Survival of the fittest. Every man for himself. There’s just no good in this world anymore.
All those maxims are mistaken, according to Rutger Bregman, a young Dutch author who theorises in this, his second book, that humans are actually kinder than we think we are. And if we can agree to think so, we can change our future for the better.
Readers of Yuval Noah Harari will recognise certain themes and retellings of history, for example in the chapter titled ‘The Curse of Civilisation’ in which we learn how the beginning of agriculture and land ownership ultimately kind of trapped us, instead of making life free-er and easier.
Other myths that get busted include the famous ‘Stanford prison’ and ‘shock machine’ experiments, the Lord of the Flies view of humanity, and the mystery of Easter Island. All of these stories that originally revealed the cruelty and callousness of so called human nature actually have another side to them, or were just plainly untrue, according to Bregman, and it’s fascinating reading how and why this is so.
Having been translated from the original Dutch version, the writing remains clever and laced with humour that brings the reader more than a few wry smiles. Other chapter titles include ‘The Rise of Homo puppy‘ and ‘Drinking Tea with Terrorists’. A sentence I liked best, in a section about the end of the last ice age when people had to band together to weather the cold, posits that, ‘Rather than a struggle for survival, it was a snuggle for survival.’
The epilogue leaves us with ten rules to live by if you want to be a kinder human and expect others to be the same. I really loved reading this book and recommend it as essential reading for every body.
And now I’m off to read Bregman’s first book, Utopia for Realists.