Thoughts from Linda:

Humankind…A Hopeful History

by Rutger Bregman

2019

 

Thank you, Karen DeShon, friend and colleague, for this book as a Christmas present this year.  As a former teacher of anthropology (more than a few years ago!) and an interested reader of history, I find this book to be quite remarkable in its premise and scope.

 

Rutget Bregman is a young Dutch author and this book became available in English in 2020.  He spoke at Davos and earned quite a reputation there and is also available on numerous TED talk YouTube videos. 

 

The title says it all.  In this really interesting and easily readable book, he explores the premise that perhaps homo sapiens is not, as conventional theory has explained over the past and most recent years, that we are violent by nature, only tamed by systems of ‘civilization.’

 

Rather, he submits, we could be called ‘homo puppy’ for our nature of friendliness and kindness.  My favorite chapter is about the ‘rise of homo puppy’ showing very current research, much of it from Russian experiments with domesticated foxes. 

 

He notes in his forward that to take this on this quest, he must issue 3 ‘warnings:’

  1.  “First, to stand up for human goodness is to stand up against a hydra”—basically noting that for every argument de-bunked, myriad of other appear in this field.

  2. “Second, to stand up for human goodness is to take a stand against the powers that be.” 

  3. “Third, to stand up for human goodness means weathering a storm of ridicule…being called naïve…”

 

And then he goes on to tell amazing stories about the ‘real Lord of the Flies,’ ‘The Rise of Homo Puppy,’ and a WWII example called ‘Colonel Marshall and the Soldiers Who Wouldn’t Shoot.’ 

 

There is an excellent story of Easter Island where he explains the circular logic of Thor Heyerdahl which has perpetuated the myth of this island for hundreds of years. He de-bunks research of notables as Steven Pinker and Richard Dawkins finding some fairly simple examples in their research approaches.

 

It is a bold book, filled with conventional explanations followed by what the actual and more current knowledge indicates about the nature of man. 

 

He offers his own 10 Rules to Live By in the Epilogue: 

  1. When in doubt, assume the best

  2. Think in win-win scenarios

  3. Ask more questions

  4. Temper your empathy, train your compassion

  5. Try to understand the other, even if you don’t get where they’re coming from

  6. Love your own as others love their own

  7. Avoid the news

  8. Don’t punch Nazis

  9. Come out of the closet; don’t be ashamed to do good

  10. Be realistic

 

He offers us a picture of potential for all of us and it is well-supported by the research.  It does call on all of to re-examine and revise our views of human nature. 

 

As Bregman notes, “if we believe most people are decent and kind, everything changes.”  Think about that!