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Sugar is a greater danger than gunpowder, says ‘Sapiens’ author Yuval Noah Harari

The Israeli historian believes we are on our way to self-destruction.

, ET Bureau|
Updated: Apr 02, 2018, 08.19 AM IST
His books are excellent conversation starters. “Homo sapiens, as we know them, will disappear in a century or so,” as an opening statement is bound to leave one intrigued. Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari’s books — on the history of mankind, the rise of humans to dominance and future challenges — provides terrific source material for some erudite remarks.

During his recent visit to India, to speak at a conclave, Harari stuck to his cautionary tone against humanity’s collective rush towards selfdestruction, without the necessary counter measures in place.

Sweet talk
There was a time when war was the only answer. But since 1945 (the end of the Second World War), due to the collective effort of great powers, there have been no major battles. “For the first time in history, you are your worst enemies. Fewer people died in 2017 due to UN violence than due to obesity, car accidents and suicides,” he said. “Statistically, you have a greater chance of killing yourself than any soldier or terrorist. Sugar is a greater danger than gunpowder. You are more likely to die from drinking too much cola than being blown up by al-Qaeda. And this is very good news.”

Of course, there is no guarantee that this state of affairs will continue. This achievement, made possible by global cooperation of nations, must be protected, according to Harari. “Youshould never underestimate human stupidity. It’s one of the most powerful forces in human history,” he said.

The ecological challenge
Nuclear war is a possibility. Climate change is here, and now, making it a more immediate threat to the existence of humans. “Homo sapiens have proven to be ecological serial killers for thousands of years. We are responsible for the extinction of numerous plants and animals. Now we are putting in danger the survival of our species as well as much of life on earth,” he said.
Sugar is a greater danger than gunpowder, says ‘Sapiens’ author Yuval Noah Harari
“Climate change and ecological collapse are a present reality. It is already happening all around us. If things continue in present course, in 50 years, it might be impossible to live in Mumbai. Either because the Indian Ocean will rise and swallow up much of the city or because it will be so hot, that nobody could live here.”

No single nation can prevent this as they are not ecological sovereigns. They are dependent on each other and hence need each other.

Technological disruption
Advancements in AI and bioengineering are two key challenges of the future. “AI may completely disrupt the global job market as computers and robots outperform humans. Billions of people may be pushed out of the job market. And we will see the creation of an enormous new class — the useless class. Just as the industrial revolution of the 19th century created the urban working class, the automation revolution of the 21st century may create the useless class. Useless, not from the perspective of their loved ones, but from the economic and political viewpoint. There could be millions of people who have no economic value and hence, no political power,” Harari said.
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