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Radio Readers BookByte: Relax Already At The End Of The World

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This is Leslie VonHolten of Chase County, Kansas, with another HPPR Radio Readers Book Byte.

Well of course the joy of reading is found in books that transcend your expectations, that open your world or captivate you with a good story of whatever.

But every once in a while, I come across a book that I so actively hate, and instead of tossing it aside because life is short, I choose instead to let myself embrace it.

I yell at it like a madwoman—like the way my father yells at the evening news—and I pace the house reading excerpts I find particularly awful. I drop the title in conversation, the snark thick. It makes me an ugly person. It’s so much fun.

Listeners, this book for me was Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari. Yeah, it’s pretentious and all that, but I have good, smart friends who loved it and brought it up a lot and it’s pretty critically acclaimed and he seems like a sincere scholar and so sure, I thought, let’s give it a try.

The book is about the supposed end of humanism. In the very near future, you see, we people are going to let computers do most things for us: choose our mates, navigate our cities, drive our cars, etcetera etcetera. What will we believe when everything is distilled through an efficient algorithm?

Sure, I have anxiety about the way the world is changing, and I am disheartened when I see young children transfixed by iPads at the grocery store. But when it comes to recruiting panicked disciples to grind their teeth about the dark and unknown future, don’t waste your efforts on me. I have been to this rodeo.

First, it was the end times. I was raised in a Pentecostal home with loving parents who believed that the Second Coming could happen at any moment—and that young tomboy me, should my heart be shadowed with the slightest of sins, could be left parentless in an apocalyptic wasteland that would eventually lead to an eternity roiling in hellfire. So, throughout my childhood, young tomboy me would be gripped with terror if I couldn’t find my mother at the store—not for fear of strangers, but because I knew that she had ascended in the Rapture and I was truly, thoroughly, completely alone. But really, she had just moved over to the cereal aisle when I wasn’t looking.

After that was the Cold War, and the constant fear and anxiety of the Soviet Union raining bombs upon us should a diplomat say the wrong thing at a summit. Today, it’s climate change, and yes, this one does give me true guilt and true anxiety, and an almost debilitating feeling of helplessness. I haven’t put that one to rest within myself just yet.

However, despite the anxieties that drive Homo Deus, I do see much hope. People are not robots. Today despite the world of deep fakes, we are visiting National Parks and are enjoying activities like “the nature cure” and “forest bathing” like never before—after having learned about them through social media. Old fashioned letter-writing clubs are sprouting across the country. There is a resurgence in Sunday dinner with family and friends, and many, many young people are closing their accounts and returning to true face-to-face—you know, humanist—friendships. Is the world changing. Yes, of course. Is it scary? Yeah. It kind of is. Will it be okay? I don’t know, but probably. Hopefully. Let’s try.

The HPPR Radio Readers Book Club is made possible in part by generous gifts from Lon Frahm of Colby and Lynne Hewes of Cimarron, Kansas. Find more at HPPR.org, or like us on Facebook