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C O U R S E 
A Brief History of Humankind
Dr. Yuval Noah Harari, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
C O U R S E   L E C T U R E 
Humankind's Rigid and Violent Past, and Flexible and Peaceful Present
Notes taken on May 10, 2014 by Edward Tanguay
traditionally throughout history, the social order, no matter what it looked like, was hard and rigid
order implied stability and continuity
swift social revolutions were rare and exceptional
most transformations in human society came about from the accumulation of numerous small steps over decades and centuries
people generally believed that their particular social structure was inflexible and eternal
families and communities might struggle to change their place within the order, but the idea that you could change the fundamental structure of the order itself, was foreign to most people throughout history
throughout history, people tended to reconcile themselves to the status quo, to the way things are
"we may not like the social order, but this is how it always was and this is how it will always be"
however, over the past 200 years, the pace of social change has become so rapid, that the character of social order came to be something that is constantly changing, very flexible, and very dynamic
when we speak of revolutions, we tend to think of particular years as being exceptionally revolutionary
1789 The French Revolution
1848 The Liberal Revolution
1917 The Russian Communist Revolution
but in the past 100 years, you can find instances of revolution in almost every year, unlike, say, 500 years ago
it is difficult to define the characteristics of modern society, as it is flexible and constantly changing
the only characteristic of which we can be certain is the constant change
people have become accustomed to it
most of us today think about the social order as something flexible, something which we can engineer and improve
people are constantly saying: we should change this, we should change that
nobody today imagines that the world in 2050 will be the same as it is today, but probably everyone in 1014 or 1314 or even 1714 assumed that the world would be the same in 1050, 1350, and 1750
there are arguments how things will and should change, but everyone knows it will change significantly
at the same time social order in the world is becoming more volatile, it is also becoming more peaceful
we could have expected that the more change there would be in social order, the more violence there would be in the world
but in fact, at least in the last few decades, as the pace of change increased, the world simultaneously become more peaceful
the levels of global violence today are lower than any previous time in history, at least from the agricultural revolution forwards, and by a very wide margin
the collapse of the family and the community led to a decrease in internal levels of violence
although the news is full of crimes and murders and wars, and even though there is a lot of violence in the world today
but if you want to know about the level of global violence, then reading a newspaper article about a particular murder case is not helpful
you need to look at the average, at statistics, not at individual cases
percentage of violent deaths from the total of number of deaths
war casualties = 310,000
violent crimes = 520,000
human violence: 830,000
only 1.5% of deaths
(56 million people died)
1.2 million from car accidents
815,000 committed suicide
human violence = 740,000
in most parts of the world, most people enjoy a level of security from violence that our ancestors could not even dream about
in most parts of the world, people go to sleep knowing that a neighboring village will not surround their town and attack it, this was common in security
throughout history in human societies, violence was much more common, especially when traveling outside their walled and protected towns
the rise of security is due, above all, to the rise in the power of the state
throughout history, most violence resulted from local feuds and conflicts between families and communities
even today, local crime is far deadlier than international wars
172,000 died in wars
569,000 died from violent crime within small communities and families
measurement of violence
in Western Europe, of every 100,000 people, only one person is killed per year by other human
in New York, the rate is about 7 people
in Detroit, about 50 people
in ancient societies of simple farmers who had no political organization larger than the local community, the rate was often around 400 per 100,000 per year who were killed by other human beings, eight times the murder rate of Detroit
as kingdoms and states became stronger, they gradually restrained local violence
when the states and the markets became even more powerful and the communities and the families became weaker, violence rates became
today in the world, the rate is only 9 people per year per 100,000 per year
and most of these murders take place in places where the state and market is very weak such as Somalia and Afghanistan
strong states are not always peaceful
some cases such as fascism loom large in our memories and fears
in the 20th century, millions of people were killed by the security forces of their own state
but if you look at human history from a macro perspective, the courts and police forces of the state, increased security and decreased violence throughout history
while the state has encourages internal violence to recede, the rate of violence through international wars is not significant
today, international violence is at an all time low
there was never a period in history when the international community was so peaceful as it is today
two developments for decline in international violence
1. quick collapse of European empires
1945: the world was ruled by the empires of a few European nations
these collapsed and were replaced by independent states
very fast
peaceful and orderly
this collapse was one of the most rapid transfers of power in history
never before has so much power been transferred from the hands of one group of people to another so quickly
people in London controlled Nigeria, Kenya, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Malaysia
people in Paris controlled Senegal, Vietnam, Cambodia
within decades, these empires transferred powers from their hands to the hands of local elites and governments in all of these places who now rule these places
it was not only done quickly, but in most cases, it was done in a relatively orderly and peaceful way
throughout history, the one thing that empires did not want to do was give up their power, and in almost all cases tried to crush rebellions
even when empires became too weak to survive, they usually tried to hang on to power before collapsing
and what replaced the collapse was often bloody chaos
e.g. Roman Empire in 5th century, they tried to hang onto power, what replaced it was a terrible and bloody struggle for control of the European and Mediterranean land masses
British Empire collapse
in 1945 Britain controlled nearly a quarter of the people in the world
there were some places where the British tried to hang onto their power by using their forces
and there were places where when the British left, a lot of violence erupted, e.g. Palestine, Cyprus, and India
but in most cases, the British Empire left not because of a rebellion, but the rulers of the Empire decided they were too weak to continue with the power structure at hand, and tried to transfer it peacefully
there was a lot of violence, but seen historically, the British Empire's withdraw from power was exemplary for its relative peacefulness and orderliness
Soviet Empire collapse
1980s and 1990s
despite local eruptions of violence in the Balkans and Caucasus and Central Asia, it is safe to say never in history has such a mighty empire disappeared so quickly, quiety, and in such an orderly manner, for the most part in just two years
the Soviet Empire in 1989 did not suffer from any military defeat, except for the defeat in Afghanistan, but that was a minor affair that could not cause such a large empire to collapse
compare this to the collapse of the Roman Empire which was caused by hordes of Huns and Germans and barbarians invaded it
nor was there a serious rebellion against the Soviet Empire
there was not even a campaign of civil disobedience such as with Ghandi, perhaps one exception was the solidarity movement in Poland led by
but this wasn't what caused the Soviet Empire to collapse
no invasion from outside, or rebellion from within, controlled one of the largest armies in the world, and enough nuclear weapons to destroy the whole of humankind several times
even satellites of the Soviet Union were quite loyal to the Soviet elite
what happened to the Soviet elite and regimes choose to dismantle the empire willingly and peacefully, with the exception of Romania and Serbia
never in history had so much power been renounced
Gorbachev and other leaders had the integrity, moral sense, and moral responsibility to dismantle their empire
they not only gave up the Soviet Empire, they also renounced the much older Russian Empire
for the most part, what replaced the empires in the decades after 1945 was not chaos, but relatively organized and remarkably peaceful states
many of the countries that replaced the European empires are not warlike and have fought relatively few major wars since being created