“Snuggling to Survive”. A review of ‘Humankind : A Hopeful History’ by Rutger Bregman.

The world is fast losing faith in itself, and these are extremely cynical times. To make things worse, pandemic type situations also bring out the worst in us, don’t they?

Well, they don’t! This is precisely what the author argues here. We’ve been lied-to, all these years, by authors, psychologists, and other people claiming to be masterful interpreters of the human nature.

This book tells us that we, by nature, are not nasty, savage and cruel, as we’ve always been taught that we are. What it says is that : we are fundamentally and essentially nice. The author, in order to make this point, marshalls various studies and stories of essential human kindnesss – in especially trying times. Myth of ‘state of nature’ being a period of darkness is thoroughly debunked as well. Amongst other things, we find out that : (Spoiler Alert)

  • Aversion to cruelty and violence is essential to us.
  • We’re hard wired, on an evolutionary plane, to be friendly and nice;
  • Most soldiers never shoot or kill; the killings are mostly perpetrated by people pressing buttons on human lives, sitting thousands of miles away;
  • More than struggle, it’s ‘snuggle to survive’ (See : survival of the cuddliest);
  • Evil sells more and hundreds of years of studies affirming faith in our goodness have been brushed under the carpet/ignored for reasons of either pure commercial expediency, or to further the vested interests of those in power;
  • The Nazi movement (and other similar aberrations) are not a manifestation of our flawed moral compasses but examples of systematic use of : selective empathy/comradeship by those in power, ideological indoctrination and manipulation of ordinary men and women.
  • Empathy and Violence are two sides of the same coin, and – sometimes – empathy and care for our own alienates us from good of the other; of people who don’t look or talk like us. The Author makes a great case for rational compassion over empathy.
  • Great takeaways on making democracies better, resisting the shenanigans of authoritarian and corrupt power regimes, criminal justice reform, and many other areas of policy.

All in all, a great book. A 4.5 out of 5.

“Man will become better when you show what he is like.” said Anton Chekhov. This book does that. The Author holds up a mirror to all of us and what we see is not an image of pure unadulterated evil but a species hard-wired to be trusting, compassionate and good. Sometimes a little too good – in fact. But mind you, it doesn’t ask you to be a cynic, it just expects you to understand your fundamental thought processes a little better; to temper your goodness with a bit of realism so as not to fall into the traps laid down by knaves….