Why Sapiens Is A Hate Crime

American Progress by John Gast—“Called “Spirit of the Frontier” and widely distributed as an engraving portrayed settlers moving west, guided and protected by Columbia (who represents America and is dressed in a Roman toga to represent classical republicanism) and aided by technology (Railroads), driving Native Americans and bison into obscurity. The technology shown in the picture is used to represent the outburst of innovation and invention of modern technology. It is also important to note that Columbia is bringing the “light” as witnessed on the eastern side of the paintings she travels towards the “darkened” west.”

I love prehistory, history, and future speculation, so I started Yuval Noah Hariri’s Sapiens with great joy. This quickly turned to trepidation, then anger, then rage. Sapiens is a hate crime, a modern work of colonial apologia, and just dismally, dismally wrong. But don’t take my word for it.

Here are the worst things from Sapiens, which I have hate-highlighted for your perusal, along with texts from other people showing why Hariri is an imperialist dolt, an intellectual dilettante, and a pernicious tool.

“When They Become Us”

In each section except the last I’ll use Hariri’s actual headlines. He actually calls a section ‘When They Become Us, with the ‘Us’ being white people and the people they colonized. We are apparently still doing this. As Rudyard Kipling put it, “Your new-caught, sullen peoples, Half devil and half child.”

Hariri says that western colonizers should get credit for inventing the human rights and self-determination they so thoroughly defiled. He said colored people were not even capable of understanding freedom until white people A) took it away for 400 years and then B) coincidentally invented it as they were being kicked out.

Sapiens by Yuval Noah Hariri, which sucks

To Hariri, the western world can get only credit for ideas but never blame for its actual actions. To Hariri, both the open racism of White Man’s Burden and the actual exploitation people experienced are just differing opinions. Not someone being an asshole and things that actually happened.

Sapiens by Yuval Noah Hariri, which sucks

Like the myth that Columbus ‘discovered’ America, Hariri gives colonizers credit for naming the evil things they were doing. Clap clap. Thanks for teaching us about human rights by violating them, and self-determination by taking it away. According to him self-determination and human rights and Western legacies. Part of the imperial legacy is apparently anti-imperialism.

Sapiens by Yuval Noah Hariri, which sucks

This is a pervasive myth that Priyamvada Gopal has thoroughly discombobulated in her book Insurgent Empire. In that she says: “I also wanted to probe the tenacious mythology that ideas of ‘freedom’ are uniquely British in conception and that independence itself was a British ‘gift’ to the colonies along with the railways and the English language.

Quoting Edward Said she said:

“Edward Said observed correctly that ‘a standard imperialist misrepresentation has it that exclusively Western ideas of freedom led the fight against colonial rule, which mischievously overlooks the reserves in Indian and Arab culture that always resisted imperialism, and claims the fight against imperialism as one of imperialism’s major triumphs’.”

She also quotes Frederick Douglass saying “power concedes nothing without a demand” as he describes the slave rebellions in the Caribbean, which rightly strung white men up on the pedestal of their hypocrisy, a crime for which countries like France and America extort and coup places like Haiti for, to this day.

Insurgent Empire by Priyamvada Gopal

You can see that Gopal’s thesis stands in stark contrast to the simplistic and racist ideas of Hariri. She sees history as having many people in it, and not just being written by the conquerors. She asks “whether the idea of Britain’s uniquely liberal Empire… might itself have been, at least in part, a response to the claims to humanity, freedom and self-determination made by those very subjects.”

Insurgent Empire by Priyamvada Gopal

As Gopal continues, Without merely replicating the inversions of nationalist histories, Insurgent Empire shows how specific states of subjection and struggles against them were fundamental to how freedom — and cognate concepts like ‘liberation’, ‘self-determination’ and ‘emancipation’ — were understood and asserted both by insurgents on the ground and by their interpreters in the diaspora, influencing, in turn, how it was understood and reframed in the imperial centre.”

In short, it was not a case of ‘them’—the sullen colored peoples—dusting off some white book and becoming more like ‘us’. It was about rebellions and direct action by the global majority, showing the oppressive minority what human rights and self-determination actually looked like. In truth ‘us’ became more like ‘them’, but hundred of years later whitey is still trying to take credit for it all. Which is what Sapiens is still doing.


The other thing that Sapiens gives colonialism credit for is science and indeed the very concept of wanting to know. Hariri says:


This is just a rank simplification and patently ahistorical. Neither Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, and certainly not Confucianism offer answers to everything. They all offer a way or a path, with some divine help.

The point in Islam is to submit to Allah, to bow five times a day in front of what is greater than you and what you cannot know, what you can only worship and love. The point of Christianity is to accept Christ as your savior, not to become Christ by reading his few words.

Buddhism is much more explicit here. In the raft parable the Buddha said, “Monks, I will teach you the Dhamma compared to a raft, for the purpose of crossing over, not for the purpose of holding onto.” The dhamma is simply a path to enlightenment, not a settled conclusion that’s just ‘known’. Notably, the Buddha left no rites for marriage or death, the most basic religious functions, and Sri Lankans have had to make stuff up. The Buddha even said that his dhamma has to be left at some point, like a raft once you cross the water and have to walk on your own.

Hariri’s denigration of Confucianism is even more daft. That faith, if you want to call it that, is all about how ineffable and unknowable the way is, and how much work and experimentation is required to even get close. Kongzi (Confucius) said that even he did not possess wisdom.

Confucius, Analects

My favorite Confucianist (if you could really call him that) Zhuangzi said:


Zhuangzi is quite openly admitting ignorance of atomic structure and the universe. These questions were not something white people invented, nor were they questions they exclusively acted upon.


The Hindu Vedic tradition led to a very deep study of mathematics, of linguistics, of geometry, of astronomy, and more. The concept of zero as a decimal place value originated in India and numbers as we know them came through Indian/Arabic numerals. Islam was a great creator and preserver of science, especially during what Europeans ignorantly call the Dark Ages. The words Algebra and Chemistry come from Al Jabr and Al Kimia, for example. In truth all of this stuff comes via each other, it was never an isolated discovery, as white people claim about everything.

Hariri conveniently starts the scientific revolution in Europe, but it’s much older than that. As Ehsan Masood writes in his book Science and Islam:

Science and Islam by Ehsan Masood

Islamic science was wildly productive. From Ibn Sina, who pioneered the basic quarantine and vaccination ideas we use (or don’t) today, to “Musa al-Khwarizmi, who developed algebra in 9th-century Baghdad, to al-Jazari, a 1 Turkish engineer whose achievements include the crank, the camshaft, and the reciprocating piston.”

The truth is that white people didn’t invent science any more than they invented human rights or discovered continents. They were just the most violent people who used science and technology to satisfy their greed for conquest, and who created the most elaborate justifications for their carnage. Which is literally what Hariri does.

“The Mentality Of Conquest”

This next quote is a real stinker, where Hariri lionizes European conquest. He’s changing the justification from spreading Christianity to spreading secular knowledge now, but it’s the same colonial nonsense.


Hariri says unlike all other imperial projects in history… European imperialists set out to distant shores in the hope of obtaining new knowledge.” This would of course be news to all the fuckers looking for gold and hacking off hands if they didn’t get it, and the kings and queens who gave them explicit charters to do so. This would be news to the shareholders of the VOC company, the first IPO launched in 1602 with the explicit purpose of maximizing shareholder value, not filling textbooks.

I’m being sarcastic of course, and this is not news, it’s just not true.

Colonialism may have coincidentally spread Christianity and advanced science, but this was about as intentional as rape spreading babies. They were always in it for the filthy lucre. Europeans distinguished themselves from prior empires by being the most violent and brutal of all. The only reason their delusions still persist is that we still live under their imperialist thrall, as witnessed by the popularity of Sapiens itself. Hence you get this offense against all thinking people:


How the fuck is Hariri, in 2011, saying “the European conquerors knew their empires very well. Far better, indeed, that any previous conquerors, or even than the native population itself”? Aside from the patent racism here, it’s just wrong. Indigenous civilizations lived in relative balance with their environments for thousands of years, a deep and true definition of understanding. How can you say you understand something by destroying it? This is like the European conception of human rights again.

European civilization has filled and is filling books with the names of species it's driving extinct and collapsing the entire climate under the weight of its greed and exploitation. Who would you say knows the planet best? The indigenous people still defending it, or the invasive Europeans destroying it and voluminously documenting what assholes they are?

Hariri just repackages the same white supremacy, the idea that white people were and are just smarter than everyone else, and deserve everything they violently take. It’s awful, and what’s most awful is that this book is popular. People still cite this book as ‘life-changing’. I shudder to think of the modern ignoramuses it creates.

The Hate Crime Of Sapiens

The great danger of Sapiens is that it’s so popular. I read it with great hope before it turned to great offense and then I had to read a lot around it to figure out all the stuff he got wrong. And most people won’t do that. They’ll just take this as something Obama, Zuckerberg, or Bill Gates recommend (which should tell you something), or something that Diplo casually recommends when he’s pulling stuff out of his bag.

I wrote this piece to dispel the popular bullshit, but it won’t get very far. It’s scary because Sapiens just re-hashes the worst of white supremacy and colonialism—the idea that they invented freedom and knowledge—and repackages European superiority in secular terms. It’s The White Man’s Burden for atheist tech fuckbois, who are just as dangerous as previous imperial incarnations.

Sapiens is supposed to be a work of deep and penetrating history, but it’s instead a shallow and ignorant product of its times. Like any imperial work, its central thesis is that this empire is the best and every other empire and culture was dumb.

In the long run, Sapiens will be about as impressive historically as Ozymandias, but unfortunately in the short run this attitude is still very pervasive and powerful. Sapiens is a hate crime and it’s popular. What a world.