Radical thinker Rutger Bregman paints a new, more beautiful portrait of humanity.
Optimism is what runs the world, and cynicism only serves as an excuse for the lazy.
Historian Rutger Bregman argues that the persistent theory that most people are monsters is just wrong.
- How have humans managed to accomplish significantly more than any other species on the planet? Historian Rutger Bregman believes the quality that makes us special is that we "evolved to work together and to cooperate on a scale that no other species in the whole animal kingdom has been able to do."
- Pushing back against the millennia-old idea that humans are inherently evil beneath their civilized surface, which is known as 'veneer theory', Bregman says that it's humanity's cooperative spirit and sense of brotherhood that leads us to do cruel deeds. "Most atrocities are committed in the name of loyalty, and in the name of friendship, and in the name of helping your people," he tells Big Think. "That is what's so disturbing."
- The false assumption that people are evil or inherently selfish has an effect on the way we design various elements of our societies and structures. If we designed on the assumption that we are collaborative instead, we could avoid the "self-fulfilling prophecy" of selfishness.
Synchronous movement seems to help us form cohesive groups by shifting our thinking from "me" to "we."
- Muscular bonding, a term coined by the veteran and historian William McNeill, describes how individuals engaged in synchronous movement often experience feelings of euphoria and connection to the group.
- Psychologists have proposed that muscular bonding, or interpersonal entrainment, is a group-level adaptation that helped early human groups outcompete other groups.
- Muscular bonding can help people form cohesive groups, but it could come at cost.
Muscular bonding and the 'hive switch'<p>McNeill thought there was more to drilling than meets the eye, something beyond forcing soldiers into compliance and conformity. He called it "muscular bonding." The term describes how individuals engaged in synchronous movement experience feelings of euphoria and connection to the group.</p><p>This phenomenon, McNeill said, is "far older than language and critically important in human history, because the emotion it arouses constitutes an indefinitely expansible basis for social cohesion among any and every group that keeps together in time."</p><p>Since McNeill first described muscular bonding, researchers have been trying to better understand the phenomenon and how it affects group dynamics. In the book "The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion", the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt proposed a bold hypothesis: muscular bonding serves as a kind of "switch" that, when activated, helps individuals transcend selfishness to act in the interests of their group.</p><p>To illustrate this idea, Haidt said humans are a lot like chimpanzees (self-interested) and a bit like bees (group-interested, existing to sustain the hive). He framed muscular bonding as a "hive switch" that pushes us away from chimp-like behavior toward bee-like behaviors. This ability to "lose ourselves (temporarily and ecstatically)" would help explain why people, under the right conditions, can come together in an "all for one, one for all" mentality. It'd help explain why some soldiers sacrifice themselves in battle for the group.</p>
Forming cohesive groups<p>Over the past two decades, psychologists have conducted various experiments on muscular bonding, also called interpersonal entrainment. These studies generally involved groups of people doing physical activities (or simply imagining them) synchronously or asynchronously, and then playing economic games with each other, or rating how much they like or trust the people with whom they've entrained.</p><p>A <a href="https://www.degruyter.com/view/journals/psych/1/1/article-p273.xml" target="_blank">2019 review of research on interpersonal entrainment</a> (IPE) found that people generally report higher levels of deindividualization after engaging in IPE. In other words, they view themselves more as a group member than an individual. What's more, some studies suggest that engaging in IPE can also increase performance in domains related to memory, attention and physical movement.</p><p>Together, the research suggests that muscular bonding helps individuals form cohesive and effective groups. It's easy to see how this would be an advantageous group-level adaptation in human evolution: The tribe who's better able to move together toward shared goals is likely to outcompete less coherent tribes. Then, individuals in the successful group passed down genetic traits, making future generations more likely to engage in the same kinds of cohesive behaviors. (That's one idea, at least.)</p>
To war is human – and Neanderthals were very like us.
We make school kids read "Lord of the Flies"—but it's only half the story.
- The iconic novel "Lord of the Flies" paints a picture of human beings as naturally selfish and prone to conflict, but that is not the most accurate depiction of humanity, argues historian Rutger Bregman.
- Bregman shares a true story from his research about a group of Tongan students who survived on an island together for 15 months in 1965, not through brutal alliances, but by working together and forming a functional community.
- Darwin's observation of domestication syndrome is apparent in humans, argues Bregman; our evolution into friendlier animals can be seen in our biological features and responses. Evolutionarily speaking, being "soft" is actually very smart, and we evolved to cooperate with one another for mutual gain.