These words constitute a naked, unadorned statement of the ideology behind the World Economic Forum’s project to ‘reset’ the world, economically, socially, politically, and even biologically. It is issued by one Yuval Noah Harari, Professor of History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and lead adviser to Klaus Schwab, Director of the World Economic Forum. As a hyper-active ‘public intellectual’, Harari seems to have won the role of chief propagandist of the scientific dictatorship the WEF seeks to usher in under the banner of their ‘Great Reset’.
Harari has said and written a great deal about the new creed of ‘dataism’, and has used the same phrases in many interviews and articles, but this quotation captures perhaps his most brutally nihilistic formulation of the totalitarian reality he insists we are now entering, exposing the philosophy of the biodigital convergence in its most most reductive, anti-human terms. It is more than a political statement; its sneering, triumphalist tone — ‘the whole idea… that humans have this ‘soul’ or ‘spirit’… that’s over’ — seems to reveal a personal animus against any such metaphysical ideas as offences against scientific materialism. However, as the non-totalitarian world knows quite well, to quote Hannah Arendt, “Science in the instances of both business publicity and totalitarian propaganda is obviously only a surrogate for power,” (The Origins of Totalitarianism p345), and Harari has admitted as much: “Science isn’t really about truth, it’s about power.” This comes close to an admission that his own mechanistic-materialist outlook, too, is predicated not on science but on power. And when he announces in this grandiose and scientistic fashion the end of soul, spirit and free will, he is speaking not for truth but for power.
Essentially, what the quotation describes is the human condition under totalitarianism. It’s a pathetic sight: dehumanised, denatured, desacralised; living without soul, spirit or free will; the living death of slavery. In Harari’s vision, humanity is reduced to the condition of the golem. Some would say that we are already there, to all intents and purposes already under totalitarian control, and no doubt many are, exhibiting all the signs of at the very least a proto-totalitarian mentality which does not augur well. Listening to Harari I feel as if I’m hearing the official verdict on the dilemma posed by Theodore Kaczynski a quarter of a century ago: Harari is delivering the financial elite’s executive decision on the choice that would inevitably face them once machines could outcompete humans across all fields of activity.
“Due to improved techniques the elite will have greater control over the masses; and because human work will no longer be necessary the masses will be superfluous, a useless burden on the system. If the elite is ruthless they may simply decide to exterminate the mass of humanity. If they are humane they may use propaganda or other psychological or biological techniques to reduce the birth rate until the mass of humanity becomes extinct, leaving the world to the elite. Or, if the elite consists of soft-hearted liberals, they may decide to play the role of good shepherds to the rest of the human race. They will see to it that everyone’s physical needs are satisfied, that all children are raised under psychologically hygienic conditions, that everyone has a wholesome hobby to keep him busy, and that anyone who may become dissatisfied undergoes ‘treatment’ to cure his ‘problem.’ Of course, life will be so purposeless that people will have to be biologically or psychologically engineered either to remove their need for the power process or make them ‘sublimate’ their drive for power into some harmless hobby. These engineered human beings may be happy in such a society, but they will most certainly not be free. They will have been reduced to the status of domestic animals.”
From Industrial Society and its Future (‘The Unabomber Manifesto’) Ted Kaczynski 1995
The final solution to ‘the human question’ — eliminate or re-engineer — at this point seems to be both, simultaneously. Depopulation and population control; forced devolution of the species; dataist centralised control over the human animal.
‘Hackable’ animals, in Harari’s deliberately dehumanising expression, and it’s not like we’ve never seen the use of bestialising metaphors in propaganda before. So the ‘animals’ part comes across as a crude retro-insult, what you’d expect from a Nazi or a Maoist, co-opting an obsolete Cartesian worldview in which humans and animals were ontologically distinct, the latter being allowed no consciousness, soul or spirit. Descartes viewed animals as automata, merely sophisticated machines — and that’s the point, the machine-metaphor implicit in the word ‘hacking’. Human beings under totalitarianism have to become automata in order to survive; they become merely part of the machine. There’s a reason totalitarian systems are often called ‘soul-destroying’; there’s a visceral reality in that phrase.
“If you know enough biology and have enough computing power and data, you can hack my body and my brain and my life, and you can understand me better than I understand myself. You can know my personality type, my political views, my sexual preferences, my mental weaknesses, my deepest fears and hopes. You know more about me than I know about myself. And you can do that not just to me, but to everyone. A system that understands us better than we understand ourselves can predict our feelings and decisions, can manipulate our feelings and decisions, and can ultimately make decisions for us.
Now in the past, many governments and tyrants wanted to do it, but nobody understood biology well enough and nobody had enough computing power and data to hack millions of people. Neither the Gestapo nor the KGB could do it. But soon at least some corporations and governments will be able to systematically hack all the people.”
(Speech at the WEF January 2020)
Harari makes no secret of the fact that this ‘bio-hacking’ means under-the-skin biometric surveillance: in fact he trumpets the idea at every opportunity. His role seems to be to go a little further than his boss at the WEF in foreshadowing the totalitarian nature of the Reset.
Schwab will go as far as to say that COVID-19 “will also accentuate one of the greatest societal and individual challenges posed by technology: privacy. We will see how contact tracing has an unequalled capacity and a quasi-essential place in the armoury needed to combat COVID-19, while at the same time being positioned to become an enabler of mass surveillance… The containment of the coronavirus pandemic will necessitate a global surveillance network…” (Covid-19: The Great Reset, Klaus Schwaab 2020, p44)
Harari is even more explicit. “COVID is critical,” he has said, “because this is what convinces people to accept, to legitimise, total biometric surveillance. If we want to stop this epidemic, we need not just to monitor people, we need to monitor what’s happening under their skin.”
In interviews and presentations Harari repeatedly and insistently alludes to the advent of ‘under-the-skin surveillance’ using biometric sensors. How these will be installed in the human body he does not explain; he throws in references to ‘wearables’ and ‘implants’. However, the repeated use of a synonym for ‘hypodermic’ leaves this listener, for one, in no doubt that this is a reference to injectable nano-scale technologies, the advent of which, as he says, changes everything.
“People could look back in a hundred years and identify the coronavirus epidemic as the moment when a new regime of surveillance took over, especially surveillance under the skin, which I think is maybe the most important development of the 21st century, is this ability to hack human beings, to go under the skin, collect biometric data, analyse it and understand people better than they understand themselves.”
Biometric dataism, this worm with its head buried in the Umwelt of your body, is the logical evolution of what Foucault memorably called ‘mechanisms of furtive power’: a parasitic infestation absorbing you into the mycelium of the machine; the creepiest thing imaginable.
Harari does issue the obligatory ‘warnings’, according to the dialectical method; like Elon Musk warning us about the dangers of AI, he draws attention to the dangers inherent in ‘dataism’, such as the rise of ‘digital dictatorships’ — really? — and ‘data colonies’: i.e., the populations of those countries which lose in the AI / mass data arms race. In truth it is inevitable that under such conditions the whole of humanity would constitute a data colony under digital dictatorship, and ‘dataist’ states would be not just dictatorships but totalitarian systems. All this seems implicit and inevitable in the dataist revolution, and Harari says nothing to suggest otherwise. What is interesting about Harari is not any such superficial or disingenuous warnings, but the assumptions he makes and his choice of language.
And this hubristic little transhumanist, this ideologue of techno-parasitism, this cleverling mouthpiece of furtive power, I have to admit — this guy really, really gets under my skin.
It is interesting to note that in Harari’s ‘macro-historical’ theory human success is explained by the ability to believe in mobilising ‘fictions’, such as gods, nations, money, corporations or an ‘imagined order such as Christianity, democracy or capitalism’, and this in turn allows them to co-operate flexibly in large numbers, in ways that even social insects cannot, and thus to dominate the natural world and all other species. With the word ‘fictions’ Harari loftily dismisses all non-materialist aspects of existence, on the crude assumption that no human invention, concept or reification corresponds to anything in reality — presumably he would have no time for the idea that myths, for example, or gods, even, might function as analogues for truths that cannot be articulated literally. A more sophisticated example than he cares to take might be mathematics, and the unanswerable conundrum of whether it is invented or discovered. But let’s grant the general point about mobilising fictions, and merely note that a fabricated pandemic would fit very well under that umbrella. Michel Foucault’s chapter on Panopticism in Surveiller et Punir makes an important connection between epidemics and the growth of disciplinarian structures in society, in the light of which what is happening today begins to look like the culmination of a historical process rather than any kind of break with the past.
The transformative power of epidemics is celebrated by Klaus Schwab in his COVID-19: The Great Reset, and Harari has said more than once that the pseudo-pandemic ‘legitimises’ total under-the-skin biometric surveillance. These ideologues of the Fourth Industrial Revolution hardly bother any more to disguise the truth or their plan: they seem more interested in revealing the method.
Meanwhile the public continues in a trance-like state, swallowing every story, heads buried in the parallel reality of government-corporate ‘news’, completely oblivious to the gaping plot-holes in every official narrative. All totalitarianisms, according to Arendt, create a fictional reality — a ‘system of delusion’ in Leo Strauss’s phrase, a ‘psychotic official narrative’ in CJ Hopkins’, gratefully embraced by the quaking masses:
“The force possessed by totalitarian propaganda — before the movements have the power to drop iron curtains to prevent anyone’s disturbing, by the slightest reality, the gruesome quiet of an entirely imaginary world — lies in its ability to shut the masses from the real world. The only signs which the real world still offers to the understanding of the unintegrated and disintegrating masses — whom every new stroke of ill luck makes more gullible — are, so to speak, its lacunae, the questions it does not care to discuss publicly, or the rumours it does not dare to contradict because they hit, although in an exaggerated and deformed way, some sore spot.”
— Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism
The mental state of the masses over the past two years and more has been a cause of bemusement to many of us who have stood outside the New Normal bubble, looking in. It seems impossible that they can’t see, or feel, what is happening, where this is all heading. In many ways the population seems to be, already, in a proto-totalitarian condition: a whole society in deep denial. Most would dismiss the ‘Great Reset’, if they’ve even heard of it, as a ‘conspiracy theory’. They probably think we crazed conspiracy theorists have dreamt up Klaus Schwab from our own fevered imaginations. Looking at the man, I even wonder myself.
Meanwhile Harari’s function is to lay it on the line for us, without much in the way of intellectual frills. Arendt argues that totalitarian systems never generate any original doctrine, drawing instead on what is already out there in society — and to that degree, as Catherine Austen Fitts has said, “It’s not ‘them’. It’s us.” The totalitarian movement will use what is worst in us to build its utopia, and what is worst in us is our apathy, our atomisation, our credulous fearfulness, our feelings of insignificance and helplessness, our moral cowardice and lack of compassion, and the miserable fear of death that haunts the mechanistic-materialist model. The rebellion must be philosophical, drawing on the deepest roots of human courage. Faith in an ultimate reality does confer a certain advantage in battle. But we can leave the argument over the human soul for another time. Let’s start by proving to ourselves that whether or not Free Will still exists, Free Won’t most certainly does.