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Rutger Bregman: Humankind, A Hopeful History

Historian Rutger Bregman stands against a dark background

Civilisation has become synonymous with peace and progress and wilderness with war and decline. In reality, for most of human existence, it was the other way around.

Rutger Bregman

If there is one belief that has united the left and the right, psychologists and philosophers, ancient thinkers and modern ones, it is the tacit assumption that humans are bad. It's a notion that drives newspaper headlines and guides the laws that shape our lives. Human beings, we're taught, are by nature selfish and governed primarily by self-interest. But what if it isn't true?

International bestseller Rutger Bregman joins UNSW Centre for Ideas Director, Ann Mossop in the first of a three-part series of conversations to provide a new perspective on the past 200,000 years of human history, setting out to prove that we are hardwired for kindness, geared toward cooperation rather than competition, and more inclined to trust rather than distrust one another.

International bestseller Rutger Bregman is joined by Dr Katharine Kemp in the second of a three-part series of conversations. Dr Katharine Kemp is a Senior Lecturer at UNSW Law, and an expert in data privacy and misuse of market power laws. Her research focuses on the ways personal data is collected and used to the detriment of consumers. She is the Academic Lead on the Grand Challenge on Trust.

Rutger Bregman is joined by Professor Ben Newell in the final instalment of a three-part series of conversations. Ben Newell is a Professor of Cognitive Psychology and Deputy Head of the School of Psychology at UNSW. His research focusses on the cognitive processes underlying judgment, choice and decision making, and the application of this knowledge to environmental, medical, financial, and forensic contexts. He is the Academic Lead on the Grand Challenge on Thriving in the Anthropocene.


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Photo credit: The Economist

Transcript | Rutger Bregman: Humankind, A Hopeful History

Ann Mossop: When you think about human nature, do you think that people are basically good and kind? Or do you assume that people can't be trusted, and are likely to do the wrong thing at every opportunity? These are the kinds of questions that Rutger Bregman, the Dutch historian and author explores in his new book, Humankind, A Hopeful History. I'm Ann Mossop from the Centre for Ideas at UNSW. 

Rutger, thanks for joining us, your book’s about a very powerful idea that humans are mostly good, in spite of all the ideas built into our culture that tell us that we're not. When did you realise that you needed to write about this?

Rutger Bregman: Hmm, well, I think it started, actually, with my previous book, Utopia for Realists. One of the ideas in that book was the idea of universal basic income, just giving everyone a monthly grant, that's enough to pay for your basic needs, for food, shelter, clothing. And it seemed to me that, at least, this is what I noticed, after a while when I was, you know, talking about the scientific evidence with so many readers that this may actually work and that people, you know, don't turn out to be very lazy or selfish, and that they actually use this money in a good way. But again, and again, I found myself discussing human nature with people, because they were, sort of, interested in the scientific evidence, but then they would say, yeah, but maybe that only works on a local scale, or in this very specific culture, or maybe it worked in the 1970s, but we don't really think it's going to work on a bigger scale, because, human nature. 

And then I was having a discussion with a good friend of mine, David Van Ryberg, who has written a great book about participatory democracy, deliberative democracy, the book is called Against Elections. And he described that he had a similar experience that he had written this book where he talks about all these experiments and, and in places where they've experimented with actually giving average citizens more power,turning them into politicians. And yeah, again, a lot of encouraging stories, but then readers would say, we don't think this can scale up, because, human nature. People are just lazy, people are just selfish. So then I realised that so many of the ideas that I cared about, and that I thought, are exciting. They all sort of presupposed a different, more hopeful view of human nature. And I also realised that I didn't actually have that view of human nature myself, because, you know, I'd studied history, I heard about all the, you know, the cynical psychology experiments, or at least that seemed to tell us depressing truths like the Stanford Prison Experiment, or the Milgram experiment. And yeah, I didn't really have such a hopeful or optimistic view of human nature. So that writing this book has been a way to sort of reconcile that, and in a way it's been a reckoning with my own ideas.

Ann Mossop: The idea of realism is a key part of what you want us to take away from the book. What's your version of realism? And why is it important for us to see what is real in the world and in our own lives?

Rutger Bregman: Well, so often we equate realism with pessimism or cynicism. This happens all the time, that we say to someone who is an activist, or an idealist, we say, oh well you got to be a bit more realistic. And then almost always, we mean, well, be a bit more pessimistic, or be a bit more cynical. And so in this book, I tried to redefine what it means to be a realist. I'm trying to say that it's actually the cynics who are really naive. And who are also actually a little bit lazy. I think that cynicism is another word for laziness. Both practical laziness, because it gives you an excuse to not do anything, and also intellectual laziness, because I think that it's often just an intellectually lazy explanation for all the evils and wrongs in the world. So yeah, I'm toying around a lot with the word realism, just as in my previous book, obviously, which was about how utopian crazy things can become reality. And I'm trying to do that, again.

Ann Mossop: When you look at why we think humans are innately selfish and sinful, you realise that these ideas are everywhere in history, philosophy, and major world religions. But a big factor in this today is the news. Would we be better off without it?

Rutger Bregman: Well, it's obviously one of the big questions. If people are really so decent, then why don't we believe that? And I think there are a couple of reasons. One of the first reasons is obviously, the kind of information that we're getting. Around 90% of the population in developed countries follows the news on a daily basis. And the news is not some kind of neutral product, it mostly focuses on things that go wrong, on corruption, on crises, on violence, terrorism, you name it. There's a term for this, that can be caused by the news, in psychology they call it mean world syndrome. It’s that people who just watch too much of the news may become more cynical. Yeah, but there are much deeper reasons than just the news as well. I think it’s the idea, the notion that people deep down are just selfish, is deeply embedded, I think, in Western culture, and in our history. Goes back all the way to the ancient Greeks, and you find it within Orthodox Christianity, the notion that we're all just sinners, you find it with many of the Enlightenment philosophers, Thomas Hobbes, David Hume, Adam Smith, and I think you could also argue that it's at the heart of modern capitalism, the notion that people are just selfish, and that we have to deal with it, or that maybe it's even a good thing, that greed is good. So yeah, it's an idea that comes back again and again and again, in our history.

Ann Mossop: What are the things about humans that are much more positive than philosophy and religion would have us believe?

Rutger Bregman: One of the most interesting things to me while researching this book is to find out how people respond to crises. Maybe that's particularly relevant right now as we're in the midst of a pandemic. Now, if you've watched the movies about what happens after an earthquake, or flooding, or tsunami, or something like that, then you'll probably believe that human beings are quick to panic and that you know, at a moment of crisis we, you know, we go back to, to our… we become savages again, this is what Frans de Waal, my fellow Dutchman and primatologist calls veneer theory, the notion that our civilisation is only a thin veneer and that deep down, we're just savages. Now, what actually happens, and we know this, because we have more than 700 case studies now from sociology, where scientists have researched what really happens after natural disaster. And what they see time and time again, is that you get an explosion of cooperation, people from the left to the right, rich, poor, young, old, all work together, it's almost as if these kinds of crises, push a reset button in our brain, and we go back to our better selves. So that's pretty much the opposite of what we're often taught. And then also the opposite of what especially many elites believe. So this is, I think, one of the problems that you see so often is that when elites, or when those in power, think about human nature, they look in the mirror, and they think that other people are just like them, and then they forget that actually, power corrupts. So yeah, that will be the very short summary of my book is that, most people are pretty decent, but power corrupts. 

Ann Mossop: In the book, you use the example of Hurricane Katrina, where you have elites and law enforcement reacting to what they think would be happening, crime and violence, rather than what's actually happening. And it's this reaction rather than people's behaviour that causes problems.

Rutger Bregman: Yeah, yeah. They send in the police, they send them the army to establish law and order. While in reality, you know, the real savages are… well, in this case are those at the top. And I think we've seen a similar scenario in the US where, you know, the police come in, who are supposed to protect and serve, and they start killing peaceful activists. It's a dynamic that we see many times.

Ann Mossop: One of the most important and prevalent ideas that you challenge is the human propensity for violence. The idea that the past was not just more dangerous, but also more murderous and violent. You go looking for information about this, and also for the origins of war? What did you find? 

Rutger Bregman: Well, I used to believe in a sort of Hobbesian worldview, right? So Thomas Hobbes, the British philosopher argued that back in the stone age when we were all still nomadic hunter gatherers, we lived these lives that were nasty, brutish, and short, and that there was also some kind of war of all against all going on back then. So a couple of years ago, I read the book from Steven Pinker, that you've probably heard about, The Better Angels of Our Nature, where he sort of looks at all the evidence we have from archeology and anthropology, and argues that indeed, Hobbes simply was right, that indeed, we were much more violent in the past, but that we've been saved by civilisation there, especially in the past couple of centuries, we've become much more peaceful. I used to believe that. But then for this book, I went over the latest evidence from archaeology and anthropology and I started to realise that actually, the consensus is in a very different place. There's actually very little evidence for warfare among nomadic hunter gatherers. For example, if it was really really true that there was a war of all against all going on, you would expect that some Picasso from the Stone Age would have made a Guernica or something out of that, right? That we would have a cave painting. But we haven't found it. But then after we settled down, after we became sedentary, and when we became farmers, and suddenly you do find quite a lot of that kind of evidence of cave paintings depicting warfare. So it's obviously a big discussion still in science. And it's very controversial as well, because a lot of it depends. I mean, everything starts with your view of human nature. So these discussions can get quite, how do you say that, well…

Ann Mossop: Heated. 

Rutger Bregman: Not violent, but heated, yes. But I changed my mind on this. So when I started writing this book, I thought that I just would have to, sort of, admit that back in our hunter gathering days, we were much more violent. But I think that the academic or the scientific consensus is quite different from what it used to be now.

Ann Mossop: Can we go back a little bit to that Frans de Waal expression, veneer theory, that you mentioned, the idea that civilisation is just a thin shell that can crack at any time. You look at what happened after hunter gatherers settled down, and what you see, in fact, is the prevalence of slavery, infectious diseases, patriarchy and so on. We tend to think of settlement as the start of civilisation, but instead you talk about the curse of civilisation, do you think that we can lift that curse?

Rutger Bregman: What they taught me in school was that we should look at history as sort of the march of progress, where, you know, we were first living these lives that were nasty, brutish, and short, but then came civilization, then we settled down, and we invented agriculture, and writing, and the wheel, and you know, everything was, was just a step, to create a better and more prosperous world. But it's actually, it seems pretty much the opposite. Civilisation, the biggest part, the history of civilisation was just one big disaster.

Ann Mossop: Towards the end of the book, you give us some fascinating examples where people around the world are putting into practice a way of thinking about people that is different, that assumes the best. What's one of the most interesting examples of this that you found?

Rutger Bregman: We know from ethnographic field research that these nomadic hunter gatherers lived lives that were probably much better, you know, shorter working weeks, like 20, 30 hours healthier, because they have a varied diet, bit of fruit, bit of vegetables, bit of meat, more exercise. These societies were quite egalitarian, you could almost call them proto feminist. They didn't have all these infection diseases like COVID-19. But then we settled down and it's just, it's just one big disaster. The era of warfare starts, you get hierarchy, you get patriarchy, you get all these infectious diseases like measles, and the plague and malaria. These are all modern diseases, because we live too close to our domesticated animals. It's just one huge disaster. Why don't we remember this? Or why don't we realise this? Because we've made such extraordinary progress in the past couple of decades, I'd say, especially since the end of the Second World War. We are today richer, healthier and wealthier than ever. But then the question is how sustainable it is? You could make the case that we're just standing on top of, or dancing on top of a volcano. So I've always liked this anecdote that it's probably never happened. But it's still a good anecdote, when a Chinese politician was asked in the 70s, what he thought about the French Revolution in 1789. And he said, so he said that in the 1970s, he said, well, it's too early to say. And I think that's the same, that's also true for civilisation. What do you think about civilisation? Well, it's too early to say, we don't know yet. Maybe like in one or two centuries from now we can say, well, we've managed it successfully and made the transition to a sustainable society. But I'm not sure about that just yet.

Ann Mossop: Towards the end of the book, you give us some fascinating examples where people around the world are putting into practice a way of thinking about people that is different, that assumes the best. What's one of the most interesting examples of this that you found?

Rutger Bregman: Well, I didn't want to write a self help book, I really think that significant change starts with applying this new view or a more hopeful view of human nature on an institutional level. What you assume and others is what you get out of them. So often, we've designed our institutions around this notion, that people are just selfish, our schools, our workplaces, our democracies. And I think we can really turn that around. So if you look at workplaces, for example, I look at one case study from the Netherlands where we have a healthcare organisation called Buurtzorg, which translates as neighbourhood care. And they have 15,000 employees working in self directed teams of around 12 to 30 nurses, and they've got no management at all. It's just yeah, these teams working on their own, deciding for themselves, who they want to hire as colleagues, what kind of additional education they need. And it works really well actually, they have been voted Employer of the Year five times in a row, and they deliver health care at a cheaper cost of a higher quality while paying the employees a higher salary. So it's pretty fascinating what you can do, once you start actually trusting your employees. I think universities can learn a lot from that as well. It seems to me that at least I remember from my days at universities, that there was a lot of unnecessary hierarchy and bureaucracy, etc, etc. But, you know, this is the thing, a more hopeful view of human nature has always been threatening to those at the top, because it means that maybe we don't really need them, that we, if you actually say, well, we can trust each other, then you don't need all the managers and the CEOs and the kings and the bureaucrats, etc, etc. And you can move to a much more genuinely democratic society.

Ann Mossop: Rutger Bregman, thanks for that introduction to your book Humankind. In the next part of our conversation, we're going to talk about sharing, trust, and the human superpower of interconnectedness.

Transcript | Rutger Bregman in conversation with Ben Newell

Ann Mossop: I'm Ann Mossop from the Centre for Ideas at UNSW. This is the third in a series of conversations with Rutger Bregman, the Dutch historian and writer, about his book Humankind, A Hopeful History. Some of the key arguments in the book relate to the findings of well known experiments and research in psychology. Ben Newell, Professor of cognitive psychology at the University of New South Wales is joining us. Ben studies the science of how we make decisions. Ben, one of the questions that the book brings up for you is a really fundamental one.

Ben Newell: Thanks Ann. So in the book, Rutger, you start with this big idea that most people deep down are pretty decent. One reaction I had to that was, well, how, how could it be any other way? Given that we’re all still here?

Rutger Bregman: That's a great point. You know, it's funny that my book is, in a way, about an idea that's so absolutely obvious that you wonder why you would even have to write a book about it. Because, you know, in our own daily lives, it's absolutely obvious that most people are pretty decent. Because otherwise, how could we ever survive? How could we ever live our lives? But then somehow, we tend to forget this very basic fact about humanity, that most people are pretty decent, when we start designing our institutions, or when we start thinking about people who are farther away from us. So then maybe we need to be remembered to get this, yeah, message that actually, when you talk about people far away, or even criminals, or inmates in a prison, or you name it, you can still rely on their basic decency.

Ben Newell: Yeah, it echoed, or resonated with me, in what I spend my time studying, judgement and decision making. And there's often… you know, a lot of people talk about how we're hopelessly biassed and irrational, and you know, and the idea that, if we're so dumb, then how come we're so smart, comes to mind.

Rutger Bregman: Yeah, fair point, I also thought that about… because you've got so many studies now about, you know, the limited cognition of people and how we're so stupid in so many situations. But then, it seems to me that, I mean, often rationality is the water we swim in. We live in a society that has so many rational laws and procedures, and we have so many pretty rational discussions all the time, and that, indeed, if some psychologist comes up with a study, well, we're actually not very smart here, this is irrational, or you can nudge people to do this, then, oh, well, that's very surprising. But that is because we expect a standard of, you know, certain kinds of rational behaviour where people just have rational discussions and make compromises etc. So indeed, this whole trend in psychology where people have been emphasising that we are so irrational, and we can easily be nudged in all kinds of directions, that maybe we've overplayed that a little bit.

Ben Newell: Yeah, I would agree. And I think… I mean, you talk in the book about the availability bias as one of the issues, or one of the factors that leads to this over representation of bad news. And I think it's instructive to if you reflect on the the original work by Tversky and Kahneman, they, they emphasised availability as a heuristic, rather than a bias, is something that will be useful, it's actually a useful thing that we can rely on, the first things that come to mind most of the time. But it then gets translated into this idea of a bias, because the errors are more instructive than the correct uses of this. 

Rutger Bregman: Huh. 

Ben Newell: And so I think that, in part, that psychology has developed in this way of focusing on the errors rather than focusing on the positive, which has exacerbated this whole notion of, we're hopelessly irrational.

Rutger Bregman: Yeah, it seems to me that this is also a little bit of a problem with the whole nudging literature, is that if you read about and especially, maybe the original book by by Taylor and Sunstein, then you get this idea that people are just very, it's very easy to influence them and you change a little bit in their circumstances or situation, you send a letter to them, and you change one sentence in the letter, and suddenly they start paying their taxes, blah, blah, blah. And now obviously, a lot of replication studies have come in and it turns out, it's rather underwhelming and that actually, many of these nudges don't perform as well as we hoped they would. Then you think about it for a bit longer, and then I mean, obviously they don't work that well. I mean, there are so many things going on in people's lives. Why would we expect that changing one sentence, in one letter from the tax authorities is gonna change everything. That's rather unlikely, right? 

Ben Newell: Yeah.

Rutger Bregman: I mean, obviously we don't live in a world where we’re being nudged by everything because then we'd be like these… how do you call this in English? Like these balls that go everywhere all the time. Yeah. 

Ben Newell: Yeah, I think that there's a lot in that. That I guess brings me to another point more broadly about some of the famous psychology experiments that you discuss in the book. So the Zimbardo Stanford Prison Experiment, Milgram’s obedience experiments, and so on. And you make the point that, you know, recent revaluations of these experiments have suggested that the conclusions that were originally drawn were perhaps a little bit over egged, a bit wide of the mark. And so I wonder whether you think that these results really get us any closer to identifying the triggers for unkindness, or for selfish, evil behaviour? Or are they simply a, sort of, more historical rather than theoretical import these days? 

Rutger Bregman: Mmmm. Well, let's focus on two of the experiments. The Stanford Prison Experiment on the one hand, and the Milgram experiments with the shock machine, on the other hand. I think that the Stanford Prison Experiment is a great example of everything that can go wrong in science. I don't think we can draw any, like, real scientific lesson from it anymore. So there's a French sociologist called Thibault Le Texier, who's written a book recently about it, sadly only published in French, it's called, The History of a Lie. And I think that's an accurate summary of the whole story is, you have this experiment where you know, 24 students, 12 made it to guards 12 prisoners, put into a fake prison in the basement of Stanford University. And the standard story tells us that very quickly, the guards started to behave in a very nasty and sadistic way. And then the experiment had to be cancelled after a couple of days. And it became extraordinarily famous, and, you know, ended up in pretty much all the textbooks of psychology students around the globe. And I still think that in many universities, still many teachers use it. I actually read one psychology professor who said that it's just so effective if you want to get the attention from your students, you know, they're looking at their phones. And then you start talking about the Stanford Prison Experiment, and everyone's like, ooh, well, this is interesting. But we now know that it was actually, I think it can really be described as a hoax, because the guards were specifically instructed by Philip Zimbardo, the psychologist, to behave as nasty and sadistic as possible. That many of those guards said they didn't want to do it. Then Zimbardo and his researcher, his co-worker said, well, you’ve got to do this, because we need these results, because then we can go to the press and say, look, prisons are horrible environments, we need to reform the whole thing. I don't know, it seems to me that it's pretty much useless to learn anything about human nature. There are two British psychologists Alex Haslam and Steve Riker who've sort of come up with a reinterpretation of the Stanford Prison Experiment, and also the Milgram experiment, by the way, where they see it as followership behaviour, is that sort of the guards were trying to do the good thing, they wanted to help the researcher, and this is I think, a general lesson, or something that we see many times in history, is that people do very horrible things in the name of loyalty, and in the name of friendship, in the name of cooperation. 

Now, with the Milgram experiment, I think it's different, because they've been replicated, not full replications, but at least partial replications. Obviously, Milgram did like, what is it, 23 variations of his study? So it seems to be much more robust to me. There are real issues, and the Australian psychologist, Gina Perry wrote a great book about the experiments, where she also also went into the archives and showed that, you know, many times Milgram violated his own research procedure, and he put a lot of pressure on the subjects. So probably, sort of, the original percentage, like 65% of people goes all the way and gets shocks of 450 volts, that's probably an overestimation. But then even if it's 50%, or 40%, or 30%, it's still way too high. It's still an uncomfortable finding, that quite a few people are willing to do this. So this, again, has been reinterpreted by these two British psychologists, that we shouldn't see it as automatic robot-like behaviour, where people are just following orders, but we should actually see it as followership behaviour, where the subjects want to be good subjects, and want to help the scientists with his research, because they believe in science and they think science is a good thing. And that overrides their concerns, even though those concerns are still obviously very visible, if you look at the videos. But that makes them push the button and go from 15 volts to 30 volts, from 30 volts to 45 volts, etc. So I think that's still useful. And yeah, the Milgram experiment is definitely something that students still need to learn about. But with a lot of caveats, because this is very problematic research as well. Not only ethically but also scientifically.

Ben Newell: Yeah, I would agree with that. It’s a little known fact, actually that there was a replication or an extension of the Zimbardo experiment run in the basement of the psychology building here at UNSW, in the late 1970s. A paper was published on that as well, they didn't find such extreme reactions as Zimbardo did, unsurprisingly.

Rutger Bregman: Really? I gotta read that. 

Ben Newell: I'll send you it. Moving to a slightly broader question. So, one of the things that I'm involved in at the moment, is this notion of the Grand Challenge and thriving in the Anthropocene. So how can we harness the power of human kindness to really improve the way that we’re… this current experiment in civilization that you talked about in the book, the idea that maybe it's too soon to make a judgement on whether civilization was a good thing, but given that that's where we are right now. You talk a lot in the book about this interplay between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, and how we can get people to think in a way that creates more good, creates a positive good. I think, one of the frustrations, and one of the difficulties is the notion that, well, why should I bother? Why should I bother recycling? Why should I bother, you know, trying to reduce the amount of meat I eat, or the transport choices I make? Because I can see everyone around me is not going to do the right thing, that reduction into or retreat into cynicism, which maybe is an excuse for laziness, as you point out in the book, how can we overcome that? How can we really reach this potential for realising that we're all actually quite decent?

Rutger Bregman: Well, when it comes to the environment, I think a better environment doesn't start with yourself. But obviously, with transforming the whole economy, and that's a collective project. It's one of the issues that I struggle the most with, actually, because, you know, I am an anarchist at heart, I think that most people are pretty decent, and that power corrupts. And I think those are the two political maxims that we should keep in mind when we design our societies. But when I think about climate change, when I think about the challenge of moving to, you know, a world that emits 50%, less carbon in 2030, and zero, no carbon in 2050. I just wonder if we can grow there, get there organically from the bottom up with participatory democracy, this is actually something I struggle with. Because yeah, my own political preferences don't seem to be that well suited to this specific task. I often think that people on the right are naive about climate science. But then people on the left are naive about climate action, they don't fully realise what it means, you know, to transform the whole energy system, and how radically things need to change, then sometimes they write these essays about wartime mobilisation, you know, in the Second World War, and they say, well, look at the US they did it, you know, they transformed the whole economy. But if you actually study that, if you read the history books, how that happened, well, it wasn't a bottom up process, where people just started singing together and saying, yay, let's make tanks, let's make bombs, let's make artillery devices. No, was a very top down process, where basically, people and especially companies were being bullied by the government to, to work in the war industry. There's this one wonderful photo of the guy, I forgot his name. He was the Jeff Bezos of his day, being dragged out of his office by the military police, because he didn't want to comply with government regulations. And he didn't want to, you know, let his factories start building more tanks. It's a very nasty and difficult and hard process to really transform your economy in a radical way, if you have so little time. So that is something I struggle with because, sort of, my own political philosophy and my own political preferences, they assume that we have a bit of time, that we have a bit of time for utopias to become reality, that we have time to build this movement that grows and grows and grows and then goes from the from the margins to the mainstream. If we should acknowledge that we don't have that time, then. Yeah, that's a problem.

Ben Newell: Do you see any lessons from the current situation that we find ourselves in in the pandemic for how there has been such a radical change to the status quo, it’s been overturned, we can't do business as usual at the moment. But there's some realisation that we can pivot very rapidly, we can change patterns of consumption, we can change how we travel, how we speak to people. Do you see that there's some positives to be taken out of that?

Rutger Bregman: Oh, absolutely, absolutely. And we've seen many times in history that crises can be the shifting points. And I talked about that in my previous book, Utopia for Realists, is that I go back to this remark from Milton Friedman, the neoliberal economist who wrote in the 1980s that, when a crisis hits, whether it's imaginary or real, everything depends on the, in his words, ideas that are lying around. And I think the problem with the 2008 crash of the financial system is that, there just weren't really ideas lying around. We mainly knew what we were against, against austerity, against the establishment, against the financial sector, against growth, etc, etc. But you also need to know what you're actually for. And it seems to me that now, more than 10 years later, we're in a very different position where a lot of important intellectual work has been done, there's, there's like, there are real alternatives on the menu and on the agenda. You know, think about all the talk about higher taxes on the rich, or a green New Deal, or universal basic income, etc, etc. And they used to be dismissed as completely unrealistic. And now they're actually being discussed, and sometimes there's even been experiments with it, or being implemented. So it's an exciting time to be alive. And indeed, they're really good reasons to be quite pessimistic, or at least fearful for the future. But then at the same time, if you look at, sort of, the changes, I mean, just a generational shift, I'm 32 years old. And if I look at students right now, I already feel old. I mean, 10 years ago, when I was a student, I didn't really protest, I didn't go to climate marches, I didn't go to Black Lives Matter marches, or anything like that. They didn't really exist, if I remember correctly, but now, I mean, it's very, very different. It's like the most progressive young generation we've had in a very long time. Maybe in our, in our history, basically.

Ben Newell: Yeah, I must say one of the most, one of the times that I felt the most hopeful recently was going to the climate action March here in Sydney, with my children. Being, kind of, taken by my children. 

Rutger Bregman: Yeah. 

Ben Newell: And, you know, 80,000 of us there, or all united by that cause, that felt like a very, very hopeful moment. Thank you so much for spending the time talking with us today. It's a really impressive, impressive book and the integration of the psychological theory into it is something which I very much enjoyed. So thank you. 

Rutger Bregman: Thanks, man.

Ann Mossop: That was Rutger Bregman in conversation with psychology researcher Ben Newell. That was the final part of our conversation with the Dutch author and historian about his book, Humankind, A Hopeful History. For more conversations with writers and thinkers, subscribe to our channel. Thanks for tuning in.

Katharine Kemp

Katharine Kemp

Dr Katharine Kemp is a Senior Lecturer at UNSW Law, and an expert in data privacy and misuse of market power laws. Her research focuses on the ways personal data is collected and used to the detriment of consumers.

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