The Webs of Wealth

On page 278 of Sapiens, Harari concludes that it is hard to tell the difference between science and empire. He gave the example of the extermination of the natives of Tasmania. After Cook’s arrival, the natives were to be taught to read and write, among other things. They became depressed chose to escape a world of science and empire. Harari asked an important question when he said “Was Cook’s ship a scientific expedition protected by a military force or a military expedition with a few scientists tagging along?” (Harari Pg. 278) Then, on page 304, Harari mentions that science would not be able to progress as far as it has without the help of empires. He clearly explained how science and empire were inseparable, but then comes capitalism. “Money has been essential both for building empires and for promoting science.” (Harari Pg. 305) People started to realize that new scientific discovery and imperialism could result in more wealth and trade. (Harari Pg. 310) One of the most obvious examples of all of these things coming together is Christopher Columbus. Harari says that “Capitalism played a decisive role not only in the rise of modern science but also in the emergence of European imperialism.” (Harari Pg. 314)  Columbus’ scientific endeavor was funded by capitalists who wanted maximum returns on their investment.


I think Harari made a good point when he said “When modern culture admitted that there were many important things that it still did not know, and when that admission of ignorance was married to the idea that scientific discoveries could give us new powers, people began suspecting that real progress might be possible after all. (Pg. 264) I agree that once people realized the power of science, and the progress that it was promoting, they began to feel like it could solve any problem. I think that progress is essential, but we have to be aware of the consequences of technology and science.


One thought on “The Webs of Wealth”

  1. Thanks for bringing up the example of Cook’s voyage to Tasmania, it provides a very illustrative way of understanding how closely linked science and empire expansion are. You continued to do a great job summarizing Harari’s idea of the constant feedback loop involved amongst science, empire and capitalism. Surely we can find very clear examples of how Europe became such a world power during the scientific revolution and especially during the industrial revolution since they have always strived for capitalist free trade and how the new world to trade with and often take advantage of them through strict tariffs. Also I would have to agree with you that science does give great hope to people but at the same time we must be extremely intentional of how and why we are pursuing it and aware of its consequences.

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