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Learn the key ideas of the book by Rutger Bregman


Develop a positive attitude towards humankind

Harbouring a negative view of human beings will not help us to build a better world. If you really want things to change, you have to develop a more positive attitude towards your fellow man. Humankind: A Hopeful Historyprovides the tools required to take this leap, and thus leave behind the pessimism and mistrust that have always plagued humankind. 

Read in 25 min.
Listen in 31 min.

Prevailing thought believes that humans hide a selfish and aggressive nature under a layer of civility that is as illusionary as it is superficial

It is a deep-rooted belief that people’s darkest side comes out when they are subject to catastrophic events, and that they are quick to indulge in bullying and reckless behaviour. However, the reality of the matter is quite the opposite: very often, great displays of solidarity and altruism come out in emergency situations. 

In August 2005, there was much talk of a frightening wave of violence that had swept across the city of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. This account of events, however, was not a true representation of what really happened in those days. Apart from some episodes of looting, which did actually occur, the courage, spirit of sacrifice, and love demonstrated by the citizens of New Orleans truly shone through. Examples of this were the rescue teams that were formed and the volunteer groups distributing food, clothing and medicine, wherever possible. 

Another traumatic event that has gone down in history is that of the September 11th attacks in 2001. Witnesses told of how the majority of people in the Twin Towers at the time went down the stairs in an orderly manner, and gave priority to the firefighters and injured, even though they were aware of being in danger.

Despite this, it is still believed that human beings, in extreme situations, act like savages, and are ready to crush anyone else to save their own skin. It is the so-called "veneer theory of civilisation", according to which the darkest depths of humankind are hidden below a superficial layer of common sense and morality.  

This negative view is the result, among other things, is the result of the constant bombardment of news that we are exposed to on a daily basis, that leads us to think that the world is a horrible place, populated by equally horrible people. However, if you actually look at the data, you will find that there has been a general decline in homicides, infant mortality, wars, and poverty in recent decades. Although we cannot deny that there are still many problems that remain, the trend is undoubtedly improving. 

The problem lies in the phenomenon that experts call “negativity bias”, which leads us to become more attuned to negative events. In short, we are more aware of evil than we are of good. The media base their incessant activity precisely on this tendency: anything labelled as “good” is also deemed boring and ordinary, so the media gives prominence to the flip side of the coin, which attracts much more attention. As a result, that dark and cynical perspective we have of the world, and on all those who inhabit it, is only further perpetuated.

But there is still hope: if we start to challenge some of the certainties and preconceptions that have been acquired over time, it turns out that there are very few valid reasons for being pessimistic.


The key ideas of "Humankind"

Prevailing thought believes that humans hide a selfish and aggressive nature under a layer of civility that is as illusionary as it is superficial
The idea that humans reveal their cruel nature in difficult situations has also been promoted by important literary works
Over time, the famous experiments aimed at demonstrating the inherent evil in man have been shown to contain several flaws
Human beings are not in themselves, evil, but rather they can be deceived by evil that disguises itself as good
Babies are attracted to “good” from a very early age, but at the same time, feel hostility towards anything that is unknown
Humans have a greater predisposition towards evil because their physical and emotional condition is not suited to modernity
The Enlightenment, which viewed man as weak and corrupt, helped shape today's pessimistic view of mankind
Having positive expectations of others can create a virtuous cycle that can encompass the whole of society
What motivates human beings most is not money, but trust
Participatory democracy demonstrates that deeming citizens capable and supportive can create a close-knit and efficient community
In every facet of society, the most encouraging results are obtained when a feeling of trust is accompanied by opportunities for people to come into contact with each other
Contact between people can break down differences, and make people forget, even in the most difficult situations
Take-home message
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