I am currently doing research for my next novel, the first installment in a private detective mystery series set in a near-future America where many laws allow citizens to file lawsuits against those who violate these statutes. In these research reports, I summarize what I’m reading and how that book helped me think about my project. First up: Humankind: A Hopeful History by Rutger Bregman.
Why I Read It:
I had imagined that a society in which citizens were encouraged to build legal cases against each other would soon devolve into a Hobbesian state of nature, a “war of all against all.” Humankind seemed to challenge that working theory.
What I Learned:
Many of the experiments, historical interpretations and stories which aim to convince us that humans are intrinsically bad don’t hold water. Even under extreme pressure, the vast majority of humans are kind, decent and helpful.
My Biggest Takeaway:
Laws encouraging citizens to sue each other wouldn’t send us back to a hostile state of nature. In a state of nature, no one would care about their neighbors’ actions unless they directly affected them. Instead, these laws encourage the worst parts of humanity. They stoke fear, distrust and cynicism so that politicians can divide us and win elections. As Bregman puts it, “Humans are tempted by evil masquerading as good” (p. 174). Politicians can turn people against each other by telling adherents they are acting righteously and their opponents are criminals.
Who Would Like It:
Anyone tired of the cynicism of politics and the daily news cycle.