Uncommon Sense

November 24, 2017

Harari Infuriates Again

I am working my way through “Sapiens” by Yuval Harari and I apologize for posting about it over many moons, but when I read something profound (or profoundly upsetting) I set aside the book for a bit to let the ideas percolate and see what gestates from that. (We do not create our thoughts, although we do give words to them to be able to communicate them.)

I have mentioned before what I perceived as perversity in Mr. Yuval’s book. This is another example.

He was pointing out that no one has natural rights, which is why we claim they come from some god or other. He quotes Voltaire (“There is no God, but do not tell my servant lest he murder me at night.”) and others as to the role religion plays in controlling the masses. He goes on to quote Talleyrand on why physical coercion alone won’t be enough to control people (“You can do many things with bayonets, but it is rather uncomfortable to sit on them.” and “A single priest does the work of a hundred soldiers, far more cheaply and effectively.”) and that religion is as or more useful than physical threat. Yuval concludes that some beliefs/memes, etc. are needed to keep people functioning as soldiers, e.g. honor, country, manhood, God (On our side!), motherhood, etc. and by extension as participating members of a stable society.

But then he goes on to consider the people at the top of the pyramid, the elites. He asks: “Why should they wish to enforce an imagined order if they themselves do not believe in it?” Okay, now we are cooking! He continues in the next sentence: “It is quite common to argue that the elite may do so out of cynical greed.”

Bingo … but …

Yuval then continues to dismiss this statement implicitly by perversely arguing that it could not be “cynical” because the Cynic philosophers had no ambition, and the elites do. This has to be willful obtuseness on the author’s part. Any dictionary would have told him that when ordinary people use the word cynical they are referring to it being “contemptuously distrustful of human nature and motives,” not some harkening to the Greek philosophical school of the Cynics. He then goes on to conclude that the elites have to have their beliefs, too.


The key word in “cynical greed” is greed, not cynical. And he sloughs off the greed aspect because, well, what? Getting too close to criticizing the elites can be dangerous? He just leaves it hanging.

Of course, the elites have their beliefs and memes. This is how they communicate without having a Central Committee somewhere issuing orders. The elites believe: that because they are wealthy (or pious) they are special; they are better than the hoi polloi because they show mastery over their environment (through their wealth and power it gives them); because they are better, who better to determine the course of society, to lead. Their wealth is a manifestation of their innate abilities in all things, even if they inherited their wealth. Obviously, the elites have their beliefs and memes.

But beliefs and memes aren’t motives. Greed is a motive. It needs no beliefs or memes to support it. Why do you think it is that religions condemn greed? Because this is what the elites want the masses to believe. First, they do not want competition. If religions preached “Greed is Good!” (The Church of Gordon Gecko?), more people would practice it and the ranks of the elites would swell and there would be less wealth in a share. Second, the elites do not believe greed is bad and they want the masses to think that if the elites appear to be greedy, that they will be punished … by the god(s). As long as the masses take no action upon themselves, the elites are good with that. Accepting divine punishment is perfectly fine if you don’t believe in divines.

The correct follow-up to “It is quite common to argue that the elite may do so out of cynical greed” is “This is indeed the simplest answer … but the elites need a way to communicate with others in their class, so beliefs and memes are shared as a form of signaling.”



  1. Ah yes, that mythical afterlife crap is still with us. We are all the worse off for it.
    The greed of those elites knows no bounds. I swear that IF or when they own the entire planet, they will still want more. The entire solar system will not be enough, nor even if they owned the entire galaxy our small planet is a very minor part of, that would still not be enough for their greed.
    On one of my very rare good days, that is, the I feel some extra compassion for the elites (with is as close to never as possible) I could almost sort of try to feel a very tiny bit sorry for them. Note, I said almost.
    As my grandpa used to say, they made their beds, now, let them sleep in them.
    I will give you one extra,just because. We will only have real peace when the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.
    Let the religious folks choke on that one. Yeah, I know I am an old SOB, but, I do have documents to prove it.


    Comment by Walter Kronkat — November 24, 2017 @ 1:09 pm | Reply

    • I agree completely with your “extra one.” Clearly we can do without both classes of people. It seems we elected legislators who do not legislating (or even know how) and then re-elect them. We endorse religion (out own) while we know almost nothing about it.

      Maybe the problem is in “we.”

      On Fri, Nov 24, 2017 at 1:09 PM, Class Warfare Blog wrote:



      Comment by Steve Ruis — November 24, 2017 @ 1:13 pm | Reply

  2. Oh man, you nailed it! Yes, the problem IS us. The collective we keeps voting against our own best self interest. Of course the game is rigged so a real reform minded candidate will not get the nomination. The war party, both sides of it (donkey and elephant) are so damn deep in the pockets of the very rich that we get stuck with crap candidates most every election at least from the state level on up. I say from the state level as once in a while, not often enough, we may get a real reform minded person who actually gets elected for city council, IF the city is small enough and not near any major corporations.


    Comment by Walter Kronkat — November 24, 2017 @ 1:24 pm | Reply

    • We are starting to wake up to the fact that the game is rigged, that the elites own the game. Actually, they own the cards, that table, all of the chips, the chairs, the room we are sitting in and the right to supply it with water and air. I am amazed they haven’t figured out how to charge us for the air we breathe. The bastards even got home installed solar panels banned in Florida, they couldn’t stand to see the sun’s energy going straight from the sun into your collectors, without them inserted into the process. They want it to be them who does the collecting so they can then sell the electricity to us.

      On Fri, Nov 24, 2017 at 1:24 PM, Class Warfare Blog wrote:


      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by Steve Ruis — November 24, 2017 @ 1:35 pm | Reply

  3. Steve I’m not sure if you are familiar with the Savannah baboons toppled hierarchy due to a tuberculosis outbreak at a tourist lodge dump. Here’s the story https://mobile.nytimes.com/2004/04/13/science/no-time-for-bullies-baboons-retool-their-culture.html This type of thing is the only thing that will get us what we need to live peacefully.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by jiminpanama — November 24, 2017 @ 5:35 pm | Reply

    • Fabulous! And the pattern is obvious–remove all of the jerks! We start with politicians (the vast majority), and then the rich assholes who throw their weight around, and then we reprogram the rest. Did I mention that almost all of the jerks will be male? (I know there are female assholes (I married one), but really, show me a woman who wanted to be the baddest dude in town.)


      Comment by Steve Ruis — November 25, 2017 @ 10:53 am | Reply

      • I don’t think that many people would need to be reprogrammed. Most of us want quiet and non competitive leisure to enjoy life without being enslaved. Although you may be right as so many don’t know there is a better way than this.


        Comment by jiminpanama — November 25, 2017 @ 10:59 am | Reply

        • Well, when you have a narrative driven society (is there any other kind when it comes to humans?), instead of having a few dominant members of a troop setting the rules (or like ants and bees, having it coded into their genetics) we have all of these institutions generating reinforcement about the way things are supposed to be (or could be). Consider all of the violence in movies. If you wanted a non-violent culture, could you live with those been available? The churches, the patriotic displays, the museums, etc. Even our art reinforces the patterns we are expected to live in. Whoever controls the common narrative, controls the wishes and hopes of the next generations. (I can remember becoming an adult and wanting “a house with a lawn and a white picket fence in the suburbs and a wife and kids and a good job.” Now I look at that in horror. But we are looking around us all of the time to see what is possible and when one can see unlimited behaviors (Grand Theft Auto, etc.) it can appear there few constraints on behavior.

          On Sat, Nov 25, 2017 at 10:59 AM, Class Warfare Blog wrote:



          Comment by Steve Ruis — November 25, 2017 @ 11:08 am | Reply

  4. Jim,
    Very interesting article you linked to. If baboons can do this, maybe there is still some small hope for humans.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Walter Kronkat — November 24, 2017 @ 9:35 pm | Reply

    • Maybe. If the two intersecting points can be altered before we destroy everything beautiful.


      Comment by jiminpanama — November 24, 2017 @ 9:39 pm | Reply

  5. I think the elites may honestly believe that greed is bad, since greed is one of those qualities that are bad only when it applied to others, but are a positive quality when I have it. As in, “I’m not greedy, I have a rational self-interest”, or “I’m not a coward, I am careful”, “I’m not unqualified, I’m an outsider”.


    Comment by List of X — November 25, 2017 @ 6:17 pm | Reply

    • Ah, the old “avoid negative words when describing yourself” … I am not an atheists, I’m an agnostic or I’m not aggressive, just assertive. The point is that what they do would be described as greed by others and the rich would not thing it were wrong, no matter what others called it (ego protection or not).

      On Sat, Nov 25, 2017 at 6:17 PM, Class Warfare Blog wrote:



      Comment by Steve Ruis — November 25, 2017 @ 9:17 pm | Reply

  6. […] it was to be a kid from so many of us. What did we have to argue about when life was so sweet? On Steve Ruis I brought up an old favorite topic of The Savannah Baboons and their toppled hierarchy, now living […]


    Pingback by What would we Argue About? – The Common Athiest — November 30, 2017 @ 12:08 pm | Reply

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