Harari makes a convincing argument that ties science, economy, and empire into tightly weaved web in which one does not exist to its full capacity without the others. Given that governments, read empire, are often the largest source of resources, both financial and otherwise, and the potential huge gains they stand to make from backing technology, it is no surprise they stand behind and more or less controls science. Harari points this our as an ongoing practice from the early days of European Empire building, Capt. James Cook’s expedition (Harari, p. 276), to the development of nuclear power (Harari, p. 273). In both instances, a heavy investment of government financial and other resources were invested with the expectation for large return on that investment, that return being an expansion of empire and power.
As with many of the concepts Harari addresses, I feel “progress” has to be defined by who is backing it and who benefits from it. Though I find this text incredibly interesting, I find myself taking a more pessimistic viewpoint than the tone he conveys. A great example is nuclear power. The potential upside has always been pitched as inexpensive and efficient power source. But when you look what its actually produced, one has to weigh that benefit. The obvious power grab was the nuclear weapon, which has changed the world dynamic, and has the potential to do so at a much greater level. But even as a power source, I question the benefit. When it works, it’s great. But when things go wrong, the resulting catastrophe is long term and far reaching. Of course when the world was sold the nuclear bill of goods, it was nothing but sunny days ahead. Well, there’s plenty of heat at Fukushima and Chernobyl, but its not from the sunny days we were promised. Science is a good thing, no doubt, but when it became bed-partners with government and capitalism, it sold itself out, and took us along with it.