HumanKIND by Rutger Bregman

HumanKIND: A Hopeful History
 By Rutger Bregman
2020  – 463 pages
Read by Thomas Judd 11h 37m
Rating – 8 / behavioral science

(read and listened)

I was thinking this would be a good book to stave off depression in this disastrous year of 2020,  besides that, it was on my reading group’s schedule.  It’s basically about people being basically good rather than evil – basically unselfish rather than acquisitive, basically kind and cooperative rather than competitive and even warlike.  Rousseau vs Hobbes.  

 I must say it started great. But then Bregman and his idea got broader and broader in it’s focus and the author over-generalized using poorly defined words (imo!)  So I started mentally arguing with him.  But then at the end it ended well, or “to my liking,” I probably should say.  

Whatever –  voila –  Bregman says that people are generally kind and he has the evidence and studies to show it in a bunch of areas including pre-historic man, military life and scientific experiments.  He does a lot of experiment debunking because where did we in the 21st century come up with the idea that man is basically selfish and mean?  

 He talks about power and the up and down sides of empathy and there’s a whole chapter on “What the Enlightenment Got Wrong.”  The history is fascinating. I haven’t got much use for social scientists today, and I think that’s probably where my difficulty arose. But the section on prisons was very good.   The section on Nelson Mandela and his election sounded like there was some information missing.  Kitty Genovese?  I guessed Bregman’s response to that and I was right – the scientists/journalist at the time were off.  (Journalists can be sooooo off – see The Death of Expertise – lol.) 

Then Bregman continues with some sense of balance. When we act as though most everyone is generally good and kind, and when we form our institutions around those kinds of principles, then goodness and kindness result.  I think Bregman goes a bit overboard sometimes – he really wants to believe in the goodness of man.  
So the book started wonderfully well and it ended on a good note. It was the middle which proved problematical.  Social science researchers seem to change their minds a lot and every time a new generation of scientists come along the new guys really need to leave their mark – so … we get a new study with new results.  
And then there are the people who pay absolutely no attention to experts and studies and go for the power – (he’s in office now) – 

Bottom line – imo – different people have different ways, different tastes, different motives, different attitudes.  They even have these differences at different times!  People are not pies.  There are evil people in the world as well as saints and it’s probably a bell curve.  

 I had two children who attended the same open-classroom elementary school. The younger child embraced it and took to his lessons like a champ. The other older child didn’t learn to read until 2nd grade because she was so busy chatting and making sure the other children were doing what they were supposed to.  (LOL!).  We moved and the kids went to a regular elementary school with more structured classes. The self-motivated child, who walked early and talked late, started being a troublemaker while the slower one, who talked early and walked late,  found she was “behind” and buckled down.  In non-school activities, the one took to piano lessons and math, the other took to competitive swimming and advanced socializing.  Today they’re both gainfully employed in respectable professions.  Go figure. 

People are not pies – they’re different from each other and even themselves over time, so if the expert opinion is that all people are kind … well –  I’m going to have trouble with that – there are too many bad things and people in the world.  (No one is 100% good OR bad.) 

I probably got off track here … – overall it’s a good book. lol

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1 Response to HumanKIND by Rutger Bregman

  1. Lisa Hill says:

    Well, it’s certainly encouraging. There’s that other one along the same lines… The Better Angels of Our Nature. I’ve only read one chapter of it, but the theme is the same, and like you I had some reservations, but generally, it cheered me up.
    Which is a good thing.


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