Class Warfare Blog

November 21, 2017

Interpreting History

I am reading Sapiens by Yuval Harari which is beautifully written and infuriating as well. A book written on the entire history of humanity (Homo sapiens any way) has to cover myriad topics so some mistakes will be made and I tend to overlook these. But recently Mr. Harari decided to translate a statement from the Declaration of Independence into “science.” So, here are the text:
We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among those are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
and his scientifically sound “translation:”
We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men evolved differently, that they are born with certain mutable characteristics, and that among those are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Mr. Harari applies evolutionary biology … that had not been invented at the writing of the Declaration and a bunch of other nonsense in doing this, to no good end.

The purpose of the original statement is to run counter to all previous governments on the entire planet. People everywhere were born into classes or castes that they were doomed to be confined in (even slavery). The Code of Hammurabi, the first written legal code, includes penalties for transgressions based upon the various classes which were thought to be absolutely necessary of the stability of their society. They did not have the right to pursue their own life, their own happiness, their own liberty. The declaration is a claim for such a right for all citizens of the United States.

As to “all men are created equal,” the biological analysis focussing on individual gifts is just plain stupid. My “analysis” of this is a simple claim that we are all born completely dependent upon others for our survival. A newborn cannot defend itself, feed itself, clothe itself, or clean itself. We are all equal in this. Every man Jack.

Mr. Harari goes on to argue that we are not created, but have evolved. I beg to differ. We are all created through the actions of our parents. Different actions, different people, or no person at all. The reference to the “creator” (I have left out the 18th century capitalizations) is a sop to the religious (and also a cynical appeal to the goodness of “the creator”).

We now know that what happens next after we are born can determine a great deal about any child’s future, including the manifestation of any biological “gifts” supplied by its parents. We now know that poverty has implications for infants that affect how large an adult they will be and what their mental abilities will be, for example. So, the rich always have a leg up in that they can care for a child much better than the poor can. We will never know how many geniuses were born into slavery and never made a mark on the world. Since 90+ of civilized humans were in some sort of state of slavery over all time, that cannot be a small number.

The Declaration’s claim is not that all people have equivalent mental and physical gifts. (Remember that Thomas Jefferson wrote this!) If they meant that, they would have said that. What they were saying was that every newborn should have the opportunity to pursue the future (as much as circumstances allow) without the shackles of class or religion preventing that. And even so, they were still beholden to a slave culture, so their words, while inspiring, do not have a pure source.

8 Comments »

  1. Thank you for this.
    One sort of off topic comment. Not every time, but more often than not, when I am asked where I come from, I say my parents. It still makes me wonder why so many folks give me an odd look after I tell them that. I say we all come from our parents and that those two humans created each of us. No doG nor religion needed, just a willing male/female pair who at least shared a nice few moments together at least once.
    Yep, I sure am an old pagan/heathen/sarcastic SOB. I may have a bad attitude, but damn, it is MY attitude and I’ll keep it until I decide to change it, maybe some day in the distant future…..LOL. Probably not.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Walter Kronkat — November 21, 2017 @ 10:50 pm | Reply

    • I find people needing to know “where they came from” (the hospital? Mom’s uterus?) to be tedious. Wanting to know is one thing, needing to know is another. The current trend to DNA analysis (23 and Me, etc.) is indicative. the analysis provided really tells us nothing. All Europeans have DNA that is about two thirds African and one third Asian at its root. Local adaptions give lighter skin colors if living near the poles for generations, darker skin colors if you live near the equator, etc.

      I used to laugh at people who wanted to know their family tree so they could find someone of importance. My mother traced her’s all the way back to a couple of brothers in England who were executed as highway robbers. But if only some royal person would show up, I am sure it would cancel out those robbers.

      Who one is is an act of creation. It should consume your energy now, not in some search for who your great-grandfather was and what he did. Totally irrelevant to who you could be (unless he left a fortune and you are due some of that!).

      On Tue, Nov 21, 2017 at 10:50 PM, Class Warfare Blog wrote:

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      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by Steve Ruis — November 22, 2017 @ 10:47 am | Reply

  2. We should trade reading lists. I read this and don’t recall much of it (then again, I don’t recall much of anything these days.) There are other’s I’ve read, of a similar vein, which I felt were more insightful. He’s got another out now too, some tech expose’ (Homo Deus). All to be take with a grain (or shaker) of salt, I’m sure..

    Like

    Comment by Anony Mole — November 22, 2017 @ 10:36 am | Reply

    • The book I am recommending to one and all right now is “Against the Grain.” It is a reconsideration of the “agricultural revolution” narrative … mentioned and questioned in “Sapiens” albeit it quickly (he seems to have swallowed the conventional narrative with some questionable reasoning). I do not want to ding Mr. Harari too much. I do not have the courage to publish on such a broad topic and expose my ignorance. I’d much rather expose my ignorance to a much smaller audience!

      On Wed, Nov 22, 2017 at 10:36 AM, Class Warfare Blog wrote:

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      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by Steve Ruis — November 22, 2017 @ 10:50 am | Reply

      • Ah, that’s right, I’ll have to read that. It contests Diamond’s wheat / Fertile Crescent argument yes? We talked about that somewhere else I recall.

        Like

        Comment by Anony Mole — November 22, 2017 @ 11:21 am | Reply

        • Teases it apart, rather. The same thing happened in China and the Americas, by Mesopotamia was first in line and possibly the best documented. It is a real eye opener.

          On Wed, Nov 22, 2017 at 11:21 AM, Class Warfare Blog wrote:

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          Liked by 1 person

          Comment by Steve Ruis — November 22, 2017 @ 11:29 am | Reply

  3. This deal of tracing your family tree is a big thing in this part of ‘Merikkka. I still recall one time, I must have been in 7th or 8th grade, some critter called Dad on the phone to sell us a book about our family history. dad told him he would not buy the book, nor even take it for free. Dad figured that he knew his parents and grandparents. I did as well of course, and Dad was of the opinion that that was all one needed to know. I do remember my great grandfather, but he was in his 90’s and was not fond of kids, so he stayed in his room at my grandparents house when we visited. He’d had a hard life as a farmer and was wore out from decades of very hard work. He’d quit farming himself before tractors were readily available so he had a good reason to like his peace and quiet. My Dads’ middle name was great granddad’s given name and that is about all I remember of the old farmer.
    I like reading history, but as I come from a long line of working class folks, I’ll never find much about any of them in any books,but I’m A-OK with that. I did have a good relationship with all four of may grandparents and that is all I need.

    Like

    Comment by Walter Kronkat — November 22, 2017 @ 8:38 pm | Reply

    • You we’re lucky my grand dads were dead or run off before I was born. My Mom’s family goes back to the Revolutionary period and it is fun to read, but I never knew any of those folks, so … meh.

      I also loved hearing from the people who claimed they were somebody important in a past life. Except that everyone who believe in that (reincarnation?) believed they were somebody important. I think it was more plausible that there were farmers/peasants/slaves all the way back, although there is genealogical evidence that Genghis Khan has literally millions of descendants at this point. I guess it helps one to survive to be born into a rich family.

      On Wed, Nov 22, 2017 at 8:38 PM, Class Warfare Blog wrote:

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      Like

      Comment by Steve Ruis — November 22, 2017 @ 9:33 pm | Reply


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