Harari (2018). The myth of freedom.

Harari, Y. N. (2018, September 14). The myth of freedom. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/sep/14/yuval-noah-harari-the-new-threat-to-liberal-democracy

[Governments using others’ words out of context …]

“It is a mark of illiberal regimes that they make free speech more difficult even outside their borders.” (¶3)

[Core advantage of liberalism includes self-criticism …]

“Liberalism’s great advantage over other ideologies is that it is flexible and undogmatic. It can sustain criticism better than any other social order. Indeed, it is the only social order that allows people to question even its own foundations.” (¶4)

[Technological process is seen as a threat …]

“… the main challenge it faces today comes not from fascism or communism, and not even from the demagogues and autocrats that are spreading everywhere like frogs after the rains. This time the main challenge emerges from the laboratories.” (¶6)

[Liberty presumes free will …]

“Liberalism is founded on the belief in human liberty. Unlike rats and monkeys, human beings are supposed to have ‘free will’.” (¶7)

[Free will as a construct for social control …]

“Unfortunately, ‘free will’ isn’t a scientific reality. It is a myth inherited from Christian theology. Theologians developed the idea of ‘free will’ to explain why God is right to punish sinners for their bad choices and reward saints for their good choices. If our choices aren’t made freely, why should God punish or reward us for them?” (¶8)

[Circumstances outside individual control lead to available choices that may be made …]

“Humans certainly have a will – but it isn’t free. You cannot decide what desires you have. You don’t decide to be introvert or extrovert, easy-going or anxious, gay or straight. Humans make choices – but they are never independent choices. Every choice depends on a lot of biological, social and personal conditions that you cannot determine for yourself.” (¶9)

[Meta-awareness …]

“This is not abstract theory. You can witness this easily. Just observe the next thought that pops up in your mind. Where did it come from? Did you freely choose to think it? Obviously not. If you carefully observe your own mind, you come to realise that you have little control of what’s going on there, and you are not choosing freely what to think, what to feel, and what to want.” (¶10)

[Being unaware of manipulation …]

“But now the belief in ‘free will’ suddenly becomes dangerous. If governments and corporations succeed in hacking the human animal, the easiest people to manipulate will be those who believe in free will.” (¶12)

[Technology allows for precision targeting of ideologies and propaganda …]

“Propaganda and manipulation are nothing new, of course. But whereas in the past they worked like carpet bombing, now they are becoming precision-guided munitions. … In recent years some of the smartest people in the world have worked on hacking the human brain in order to make you click on ads and sell you stuff. Now these methods are being used to sell you politicians and ideologies, too.” (¶16)

[Biometrics can provide additional data points …]

“Yet within a few years biometric sensors could give hackers direct access to your inner world, and they could observe what’s going on inside your heart. Not the metaphorical heart beloved by liberal fantasies, but rather the muscular pump that regulates your blood pressure and much of your brain activity. The hackers could then correlate your heart rate with your credit card data, and your blood pressure with your search history.” (¶17)

[The constructs of liberalism are not adapted to the information landscape …]

“Liberalism has developed an impressive arsenal of arguments and institutions to defend individual freedoms against external attacks from oppressive governments and bigoted religions, but it is unprepared for a situation when individual freedom is subverted from within, and when the very concepts of ‘individual’ and ‘freedom’ no longer make much sense.” (¶18)

[Know your weaknesses …]

“It is particularly important to get to know your weaknesses. They are the main tools of those who try to hack you. Computers are hacked through pre-existing faulty code lines. Humans are hacked through pre-existing fears, hatreds, biases and cravings. Hackers cannot create fear or hatred out of nothing. But when they discover what people already fear and hate it is easy to push the relevant emotional buttons and provoke even greater fury.” (¶20)

[Focus on connecting with the outside world rather than brooding on inner reactions …]

“… if we understood that our desires are not the outcome of free choice, we would hopefully be less preoccupied with them, and would also feel more connected to the rest of the world.” (¶24)

[Technology has turned realm of philosophy into one of technology …]

“There is nothing new about doubting free will or about exploring the true nature of humanity. We humans have had this discussion a thousand times before. But we never had the technology before. And the technology changes everything. Ancient problems of philosophy are now becoming practical problems of engineering and politics.” (¶27)

[Given technological realities, liberalism needs update or replacement …]

“At the same time, we need to question the traditional assumptions of liberalism, and develop a new political project that is better in line with the scientific realities and technological powers of the 21st century.” (¶31)

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