Humankind Read-Along Finale: A Feminist Perspective
Congrats to you and me, we made it to the finish line of the Humankind Read-Along!
Here’s our final discussion prompt:
Which of Bregram’s “ten rules to live by”
resonate with you the most? Do you have any rules that you choose to live by? On finishing the book, how do you feel about human nature? Will you think differently about anything?
Confession: I barely skimmed the “ten rules to live by” after entirely skipping the prior chapter. The reason: Rutger Bregman lost my trust, and I couldn’t bear to suffer through the rest of his book.
I started this book with an open mind despite warning signs:
One of the first pieces Bregman includes is a fake Native American myth that was actually written (in poor taste) by evangelist Billy Graham. (See Chelsea Vowel’s Indigenous Writes, page 93.)
18 pages into Humankind, I noticed that 100% of the Great Western Thinkers Bregman alludes to are men.
I just felt a little weird reading a book written by a European white man while everyone around me was picking up books by Black authors in an effort to listen and learn and be antiracist.
Nevertheless I gave Bregman the benefit of the doubt and chance after chance to show me that he was in fact speaking for all of humankind, not just the people most like him. He failed me. Take the list below:
The Real Lord of the Flies: Six BOYS on an island.
Rousseau vs. Hobbes: two MALE philosophers
Colonel Marshall (MALE) and the (MALE) soldiers who wouldn’t shoot
Stanford Prison Experiment: Researcher and participants all MEN
Robbers Cave Study: all BOYS
Milgram Shock Experiments: participants include pairs of MEN
Kitty Genovese: first female in a while, but only a passive victim.
Chapter on Empathy: cites MALE writer Paul Bloom, ignores research and writing by prominent female empathy researcher Brene Brown
And so forth.
I became outright indignant while reading the chapter entitled “Remedy for Hate, Injustice, and Prejudice.” Here Bregman claimed that contact between antagonist groups was the simple solution we need, citing examples of soldiers in WWI (males) and politicians in South Africa’s apartheid (men). Not a single woman made it into these pages. If “contact” really worked to assuage hate, injustice, and prejudice, then misogyny and gender inequality and sexism wouldn’t exist, given that men and women are typically in constant contact in society. Contact may work for men alone, but it doesn’t work in mixed company.
Bregman sees simple solutions to humanity’s evils because he is blind to marginalized peoples. He fails to acknowledge how the evidence he presents only proves what works for some people some of the time. I wanted more evidence and more complexity from Bregman, and he didn’t deliver.
By the time Bregman quoted Richard Curtis, director of the heinously misogynistic movie Love Actually (read Lindy West’s evisceration of the rom-com on Jezebel), I had had enough. Rolling my eyes Liz Lemon-style, I closed the book.
Shirking Bregman’s largely irrelevant ten principles, I present two of my own:
Balance open-mindedness with skepticism. Without skepticism, an open mind can quickly become outright gullible. Be careful whose authority you surrender to, and never be afraid to question someone else’s ideas and think differently. With that said, a skeptical mind without openness transitions into cynicism. If someone presents new ideas, be willing to listen and incorporate well-reasoned arguments with supporting evidence into your worldview.
See marginalized people, and help others see them too. See their absence and point it out. Seek them out, listen to them. People can be marginalized for their race, gender, sexuality, age, class. What do people without power have to say? Find out.
While Bregman disappointed me, I have no regrets about conducting the Humankind Read-Along. I sharpened my critical thinking skills and learned how to better communicate those thoughts with you.
Beyond my two takeaways, I’d like to leave you with two book recommendations that address similar topics to Bregman’s Humankind. The first addressed humanity’s true nature within a dystopian narrative. The second embraces a factual realism that proves more optimistic than any of us would expect.
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins
Have you read The Hunger Games? I loved that series when it came out. In the series prequel, Collins lets us into the mind of President Snow before he came to political power and how he shaped the Hunger Games during its early years. Snow must decide what he believes about humanity to inform how civilization ought to be structured. I recommend the audiobook narrated by Santina Fontana.
Factfulness by Hans Rosling with Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Rönnlund
While Bregman implores you to believe in what he calls a “New Realism,” in Factfulness, the statistics prove a realism that feels new because it’s so much better than one would expect. After going through the ten ways in which we are wrong about the world, the authors leave readers with ten straightforward principles that transform the way one interacts with information presented in daily life. To this day it’s changed how I interpret the news as well as how I understand my place in the world.