The Sunday Magazine

'Most people, deep down, are pretty decent': Rutger Bregman, author and historian

2020 seems like a strange — and strangely apt — time to argue that humans are defined by goodness and kindness. The biggest news stories of the year — and centuries of philosophical thought — suggest otherwise. But the Dutch author and historian, Rutger Bregman, takes the long view in one of the buzziest books of 2020: Humankind: A Hopeful History. He argues that humans’ natural impulse is to avoid conflict and to cooperate with one another.

Are humans really a kinder, gentler species?

Dutch author and historian Rutger Bregman's latest book is called Humankind: A Hopeful History. (Hachette Book Group)

Are humans really a kinder, gentler species? 2020 seems like a strange — and strangely apt — time to argue that humans are defined by goodness and kindness. But Dutch author and historian, Rutger Bregman, takes the long view in one of the buzziest books of 2020: Humankind: A Hopeful History

He argues that humans' natural impulse is to avoid conflict and to cooperate with one another. "Most people, deep down, are pretty decent." 

Even if the biggest news stories of the year — and centuries of philosophical thought — suggest otherwise, he argues that, "we live in a world where doing good, most of the time feels good," and that, "hope is about the possibility of change and it impels you to act."

Bregman isn't Pollyanna-ish about the state of the world, and says that, while most of us are hardwired to be good people, power does corrupt. And, he says research is finding that, "those who are under the influence of the drug that we call power — the regions of their brain that are involved with empathy don't really work anymore … it's as though they have become disconnected from society." Bregman is convinced that "the cynic is naive and that it is realistic to have a more hopeful attitude to life."

Rutger Bregman often seems to be a step ahead of his time. In 2016 he spoke to Michael Enright about his book, Utopia for Realists, and he made a pitch for universal basic income — at that point, it was still a marginal idea, but less than four years later, it's being taken very seriously.

Click 'listen' above to hear the full conversation.



 

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