Humankind paid for its lofty vision and industrious hands with backaches and stiff necks.
But if the Interbreeding Theory is right, there might well be genetic differences between Africans, Europeans and Asians that go back hundreds of thousands of years. This is political dynamite, which could provide material for explosive racial theories.
The foragers may have had their all-conquering Napoleons, who ruled empires half the size of Luxembourg; gifted Beethovens who lacked symphony orchestras but brought people to tears with the sound of their bamboo flutes; and charismatic prophets who revealed the words of a local oak tree rather than those of a universal creator god. But these are all mere guesses.
Every mammoth was a source of a vast quantity of meat (which, given the frosty temperatures, could even be frozen for later use), tasty fat, warm fur and valuable ivory. As the findings from Sungir testify, mammoth-hunters did not just survive in the frozen north – they thrived.
The average farmer worked harder than the average forager, and got a worse diet in return. The Agricultural Revolution was history’s biggest fraud.
Back in the snail-mail era, people usually only wrote letters when they had something important to relate.
We thought we were saving time; instead we revved up the treadmill of life to ten times its former speed and made our days more anxious and agitated.
History is something that very few people have been doing while everyone else was ploughing fields and carrying water buckets.
Everywhere, rulers and elites sprang up, living off the peasants’ surplus food and leaving them with only a bare subsistence.
We believe in a particular order not because it is objectively true, but because believing in it enables us to cooperate effectively and forge a better society.
First, you never admit that the order is imagined. You always insist that the order sustaining society is an objective reality created by the great gods or by the laws of nature.
Romanticism tells us that in order to make the most of our human potential we must have as many different experiences as we can.
The inter-subjective is something that exists within the communication network linking the subjective consciousness of many individuals. If a single individual changes his or her beliefs, or even dies, it is of little importance. However, if most individuals in the network die or change their beliefs, the inter-subjective phenomenon will mutate or disappear. Inter-subjective phenomena are neither malevolent frauds nor insignificant charades.
Throughout history, and in almost all societies, concepts of pollution and purity have played a leading role in enforcing social and political divisions and have been exploited by numerous ruling classes to maintain their privileges.
Money comes to money, and poverty to poverty. Education comes to education, and ignorance to ignorance. Those once victimised by history are likely to be victimised yet again. And those whom history has privileged are more likely to be privileged again.
In order to ensure her own survival and the survival of her children, the woman had little choice but to agree to whatever conditions the man stipulated so that he would stick around and share some of the burden. As time went by, the feminine genes that made it to the next generation belonged to women who were submissive caretakers. Women who spent too much time fighting for power did not leave any of those powerful genes for future generations.
Nobody really knows how to solve this thorny question of cultural inheritance.
Yet, in fact, religion has been the third great unifier of humankind, alongside money and empires.
These theological disputes turned so violent that during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Catholics and Protestants killed each other by the hundreds of thousands.
If a religion is a system of human norms and values that is founded on belief in a superhuman order, then Soviet Communism was no less a religion than Islam.
The existence of different human races, the superiority of the white race, and the need to protect and cultivate this superior race were widely held beliefs among most Western elites.
At the same time, a huge gulf is opening between the tenets of liberal humanism and the latest findings of the life sciences, a gulf we cannot ignore much longer.
Successful cultures are those that excel in reproducing their memes, irrespective of the costs and benefits to their human hosts.
Similar arguments are common in the social sciences, under the aegis of game theory.
This was not merely a historical achievement, but an evolutionary and even cosmic feat.
Mere observations, however, are not knowledge. In order to understand the universe, we need to connect observations into comprehensive theories.
Most scientific studies are funded because somebody believes they can help attain some political, economic or religious goal.
What made Europeans exceptional was their unparalleled and insatiable ambition to explore and conquer.
the European conquerors knew their empires very well. Far better, indeed, than any previous conquerors, or even than the native population itself.
No less important was the fact that science gave the empires ideological justification. Modern Europeans came to believe that acquiring new knowledge was always good. The fact that the empires produced a constant stream of new knowledge branded them as progressive and positive enterprises.
Banks and governments print money, but ultimately, it is the scientists who foot the bill.
A hundred years later, princes and bankers were willing to extend far more credit to Columbus’ successors, and they had more capital at their disposal, thanks to the treasures reaped from America. Equally important, princes and bankers had far more trust in the potential of exploration, and were more willing to part with their money.
The secret of Dutch success was credit. The Dutch burghers, who had little taste for combat on land, hired mercenary armies to fight the Spanish for them. The Dutch themselves meanwhile took to the sea in ever-larger fleets. Mercenary armies and cannon-brandishing fleets cost a fortune, but the Dutch were able to finance their military expeditions more easily than the mighty Spanish Empire because they secured the trust of the burgeoning European financial system at a time when the Spanish king was carelessly eroding its trust in him. Financiers extended the Dutch enough credit to set up armies and fleets, and these armies and fleets gave the Dutch control of world trade routes, which in turn yielded handsome profits. The profits allowed the Dutch to repay the loans, which strengthened the trust of the financiers. Amsterdam was fast becoming not only one of the most important ports of Europe, but also the continent’s financial Mecca.
How exactly did the Dutch win the trust of the financial system? Firstly, they were sticklers about repaying their loans on time and in full, making the extension of credit less risky for lenders. Secondly, their country’s judicial system enjoyed independence and protected private rights – in particular private property rights.
This enterprise may sound a little strange to us, but in the early modern age it was common for private companies to hire not only soldiers, but also generals and admirals, cannons and ships, and even entire off-the-shelf armies. The international community took this for granted and didn’t raise an eyebrow when a private company established an empire.
the British demanded and received control of Hong Kong, which they proceeded to use as a secure base for drug trafficking
The most important economic resource is trust in the future, and this resource is constantly threatened by thieves and charlatans.
Markets by themselves offer no protection against fraud, theft and violence. It is the job of political systems to ensure trust by legislating sanctions against cheats and to establish and support police forces, courts and jails which will enforce the law. When kings fail to do their jobs and regulate the markets properly, it leads to loss of trust, dwindling credit and economic depression.
Few of us understand how electricity does all these things, but even fewer can imagine life without it.
Our children’s books, our iconography and our TV screens are still full of giraffes, wolves and chimpanzees, but the real world has very few of them left.
Many call this process ‘the destruction of nature’. But it’s not really destruction, it’s change. Nature cannot be destroyed.
Many kingdoms and empires were in truth little more than large protection rackets.
A person who lost her family and community around 1750 was as good as dead.
Today, parental authority is in full retreat. Youngsters are increasingly excused from obeying their elders, whereas parents are blamed for anything that goes wrong in the life of their child. Mum and Dad are about as likely to be found innocent in the Freudian courtroom as were defendants in a Stalinist show trial.
The decline of violence is due largely to the rise of the state. Throughout history, most violence resulted from local feuds between families and communities.
A lot of evidence indicates that we are destroying the foundations of human prosperity in an orgy of reckless consumption.
A meaningful life can be extremely satisfying even in the midst of hardship, whereas a meaningless life is a terrible ordeal no matter how comfortable it is.
Science fiction rarely describes such a future, because an accurate description is by definition incomprehensible.
Those who are not spooked by this question probably haven’t given it enough thought.