We Grow, We Earn, We Discover: The Scientific-Empiristic-Capitalistic Link

Harari effectively links science, empire, and capitalism through one basic diagram: a self-looping graph that moves from Power to Resources to Research and back to Power (Yuval Harari, p. 250). This diagram excellently represents this link because Resources come from capitalistic institutions, which then fund scientific research that then leads to discoveries holding more power, which are then used to create bigger and stronger empires. In turn, this loop inflates science, empire, and capitalism more and more. The most intriguing example of this loop was Harari’s story of Captain James Cook’s venture to a corner of the earth for astronomer Charles Green to view the upcoming Venus transit (Harari, 275-277). Britain made full use of its resources and sent several scientists on the voyage (i.e. using Resources to fund scientific Research), which ultimately led to the cure for scurvy, which had ravaged an uncountable number of seamen. This discovery then allowed the British naval ship to retain more crewmen, thus leading to the conquering of the southwest Pacific and Australian islands (i.e. Research leading to Power and thus, an expanding empire).

I think that Harari’s argument regarding the role of “progress” in the link between science, empire, and capitalism is undoubtedly important and powerful, but I do not believe it is as linear as he frames it. “Progress” can easily be viewed as an upward moving linear arrow, indicating that the past was somehow worse off, and the future is better, but this framework does not account for why or how the past was worse and what will make the future better. “Progress” must not be linear then, because certainly some aspects of the past were better than the future (a perfect example being the increase of laborious work during the transition to the Agricultural Revolution). Therefore, Harari should note that “progress” is nothing more than a synonym for change, specifically the change science, empire, and capitalism create within the Scientific Revolution feedback loop.

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