A summary and review of Homo Dues by Dr. Noah Harari. Written by guest feature Gregory Barnes
"Over the past century, human kind has managed to do the impossible," writes Yuval Noah Harari, who teaches world history at Hebrew University of Jerusalem. "Do The impossible..." But isn't that... impossible ??!!
For thousands of years, these three human disasters rose to the top of life's unchanging dilemmas, always at the top of humanity's to-do list, but never accomplished. For thousands of years, thinkers and prophets thought and predicted to no avail. Famine, Plague/Infectious Diseases, and War continued to confound humanity.
But think about this: In the last few decades we have somewhat managed to rein in plague and famine on our planet. Even war seems to be less of a threat. Dr. Harari describes one French famine in 1694, where "granaries were empty. The rich charged exorbitant prices for whatever food they managed to hoard, and the poor died in droves. About 2.8 million French -15 % of the population - starved to death...while the Sun King, Louis XIV, dallied at Versailles. That famine moved north as far as Scotland, leaving suffering and starving in its path." Today, most of us know a bit of hunger when we miss lunch, but most of us do not know how it feels to go hungry for days on end, not knowing when or where the next meal will come from.
However, Harari writes "During the last hundred years, technological, economic and political developments have created an increasingly robust safety net separating humankind from the biological poverty line. Mass famines still strike from time to time, but they are exceptional" much like the Irish Potato Famine of the late nineteenth century, caused by human politics rather than natural catastrophe.
Even the words 'war and peace' have acquired new meanings. Previous generations thought about peace as the temporary absence of war. Today we think about peace as the implausibility of war. When in 1913 people said that there was peace between France and Germany, they meant that 'there is no war going on at present between France and Germany, but who knows what next year will bring? 'Today it would mean that it is inconceivable that war could break out between those two nations. This new peace is not a hippie fantasy. Power-hungry governments and greedy corporations also count on it. When Renault and Mercedes plan their European sales strategies, they discount the possibility that bombs will rain down on auto showrooms when the new models go on display.
Of course, there are dictators and tyrants who bluster and threaten, and the New Peace temporarily fails, but those are exceptions. Poverty and nutritional insecurity are with us still, as well as terrorists. Even if powerful central governments have learned military restraint, terrorists have no such qualms. Famine, plague and terrorists will create occasional havoc along with headlines. Harari calmly reminds us that sugar-laced soft drinks and fast food, poverty, and vitamin deficiency lead to nutritional insecurity that "pose a far deadlier long-term threat to Americans than al Qaeda.” If this fact seems hard to digest, Dr. Harari has the numbers to prove that mass starvation is rare today, and even then the rare "food crisis" at least isn't famine.
INVISIBLE ARMADAS: PLAGUE AND DISEASE
"After famine, humanity's second great enemy was plague and infectious diseases. Bustling cities linked by a ceaseless stream of merchants, officials and pilgrims were both the bedrock of human civilization and an ideal breeding ground for pathogens. People consequently lived their lives in ancient Athens or Renaissance Florence knowing that they might fall ill and die next week or that an epidemic might suddenly erupt and destroy their entire family in one swoop. The most famous outbreak, the so-called Black Death, began in the 1330s in east or central Asia, when the flea-dwelling bacterium Yersinia pestis started infecting humans bitten by the fleas. Riding on an army of rats and fleas, the plague quickly spread all over Asia, Europe and North Africa, taking less than twenty years to reach the Atlantic Ocean. Between 75 million and 200 million people died"... "The Black Death was not a singular event, nor even the worst plague in history. "On March 5, 1520, for example, a small Spanish flotilla left Cuba for Mexico with 900 Spanish soldiers, a few African slaves, horses and firearms. They also brought a far deadlier cargo. Somewhere among one man's trillions of cells a biological timeclock was ticking: the smallpox virus. In Mexico it began to multiply exponentially, infecting town after town. Within ten days, every community had become a graveyard. On the other side of the world, two centuries later, British explorer James Cook reached Hawaii. Deadly waves of flu, tuberculosis and other pathogens took hold, including a deadly flu strain called "Spanish" flu, which spread around the globe, including America.
"Alongside such epidemical tsunamis that struck humankind every few decades, people faced smaller but more regular waves of infectious diseases, Children, who lacked immunity, were particularly susceptible to them, hence they are often called 'childhood' diseases. Until the early twentieth century about a third of children died of diseases before reaching adulthood. During the last century humankind became evermore vulnerable to epidemics, due to growing populations and expanded travel. But there will possibly be a happy ending this time:
"Both the incidence and impact of epidemics and pandemics have since gone down dramatically in the last few decades! In particular, global childhood mortality is today actually at an all-time low: less than 5% of children die before reaching adulthood. In the developed world, the rate is less than 1%."
This miracle is due to unprecedented achievements of twentieth century medicine which has provided us with vaccinations, antibiotics, improved hygiene and a much better medical infrastructure. For example, a global campaign of smallpox vaccination was so successful that in 1979, the World Health Organization declared that humanity had won, and that smallpox had been completely eradicated. But now, as we all know, the coronavirus is here and it's spreading! Somewhere between China and the World's sophisticated medical system there was a huge problem! An errant viral pathogen that kills. With no vaccine or cure when it emerged, world leaders swung into action, appointing Disease Gurus, CDCs and WHOs. President Trump appointed his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to be in charge of our nation’s "response", including getting several hundred million Americans vaccinated. But recall that, after Ronald Reagan's 1981 Inaugural Address, Orthodox Republicans like Trump and Kushner believe that "The Government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem!" Thus, Kushner passed the buck for Trump and decreed, "It's up to the states," as American deaths soared to over half a million, and spring weather teased spring breakers into flaunting world-wide medical warnings against indoor spreader events, like eateries, bars and dance floors. Some governors reopened resorts and beaches, over-ruling experts they appointed barely months earlier.
Renowned American Historian, Heather Cox Richardson, reminds us of the importance of remembering honestly and truthfully. She reported the truth about the "Spanish" flu's largely unknown brush with America in 1918 and about our own equally "curious amnesia" about last spring's covid-19 pandemic, in which many denied truth, facts, science, and empathy towards fellow Americans and fellow Sapiens. The 1918 Flu pandemic killed at least 50 million people worldwide, including 675 thousand Americans. Covid deaths 2020-21 now total 3.1 million throughout the world and 566 thousand in the United States of America............ and counting.