equality and inequality

I finished reading Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari’s new book some time ago, and would like to pass on to readers of Thought du Jour a few passages that I found of particular interest.

I especially liked chapter 4, titled “Equality”, though it discusses inequality more than equality. Here are some brief passages from the chapter.

For the last few decades, people all over the world were told that humankind is on the path to equality, and that globalization and new technologies will hep us get there sooner. In reality, the twenty-first century might create the most unequal societies in history. […]

Throughout history the rich and the aristocracy always imagined that they had skills superior to everybody else’s, which is why they were in control. As far as we can tell, this wasn’t true. […] However, by 2100 the rich might really be more talented, more creative and more intelligent than the slum-dwellers. Once a real gap in ability opens between the rich and the poor, it will become almost impossible to close it. […] It’s very dangerous to be redundant. The future of the masses will then depend on the goodwill of a small elite. Maybe there is goodwill for a few decades, but in a time of crisis–like climate catastrophe–it would be very tempting and easy to toss the superfluous people overboard. […]

If we want to prevent the concentration of all wealth and power in the hands of a small elite in the hands of a small elite, the key is to regulate the ownership of data. [….] If data becomes concentrated in too few hands, humankind will split into different species. […]

At present, people are happy to give away their most valuable asset–their personal data–in exchange for free email services and funny cat videos. It’s a bit like African and Native American tribes who unwittingly sold entire countries to European imperialists in exchange for colorful beads and cheap trinkets.

Yuval Noah Harari, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century (Penguin, 2018), pp. 72, 75-76, 77, 79.

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