Moral Compass

My daughter lent me a book a year or so ago. I started it then put it down. It lay. She asked about its return and I said, ‘Oh, but I haven’t read it yet. Can I hang onto it a bit longer?’

She queried why I hadn’t finished it, given how quickly I can normally go through a book. It was hard to explain.

From what I had already read of it, I was going to enjoy it. It was going to be enlightening. She had already assured me of the fact that it had opened her eyes to a better understanding of the world. So, why the delay on my part?

Maybe I thought it was going to be heavy-going and I wasn’t in the mood for that.

Maybe I was already in the middle of another book or there was one enticing me more.

Maybe I was reading so many tweets and links and becoming lost in the maze of verification of links that I just didn’t have the time or inclination to delve into something that needed concentration and commitment to read.

And it certainly wasn’t going to be a book to become lost in just before sleeping, when you can’t put an exciting story down until you finally fall asleep with the book on your chest only to wake later, remove the book, extinguish lights and succumb to sleep.

It didn’t feel like it was that kind of book.

Then she asked me again. ‘Mum, I’d quite like to read that book again. Any chance you’ve finished it yet?’

I pleaded for a bit more time.

And began to read the book. From the beginning. So much time had elapsed since I had initially begun it that I’d lost the thread.

Lockdown seemed the ideal time to satisfy her urging to read the book so that we could discuss it.

And she was right.

It is an enlightening book. A perception-changing book.

I still have just under a hundred pages to go.

And, even now, I want to finish it then go back to the beginning to start again. To take in more of the information. To etch it into my mind and remember the history of mankind in a new way.

That, by the way, is the title of the book.

‘Sapiens. A Brief History of Mankind’, by Yuval Noah Harari.

Now, it might not sound like everyone’s cup of tea but I would urge you to invest in the book – you’ll want to keep it – and read it. Then read it again.

I am in awe at how much I did not know of the history of our own species. About how much of what I did know was half-baked or missing essential clarification.

Harari, a Doctor of History and university lecturer, has a talent for turning history into meaningful context. He uses anecdotes to enhance the information he delivers. I want to be in his class. I want him to bring history alive for me, in person, in exactly the way he does in his book. I want to ask him questions.

I want to know more.

He begins 13.5 billion years ago and brings us right up to the present. Yup, history with a bang.

The book is divided into four parts:- The Cognitive Revolution; The Agricultural revolution; The Unification of Humankind and The Scientific Revolution.

The book is further sub-divided into chapters, covering everything one could wish to know and understand about our evolution and why we believe the things we believe. He deconstructs the constructs we have created and opens our eyes to our living stories or the lies we have told ourselves to make it possible for societies to function.

He has studied and explored history and presented it in a way that delivers it to the reader in much the same way as the best teacher you’ve ever had.

Now, I can’t begin to go into all of what is covered.

Suffice to say that as soon as I have finished writing this I’ll read some more. Then I’ll put it down and think about what I’ve read, maybe phone my daughter to have a chat about it, discuss how it is so relevant for today amid all of the clamour that is asking for our attention.

And that brings me to why I decided to write about it at all.

I was checking through my emails and noticed that Beth had posted something. I read it and, as usual, thought, ‘Yup. Spot on.’

Then I got to thinking that I would love to have a chat with Beth about the book. She, like Harari, has a PhD in history, was a lecturer and thinks about the way history and constructs impact the way our world operates. Beth would expand on areas that I want to explore further.

That, by the way, is what Beth’s post is about.

Listening and learning from the experiences of people who are tired of asking and waiting for recognition as full members of the one and only race that exists upon this planet – the human race.

I retweeted a thread yesterday on Twitter about much the same thing. A white author, beseeching readers to educate themselves on what it means to be black in this world. Not to ignore what is going on. Not to patronise with platitudes of support but to listen and learn and, hopefully, understand.

I also retweeted this yesterday. The simple question had me close to tears. We owe it to our black brothers and sisters, our brethren of every nation, colour and creed, to answer the question. We owe it to ourselves. To our species. We owe.

White privilege exists. Do we answer the question? Do we educate ourselves and listen and learn? Do we find out why we believe the things we do? Or do we just go on as before and ignore history and the lessons it ought to teach us?

The final chapter of Harari’s book is entitled, ‘The End of Homo Sapiens’.

Now, I never peek at endings but I’m kind of filled with trepidation at how this book will finish.

There is sufficient evidence, within the book, of the impact Sapiens have had on each and every place we have explored; of our decimation of other life forms as we passed through or settled; of the exploitation, principally by perceived white superiority, of people of colour; of ethnic and religious divisions, cultivated to maintain power; of economic and social injustice within nations; of humankind losing its way, to cause me to fear the journey ahead.

There is sufficient evidence today, all over, of where the direction of travel for our race will lead us. And I don’t fancy our chances.

We need to ask the questions and take the actions that will allow for alternate ways, both in our dealings with our fellow Sapiens and the actions we take that affect our chances of survival.

You bet your bottom dollar that those in positions of power are thinking and planning for the journey ahead and investing and capitalising on human misery. That has always been the way.

It can’t be any different. Or can it?

One person at a time, one human being at a time, one Sapiens at a time, I believe it can. And I commit to doing what I can to help make it so.

By first challenging myself to listen more and learn more.

Pivotal times afford opportunities for change. We are in those times. We need to change. We need to challenge ourselves.

As one race, won’t we reset our moral compass and prepare for a new direction of travel?