Why do humans rule the world?

Published: February 27, 2022

70 000 years ago our ancestors were insignificant animals minding their own business in the Eastern parts of Africa. Today we rule the world. When we think about it, it's common to wonder what is so different between us and other animals as individuals. We want to believe that there's something special about us, that something in our bodies or brain makes us more advanced than other animals. In reality, as individuals, we really not that far from chimpanzees.

If we took a human and a chimpanzee in to a desert island, the chimpanzee would have a much better chance to survive. The difference between humans and other animals is not on the individual level but on a collective level. We rule the world because we are the only species of animals that can work together flexibly and in large groups.

Bees and ants can work together in large groups but their cooperation is not very flexible. The beehive can only work in a certain way. The worker bees can't decide to execute the queen and turn the hive into a democracy. Chimpanzees, wolves and dolphins can cooperate flexibly but only in small groups because their cooperation is based on knowing their companions. A chimp won't work together with an another chimp if he doesn't know the other one is a good and trustworthy chimp.

Humans are the only species that can combine the two. A human loses a fight to a chimp but 1000 chimps don't have a chance against 1000 humans because that many chimps can't work together. All major human achievements have always been the result of flexible cooperation of large groups of people.

Let's think about this blogpost you're reading. I don't personally know any of the people who invented and built the computer I'm using to write this text. I am publishing this text on my website which is hosted on a server maintained by people I have never met. I likely won't know many of the people who will read this text. I don't know Yuval Noah Harar, the Israeli historian whose book this answer is heavily based on. Even though I don't know any of these people, I can work together with them and make things happen on a global scale.

We can work together flexibly in large groups because we can create imaginary stories and believe in them. For example, almost all laws are based on the belief that humans have rights. Yet, all our rights are just a invented by people. If we do a biopsy to a human, we'll find a lot of things but none of them will be human rights. This is because our rights only exist in the stories we have made up from thin air.

To earn a living, we go to work and get salary. However, money doesn't have objective value. We can't eat or drink it wear ir when we get cold. The value of money is based on nothing but the peoples' beliefs but thay belief works. I can grab a bank note, go to a store and give the note to a stranger and they will give me food I can actually eat to keep myself alive.

People rule the world because we're the only species that can work together in large groups and create imaginary stories that we collectively believe in.

Source: Harari, Yuval N. 2015. Sapiens: a brief history of humankind. New York: Harper

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