My good wishes for 2021

Unlikely end of the year post, about two books which inspired my 2020.

One is Yuval Noah Harari‘s masterpiece “Sapiens. A brief history of mankind“, first published in 2011, and in English, in 2014. I had read it few years ago in bits and pieces, but Nina gave it to me as a present and I could read it more calmly.

The other is Bhaskar SunkaraThe Socialist Manifesto. The case of radical politics in an era of extreme inequality.” Originally published in 2019, I bought it this year to understand the thinking of the founder of Jacobin.

In a way they were to me, unlikely twin books, in some ways complementary, if not in the topic, at least in a certain degree of intellectual ambition. The traces two important histories. The one of our species and the one of the socialist movement.

Harari’s book tells the story of three revolutions that marked the 150K years of our history on this planet. From the cognitive revolution that gave us language and culture 75K years ago, to the agricultural revolution that made us multiply but also become miserable, 10K years ago, to the scientific revolution that made us the most powerful living creatures ever existed, 500 years ago.

Sunkara’s book explores the history of two centuries of socialist struggle, from its historical roots to the momentous history of the German’s Social Democratic Party, condemning the atrocities of the communist experience and looking at the socialist way forward to face the existential crisis to our planet and species.

Socialism is, historically, a reaction to the industrial revolution, which itself originates from the scientific revolution. It was born both utopian and scientific but since Marx time, we have somewhat lost the dream to free and emancipate humankind, certainly because of the political failures of socialists experiences throughout the world. But also because it is difficult to update a narrative capable of keeping up with science progress and its many most recent revolutions (the information and the biotechnological revolutions being the last) and its difficult to dream of a better future if you struggle to understand the present.

Indeed, Harari’s book is one of the favourite of the liberal progressive elite, from Obama to Bill Gates. Sunkara speaks instead to the millennial socialists who “felt the Bern”. Two worlds that haven’t managed to cooperate with each other and build a synthesis capable of preventing the rise of Trump and Brexit.

Also in light of this, in my view, the two books have strong implications for each other and the authors, and the world that follows them, would certainly benefit by more mutual understanding.

Harari would certainly benefit from some socialist reading to counter balance a fatalist pessimism that characterize his predictions about our future. He is worried that we acquired tremendous powers while also being “dissatisfied and irresponsible” “without knowing what we want”. Is there anything more dangerous, he asks emphatically in the last sentence of the book?

But if psychology teach us that each and everyone of us is indeed a dissatisfied hunter/gatherer who isn’t fit to live in metropolis, it is also true that it doesn’t really matter in the long run how we fit, who we think we are and what we want at the individual level. Our tremendous power is not really the fruit of individuals but the product of our species amazing capacity to cooperate on spatial and temporal scales never seen before on this planet. What matters therefore is what we want as a collective (many collectives) of cooperative sapiens. A principled, responsible, informed, democratic will of an emancipated “people” can be the compass of good collective decisions which is why we need, once again, the light of a visionary democratic socialism.

Socialist activists who follow Sunkara and haven’t given up hope, on the other hand, should definitely read Harari and other work at the intersection between history, psychology and anthropology. It’s a good reminder that our struggle must be rooted in the nature of our species, making justice of who we are in the attempt to define who we want to be. Socialism must become Ecological in a broad sense, rejecting the outdated nationalist myths and embracing instead a compassionate humanism that takes care of our species and our planet.

And if I should make a good wish for 2021, it would be this: keep reading, keep hoping, keep caring 📕🌹🌏


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