and scientific evidence) that humans are basically, like all sentient beings, simply a series of algorithms at once perplexing and basic, fascinating. It’s this idea, mainly (but not exclusively) that leads him to posit that the new religion of Dataism might be our future. After all, if all we are as humans is a series of sophisticated algorithms, like other creatures with which we share the planet but who we currently feel are less sophisticated than us, what’s to stop computers, those powerful processors of data/algorithms in one day governing us? Might we, as intelligence and consciousness are uncoupled, go the way of the Dodo and other animals we have helped to extinction?
It’s a scary yet real notion and one which this book puts out there, along with some other very credible ideas, for us in the here and now to contemplate. Whether we want to change what could be a catastrophic future for all the creatures who share this planet with us is, in the end, up to us. It’s a huge responsibility – are we up for the essential challenge?
Excellent brain food which I think will nonetheless give many some indigestion!
Tags: agriculture, animals, control, Dataism, diet, future, history, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari, Homo Sapiens, oppression, philosophy, power, relationships, responsibility, science, sentient beings, slaughter, technology
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14th Mar 2018
Donna Leon’s Commissario Brunetti series is like comfort food –ironically in the crime genre, though the novels are so much more than crime. For those who await each instalment eagerly (as I do), it’s wonderful to follow in Brunetti’s dogged, measured footsteps as he paces around his beloved Venice, glides the canals in a gondola or rides a vaporetti, patiently interviews suspects in whatever crime he’s attempting to solve and opines about the fly-swarms of tourists infecting his calli and piazzas along with the corruption of those who hold the reins of power and who would sell their mamma’s souls as quickly as sink the ancient city. The interactions he has with his academic wife and growing teenage family, his irascible boss and clever PA, never mind his loyal staff are manna from reader heaven.
Moreso than the others in the series I’ve read, Earthly Remains is the most languid and leisurely paced. Part of the reason for this is, after behaving in an unusual manner to save the reputation of his side-kick, Brunetti’s given leave from the Questura. Encouraged by his wife, he leaves the main island and enjoys a sojourn on an outlying one, Sant’Erasmo, in a home belonging to member of his wife’s family. While there, not only does Brunettti begin to shed the tension and anger that his job sometimes provokes, but to fall back into the rhythms of his past and which he finds nourishing and fulfilling. While there, he befriends the caretaker of the house, an old widower with a history he’s reluctant to share. Inviting Brunetti to join him as he rows the laguna to check on the health of his bees each day, swims and fishes, the Commissario finds the man’s laconic companionship, the water, sun and peace living alone with good books, a much-needed restorative.
When the caretaker goes missing after a storm, Brunetti is drawn into the investigation. What he discovers not only takes him into the caretaker’s immediate and distant past, but into that of Venice and the very people with the power to either restore Venice to its greatness or sacrifice its soul.
Beautifully written, the prose steals upon you, warming your heart before chilling you like the winds that whip across the water. The pace is slow, measured, much like Brunetti, but this only adds to the mystery, to the sense of building towards a climax that rather than being shocking, is heart-wrenching in its utter callous indifference.
In many ways, this novel is analogous to so much that’s happening in the world today – how greed and the desire for power rips apart the lives of the innocent and not-so-innocent. How those at the top are out for themselves and will sacrifice whoever and however many it takes on the altar of avarice and narcissism. The manner in which corruption infects everything – not only in the short-term, but sadly, and with greater consequences, in the longest of terms.
A wonderful, thought-provoking read with a beloved character who, despite the themes, leaves you with optimism at its heart. As long as we have Brunetti and people like him, the world will be left a better place…we hope.
Tags: bees, canals, control, corruption, death, Earthly Remains by Donna Leon, gondolas, Guido Brunetti, murder, power, Questura, Sant' Erasmo, vaporetti, Venice
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