21 lessons for the 21st century
BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz (The Philippine Star) - March 28, 2019 - 12:00am

There are very few authors that I consider “must read” today. Most great writers are, unfortunately, appreciated and read after they have passed away. Among the living authors I recommend are Thomas Friedman and Yuval Noah Harari. Friedman is very well known because he is a three-time recipient of the Pulitzer Prize, author of seven best-selling books and is a New York Times columnist. 

The books he has written include From Beirut to Jerusalem, The Lexus and the Olive Tree, Longitudes and Attitudes, The World is Flat, Hot Flat and Crowded, That Used to Be Us. His latest book is Thank You For Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide To Thriving In The Age of Accelerations. In this book, Friedman “...exposes the tectonic movements that are reshaping the world today and how to make the most out of them and cushion their worst impacts.”

This is a fantastic book of contemporary history and a convincing argument for “being late”- for pausing to appreciate  this amazing historical epoch we’re passing through and to reflect on its possibilities and dangers.

Yuval Noah Harari is another contemporary author who proves that if we truly want to understand what is happening in the world today and why it is happening we must turn to books rather than rely on social media and even mainstream media. This is the reason why Harari is on the recommended list of the 100 top CEOs in the Fortune 500 list of companies in the world today. As I have mentioned in past columns, personalities like Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Barack Obama, Mark Zuckerberg recommend that we read at least 60 books a year. It is said that Trump hardly reads books. I wonder how many of our political and business leaders read books; and, yet they continue to pontificate as if they knew what is going on in the world today.

 Harari is one of the most innovative thinkers in the world today and has written three books. In Sapiens he explored our past. In Homo Deus, which I wrote about in a previous column, he looked to the future. In his book 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, he turns to the present to try and make sense of today’s most pressing issues.

How do computers and robots change the meaning of being human? How do we deal with the epidemic of fake news? Are nations and religions still relevant? What should we teach our children?

His publisher describes the book as “...a probing and visionary investigation into today’s most urgent issues as we move into the uncharted territory of the future. As technology advances faster than our understanding of it, hacking becomes a tactic of war, and the world feels more polarized than ever. Harari addresses the challenge of navigating life in the face of constant and disorienting change and raises important questions we need to ask ourselves in order to survive. Twenty-one provocative and profound chapters cover a range of topics including:

Work: when you grow up you might not have a job. Big Data is watching you. Equality: those who own the data own the future. Communities: humans have bodies. Nationalism: global problems need global solutions. Religion: God now serves the nation. Immigration: Some cultures might be better than others. Terrorism: don’t panic. Humility: You are not the center  of the world. Ignorance: You know less than you think. Justice: Our sense of justice might be out of date. Post-Truth: Some fake news last forever. Education: change is the only constant. Meditation: Just observe.”

We are living in a world deluged by irrelevant information. What is lacking is clarity in distinguishing between irrelevant and relevant information. There is an ongoing debate about the future of humankind. Unfortunately most people, even the leaders in business and politics, seemingly cannot or do not want to spend time in investigation nor even determining what key questions need to be asked because  “ ...we have more pressing things to do.” So we see society fall back on short term-solutions to long term problems. 

In the meantime, the future of humanity is being decided by the very few; but, those who are too busy will not be exempt from the consequences of the actions of the very few. In his first chapter Harari says that. In the 1990s and early 2000s, the global mantra was that the answer to the problems of overcoming poverty, violence and oppression was to give more people liberty. If we could protect human rights, grant everybody the right to vote, establish free markets and let individuals, ideas and goods move throughout the world as easily as possible , there will be peace and prosperity for all. 

Since the global financial crisis of 2008, people  have become disillusioned with this formula of “liberalism.” Today we see the rise of populism; and, even democratic governments have begun to undermine the independence of the judiciary system, restrict the freedom of the press and portray opposition as treason. Donald Trump has become the international  symbol of this movement. Liberalization and globalization are perceived to be “...a huge racket empowering a tiny elite at the expense of the masses.” 

The acceleration and merger of biotech and infotech is also  confronting  us with the biggest challenges humankind has ever encountered. No one has any idea what the job market will look like in 2050. 

Harari has also warned us that since the corporations and entrepreneurs who lead the technological revolution will sing the praises of their creations, sociologists, philosophers and historians must continually sound the alarm and explain all the ways things could go wrong. 

Creative writing classes for kids and teens

Adult Series session on Creative Nonfiction on March 30 (1:30-4:30 pm) with Susan Lara at Fully Booked BGC.  For details and registration,  email writethingsph@gmail.com.

 Email: elfrencruz@gmail.com

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