Around the world, the vast majority of people believe things are getting worse. But in Humankind: A Hopeful History, Rutger Bregman shows us that “The reality is exactly the opposite. Over the last several decades, extreme poverty, victims of war, child mortality, crime, famine, child labour, deaths in natural disasters and the number of plane crashes have all plummeted. We’re living in the richest, safest, healthiest era ever. So why don’t we realise this? It’s simple. Because the news is about the exceptional.”
I raved about Bregman in episode 42 of James and Ashley Stay at Home, and I’m not done. Here are a few of the passages that resonated most with me, though every chapter was vital and fascinating and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
I. “In times when immigration or violence declines, newspapers give them more coverage … There seems to be none, or even a negative, relationship between news and reality.”
II. “When it comes down to it, the presence of bystanders has precisely the opposite effect of what science has long insisted. We’re not alone in the big city, on the subway, on the crowded streets. We have each other.”
III. The 1964 murder of 28-year-old Kitty Genovese became infamous after The New York Times erroneously claimed that none of the 38 witnesses who saw or heard the attack outside their apartment building in Queens called the police or came to her aid. In fact, she died in the arms of a friend. Her story “teaches us three things. One: how out of whack our view of human nature often is. Two: how deftly journalists push those buttons to sell sensational stories. And last but not least: how it’s precisely in emergencies that we can count on one another.”
IV. “A realistic view of human nature can’t help but have major implications for how you interact with other people.”
V. “Cynicism is a theory of everything. The cynic is always right.”
VI. Because Wunsiedel, a town in southern Germany, is home to the grave of Deputy Führer Rudolph Hess, Neo-Nazis gathered every year to march on the anniversary of his death, “hoping to incite riots and violence.” Anti-fascists would come along to clash with the Nazis, which only reinforces their adherents – “it validates them in their worldview, and makes it that much easier to attract new recruits.” So in 2014, the town of Wunsiedel turned the march for Rudolph Hess into a charity walk. “For every metre the Neo-Nazis walked, the townspeople pledged to donate to an NGO that helps people get out of far-right groups.” So the townspeople secretly marked off start and finish lines, and they made banners to say thanks to the marchers. The Neo-Nazis had no idea this was going to happen. They showed up expecting protest and violence, and instead received loud cheers, and they were showered with confetti when they crossed the finish line. The event raised more than 20 thousand euros.”
Wishing you a hopeful week ahead.