Nationalism vs. Globalism: The New Political Divide with Yuval Noah Harari (Transcript)

I don’t think anybody is really thinking of abolishing that. But in order to confront climate change, we need additional loyalties and commitments to a level beyond the nation. And that should not be impossible, because people can have several layers of loyalty. You can be loyal to your family and to your community and to your nation, so why can’t you also be loyal to humankind as a whole? Of course, there are occasions when it becomes difficult, what to put first, but, you know, life is difficult. Handle it.

CHRIS ANDERSON: OK, so I would love to get some questions from the audience here. We’ve got a microphone here. Speak into it, and Facebook, get them coming, too.

QUESTION-AND-ANSWER SESSION

HOWARD MORGAN: One of the things that has clearly made a huge difference in this country and other countries is the income distribution inequality, the dramatic change in income distribution in the US from what it was 50 years ago, and around the world. Is there anything we can do to affect that? Because that gets at a lot of the underlying causes.

YUVAL NOAH HARARI: So far I haven’t heard a very good idea about what to do about it, again, partly because most ideas remain on the national level, and the problem is global. I mean, one idea that we hear quite a lot about now is universal basic income. But this is a problem I mean, I think it’s a good start, but it’s a problematic idea because it’s not clear what “universal” is and it’s not clear what “basic” is. Most people when they speak about universal basic income, they actually mean national basic income.

But the problem is global. Let’s say that you have AI and 3D printers taking away millions of jobs in Bangladesh, from all the people who make my shirts and my shoes. So what’s going to happen? The US government will levy taxes on Google and Apple in California, and use that to pay basic income to unemployed Bangladeshis? If you believe that, you can just as well believe that Santa Claus will come and solve the problem. So unless we have really universal and not national basic income, the deep problems are not going to go away. And also it’s not clear what basic is, because what are basic human needs? A thousand years ago, just food and shelter was enough. But today, people will say education is a basic human need, it should be part of the package. But how much? Six years? Twelve years? PhD?

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Similarly, with health care, let’s say that in 20, 30, 40 years, you’ll have expensive treatments that can extend human life to 120, I don’t know. Will this be part of the basket of basic income or not? It’s a very difficult problem, because in a world where people lose their ability to be employed, the only thing they are going to get is this basic income. So what’s part of it is a very, very difficult ethical question.

CHRIS ANDERSON: There’s a bunch of questions on how the world affords it as well, who pays. There’s a question here from Facebook from Lisa Larson: “How does nationalism in the US now compare to that between World War I and World War II in the last century?”

YUVAL NOAH HARARI: Well the good news, with regard to the dangers of nationalism, we are in a much better position than a century ago. A century ago, 1917, Europeans were killing each other by the millions. In 2016, with Brexit, as far as I remember, a single person lost their life, an MP who was murdered by some extremist. Just a single person I mean, if Brexit was about British independence, this is the most peaceful war of independence in human history.

And let’s say that Scotland will now choose to leave the UK after Brexit. So in the 18th century, if Scotland wanted — and the Scots wanted several times — to break out of the control of London, the reaction of the government in London was to send an army up north to burn down Edinburgh and massacre the highland tribes. My guess is that if, in 2018, the Scots vote for independence, the London government will not send an army up north to burn down Edinburgh. Very few people are now willing to kill or be killed for Scottish or for British independence. So for all the talk of the rise of nationalism and going back to the 1930s, to the 19th century, in the West at least, the power of national sentiments today is far, far smaller than it was a century ago.

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CHRIS ANDERSON: Although some people now, you hear publicly worrying about whether that might be shifting, that there could actually be outbreaks of violence in the US depending on how things turn out. Should we be worried about that, or do you really think things have shifted?

YUVAL NOAH HARARI: No, we should be worried. We should be aware of two things. First of all, don’t be hysterical. We are not back in the First World War yet. But on the other hand, don’t be complacent. We reached from 1917 to 2017, not by some divine miracle, but simply by human decisions, and if we now start making the wrong decisions, we could be back in an analogous situation to 1917 in a few years.

One of the things I know as a historian is that you should never underestimate human stupidity. It’s one of the most powerful forces in history, human stupidity and human violence. Humans do such crazy things for no obvious reason, but again, at the same time, another very powerful force in human history is human wisdom. We have both.

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