What's Your Story?
By Amy Willis
Yuval Harari joined EconTalk host Russ Roberts this week to discuss his sweeping new book, Sapiens. The conversation was wide and varied, as varied as the “stories” Harari suggests distinguish our species. Are you governed by stories in the way Harari suggests? Is our ability to weave such tales really the key to homo sapiens’ success?
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1. Harari’s thesis is that man (of the homo sapiens variety) has been able to become dominant as a result of his ability to “flexibly cooperate” on a large scale, and that this in turn is enabled by his affinity and ability in story-telling. He regards religion, ideology, and more as “stories.” How convinced are you by this characterization, and why?
2. In discussing stories, Roberts notes the “cherished fictions” which sustain him. What such “fictions” do you hold dear, and what value do they provide you with?
3. Harari claims that if the populations of China and India were to adopt modern day American standards of living, the global ecosystem would collapse. Why does he think this, and what evidence can you cite either for or against his claim?
4. Harari argues that science and empire are “two sides of the same coin.” Have a look at this clip from Monty Python’s Life of Brian. How does this clip illustrate Harari’s claim. Is Harari making a positive or normative claim? To what extent do you buy his argument? Explain.