Humankind (Book Review)

Humankind by Rutger Bregman is an enlightening book on how we humans are kinder and more cooperative than we believe. The media, bad scientists (read: some of the key studies I studied in intro psychology), and our own distorted perspective has messed us up, let’s repair that.

Btw the book is published in Dutch too, De Meeste Mensen Deugen (but I found the English audiobook first, so yeah).

Here are some key takeaways from the book:

  • The psychology experiments like Stanford Prison were very much forced and can be better seen as theatre than actual humans doing bad things
  • If you don’t make those extreme situations (US prison), you get people just hanging out and being nice (Norway prison)
  • That is also the way to fix things, not by responding in kind (eye for an eye), but by responding with kindness
  • We aren’t that cutthroat, we lend people tools, pass along the salt, help a friend. In that way we are communists (social capitalists, or whatever you want to call it)
  • Kids left alone without supervision will behave like a team, not like Lord of The Flies (book)
  • We believe that we are good right (I hope so), so does everyone else. We may be selfish, but inherently you can say that people aren’t ‘evil’ in the comic-book or D&D way
  • The book presents evidence that counteracts a lot of what Steven Pinker (Enlightenment Now) says about ancient civilizations (less murder and mayhem than commonly believed)
  • Other reviewers do point out that Bregman is putting forth his own thesis in this book, so he might be cherrypicking the evidence too. Anyways, we humans – not that murderous (you know, like the rest of the animal kingdom)
  • Being faced with having to kill someone, most people chicken out. Soldiers don’t shoot. But the bad thing is that ‘the system’ finds ways to get around this (drones, decimation, etc)
  • Some cool examples include that of a ‘vrije school’ and medical company in The Netherlands, but I haven’t looked them up yet