Tao Te Ching

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21 Lessons for the 21st Century

By Yuval Harari

Harari's first book focused on our ancient past and his second was more about the future. In this, his third book, Harari applies his insights derived from studying the past and future to contemporary issues—political, scientific, religious, and cultural. With penetrating accuracy, he vividly sees through many of our unrealistic but unquestioned attitudes, values, and illusions. The discussions include ancient themes like freedom, equality, war, god, justice, education, and meditation as well as more modern issues like terrorism, immigration, fake news, and science fiction.

Quotes from 21 Lessons for the 21st Century

“A ritual is a magical act that makes the abstract concrete and the fictional real. The essence of ritual is the magical spell 'Hocus-pocus [Hoc est corpus] X is Y!... powerful spells that transform a frog into a prince and a pumpkin into a carriage.”

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Themes: Magic

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“almost everybody believes in a slightly different variation on the same capitalist theme, and we are all cogs within a single global production line... the same economic theories, the same corporations and banks, and the same currents of capital.”

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“As a species, humans prefer power to truth... Truth and power can travel together only so far. If you want power, at some point you will have to spread fictions... whether Christian priests, Confucian mandarins, or Communist ideologues—placed unity above truth. That's why they were so powerful.”

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Themes: Power

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“authenticity is a myth. People are afraid of being trapped inside a box, but they don't realize that they are already trapped inside one—their brain—which is locked within the bigger box of human society with its myriad fictions... your core identity is a complex illusion created by neural networks.”

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“both the 'self' and freedom are mythological chimeras borrowed from the fairy tales of ancient times... in order to understand ourselves, a crucial step is to acknowledge that the 'self' is a fictional story that the intricate mechanisms of our mind constantly manufacture, update, and rewrite... Like the government spin doctors... my inner propaganda machine creates a personal myth with prized memories and cherished traumas that often bear little resemblance to the truth.”

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“Branding often involves retelling the same fictional story again and again, until people become convinced it is the truth.”

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“consciousness is the greatest mystery in the universe, and mundane feelings of heat and itching are every bit as mysterious as feelings of rapture or cosmic oneness”

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Themes: One Taste

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“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.”

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Themes: Health Deception

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“Escaping the narrow definition of self might well become a necessary survival skill in the twenty-first century.”

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“even Hitler didn't manage to make people forget all their alternative stories... no sooner had Hitler shot a bullet through his brain than people in Berlin, Hamburg, and Munich adopted new identities and found new meaning in their lives.”

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“For all the national pride people feel when their delegation wins a gold medal and their flag is raised, there is far greater reason to feel pride that humankind is capable of organizing such an event.”

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“For years I had lived under the impression that I was the master of my life, the CEO of my own personal brand. But a few hours of meditation were enough to show me that I had hardly any control over myself. I was not the CEO; I was barely the gatekeeper.”

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Themes: Meditation

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“From an ethical perspective, monotheism was arguably one of the worst ideas in human history... What monotheism undoubtedly did was to make many people far more intolerant than before, thereby contributing to the spread of religious persecutions and holy wars... as Christianity and Islam spread around the world, so did the incidence of crusades, jihads, inquisitions, and religious discrimination.”

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Themes: God Fanaticism

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“Gandhi's reading of the Vedas caused him to envision independent India as a collection of self-sufficient agrarian communities, each spinning its own khadi cloth, exporting little and importing even less... Yet this Arcadian vision was simply incompatible with the realities of modern economics, and for that reason not much has remained of it save for Gandhi's radiant image on billion of rupee notes.”

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“guided by the principle of protecting humans rather than jobs... we need to develop new social and economic models as soon as possible... Many jobs are uninspiring drudgery and are not worth saving. Nobody's life's dream is to be a cashier.”

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“Homo sapiens is a storytelling animal that thinks in stories rather than in numbers or graphs, and believes that the universe itself wo;rks like a story, replete with heroes and villains, conflicts and resolutions, climaxes and happy endings... we want a story that will explain what reality is all about and what my particular role is in the cosmic drama.”

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Themes: Philosophy

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“Human stupidity is one of the most important forces in history, yet we often tend to discount it... The problem is that the world is far more complicated than a chessboard, and human rationality is not up to the task of really understanding it... Even if war is catastrophic for everyone, no god and no law of nature protect us from human stupidity.”

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Themes: Ignorance War

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“Humans control the world because they can cooperate better than any other animal, and they can cooperate so well because they believe in fictions.”

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“Humans have a remarkable ability to know and not know at the same time. Or, more correctly, they can know something when they really think about it but most of the time they don't think about it.”

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Themes: Confusion

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“If we understand that our desires are not the magical manifestations of free choice but are rather the product of biochemical processes (influenced by cultural factors that are also beyond our control), we might be less preoccupied with them.”

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“If you can understand what happens to you as one moment ends and another moment begins, you will also understand what will happen to you at the moment of death.”

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“If you feel overwhelmed and confused by the global predicament, you are on the right track.”

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Themes: Openness

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“In a world deluged by irrelevant information, clarity is power.

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“In the 1930's Japanese generals, admirals, economists, and journalists concurred that without control of Korea, Manchuria, and the Chinese coast, Japan was doomed to economic stagnation. They were all wrong. In fact, the famed Japanese economic miracle began only atter Japan lost all of its mainland conquests... It was all just a stupid miscalculation.”

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“It is particularly ironic when Christian leaders such as Barack Obama have the temerity to tell self-professing Muslims like Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi what it means to be Muslim... Islam has no fixed DNA. Islam is whatever Muslims make of it.”

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“It is the long-honed expertise of religious scholars in reinterpreting texts that makes religion irrelevant. No matter which economic policy Khamenei chooses, he can always square it with the Quran. Therefore the Quran is degraded from a source of true knowledge to a source of mere authority.”

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“It takes a lot of courage to fight biases and oppressive regimes, but it takes even grater courage to admit ignorance and venture into the unknown.”

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Themes: Courage

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“just like other great works of fiction, such as Don Quixote, War and Peace, and the Harry Potter books... much of the Bible may be fictional, but it can still bring joy to billions and can still encourage humans to be compassionate, courageous, and creative... billions of people have believed in these stories for thousands of years. Some fake news lasts forever.”

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“military globalization: War spreads ideas, technologies, and people far more quickly than commerce does... People care far more about their enemies than about their trade partners. For every American film about Taiwan, there are probably fifty about Vietnam.”

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Themes: Conflict Enemy

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“Morality, art, spirituality, and creativity are universal human abilities embedded in our DNA. Their genesis was in Stone Age Africa. It is therefore crass egotism to ascribe to them a more recent place and time, be it China in the age of the Yellow Emperor, Greece in the age of Plato, or Arabia in the age of Muhammad.”

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Themes: Basic Goodness

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“Most people tend to believe they are the center of the world and their culture is the linchpin of human history... Personally, I am all too familiar with such crass egotism because the Jews, my own people, also think that they are the most important thing in the world... Needless to say, the British, French, Germans, Americans, Russians, Japanese, and countless other groups are similarly convinced that humankind would have lived in barbarous and immoral ignorance if it hadn't been for the spectacular achievements of their nation.”

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“Most stories are held together by the weight of their roof rather than by the strength of their foundations. Consider the Christian story. It has the flimsiest of foundations. What evidence do we have [and yet] Entire wars have been waged over changing a single word of the story.”

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Themes: Fanaticism

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“Nationalism—an escapist indulgence that may doom humankind and the entire biosphere to disaster... Zealous nationalists who cry 'Our country first!' should ask themselves whether their country by itself, without a robust system of international cooperation, can protect the world—or even itself—from nuclear destruction.”

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Themes: Nationalism

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“Romantic comedies are to love as porn is to sex and Rambo is to war. And if you think you can press some delete button and wipe out all trace of Hollywood from your subconscious and your limbic system, you are deluding yourself.”

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Themes: Entertainment

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“science fiction tends to confuse intelligence with consciousness. As a result, it is overly concerned about a potential war between robots and humans, when in fact we need to fear a conflict between a small superhuman elite empowered by algorithms and a vast underclass of disempowered Homo sapiens... Karl Marx is still a better guide than Steven Spielberg.”

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Themes: Fear

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“see even the Islamic State as an errant offshoot of the global culture we all share... radical Islamists have been influence by Marx and Foucault as much as by Muhammad... Islamic fundamentalism may indeed pose a radical challenge, but the 'civilization' it challenges is a global civilization rather than a uniquely Western phenomenon.”

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“the 21st century might create the most unequal societies in history. Though globalization and the internet bridge the gap between countries, they threaten to enlarge the rift between classes.”

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Themes: Equality

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“the Anna Karenina principle: successful states are all alike, but every failed state fails in its own way”

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Themes: Failure

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“the dollar bill is universally venerated across all political and religious divides. though it has no intrinsic value, trust in the dollar is so firm that it is shared even by Islamic fundamentalists, Mexican drug lords, and North Korean tyrants.”

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Themes: Money

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“The Hebrew Old Testament eventually became a cornerstone of global human culture because it was warmly embraced by Christianity... In contrast, the Talmud—whose importance to Jewish culture far surpasses that of the Old Testament—was rejected... a great pity because the Talmud is a far more thoughtful and compassionate book than the Old Testament.”

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“The Jewish tradition is full of deep insights and noble values—though it is also full of questionable ideas and of racist, misogynist, and homophobic attitudes... Jewish orthodoxy, which even today holds that Jews are intrinsically superior to all other humans... Israeli Jews, who are educated from kindergarten to think that Judaism is the superstar of human history... People fed on such a historical diet have a very hard time digesting the idea that Judaism had relatively little impact on the world as a whole.”

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Themes: Judaism

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“the last thing a teacher needs to give her pupils is more information. They already have far too much of it. Instead, people need the ability to make sense of information, to tell the difference between what is important and what is unimportant, and above all to combine many bits of information into a broad picture of the world.”

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Themes: Teachers

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“the mark of science is the willingness to admit failure and try a different tack. That's why scientists learn how to grow better crops and make better medicines, whereas priests and gurus learn only how to make better excuses... why the entire world has increasingly become a single civilization.”

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Themes: Science Failure

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“The mind is not the subject that freely shapes historical actions and biological realities; the mnd is an object this is being shaped by history and biology... the mind is never free of manipulation.”

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Themes: Mind

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“the most prophetic science-fiction book of the 20th century... reading Brave New Word is a disconcerting and challenging experience in large part because you are hard-pressed to put your finger on what exactly makes it dystopian... Huxley's genius consists in showing that you can control people far more securely through love and pleasure than through fear and violence.”

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“The Old Testament, the Talmud, and many (though not all) rabbis maintained that the life of a Jew is more valuable than the life of a Gentile, which is why, for example, Jews are allowed to desecrate the Sabbath in order to save a Jew from death but are forbidden to do so merely in order to save a Gentile”

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“the power of human cooperation depends on a delicate balance between truth and fiction.”

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“The problem with evil is that in real life it is not necessarily ugly. It can look beautiful... That is why it is difficult to resist Satan's temptations. That is also why it is difficult to deal with fascism.”

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“The true expertise of priests and gurus has never really been rainmaking, healing, prophesy, or magic. Rather, it has always been interpretation... A priest is somebody who knows how to justify why the rain dance failed, and why we must keep believing in our god even though he seems deaf to all our prayers.”

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“The truth is that truth was never high on the agenda of Homo sapiens... false stories have an intrinsic advantage over the truth when it comes to uniting people... If you stick to unalloyed reality, few people will follow you... if you dream of a society in which truth reigns supreme and myths are ignored... Better to try your luck with chimps.”

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Themes: Truth

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“There is just no such thing as 'Christian economics,' 'Muslim economics,' or 'Hindu economics.' ... When you compare the economic policies of Shiite Iran, Sunni Saudi Arabia, Jewish Israel, Hindu India, and Christian America, you just don't see that much of a difference.”

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Themes: Economics

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“We believe that buying more stuff will make us happy because we saw the capitalist paradise with our own eyes on television.”

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Themes: Consumerism

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“We humans have conquered the world thanks to our ability to create and believe fictional stories. We are therefore particularly bad at knowing the difference between fiction and reality.”

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Themes: Reality Illusion

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Quotes about 21 Lessons for the 21st Century (1 quotes)

“Harari is such a stimulating writer that even when I disagreed, I wanted to keep reading and thinking... this is a sweeping book but its title is a misnomer. Although you will find a few concrete lessons scattered throughout, Harari mostly resists handy prescriptions. He’s more interested in defining the terms of the discussion and giving you historical and philosophical perspective.

Anonymous 1
Freedom from the narrow boxes defined by personal history
from New York Times

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