What We Discuss with Rutger Bregman:
- How crises like the London Blitz during WWII and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina tend to bring out the best in people rather than the worst.
- Why a crisis that forces us to isolate rather than connect with each other as a way to cope (like the COVID-19 pandemic) may make some of us behave counter to this tendency, but not most.
- The evidence that prevails against veneer theory — the idea that humanity is only buffered from acting on its vilest and most selfish instincts by the thin veneer of civilization (perpetrated by those in power throughout human history).
- The negativity bias vs. contact theory: how we can counter the effects of past bad experiences with others by increasing our exposure to diversity.
- How a real-life Lord of the Flies incident disproved the thesis of William Golding’s fictional counterpart and showed how six shipwrecked schoolkids cooperated to thrive on a remote island for more than a year.
- And much more…
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Every generation has been sold some version of the veneer theory throughout human history: that people are inherently bad, and were it not for the thin veneer of civilization and the ruling hierarchies who keep it together, society would descend into murderous chaos. And if we need proof of our intrinsic awfulness as a species, we can point to the dozens of people who witnessed New Yorker Kitty Genovese’s murder in 1964 and did nothing to help. We can recite hallowed psychological studies like the Stanford Prison Experiment and the Milgram Obedience Experiments that “prove” we’re all just a uniform fitting away from becoming guards at Auschwitz. And to really drive this point home, many of us are required to read William Golding’s Lord of the Flies in order to pass high school English class. (Spoiler alert: it’s about a group of schoolkids who get stranded on a tropical island; it doesn’t really turn out well because, you know, they’re young human beings suddenly unbuffered from their primal urges by the safety of civilization’s veneer.)
Except that the Kitty Genovese incident was 1964’s version of fake news, the two experiments mentioned have been debunked, and a real-life group of shipwrecked schoolkids thrived for more than a year on a tropical island by cooperating — rather than competing with — each other contrary to Golding’s compelling but entirely fictional work of literature. Yet all of these are still presented as required reading even at the college level because they’ve been taught for so long that they’re seldom questioned by the establishment. But if the human race has been bumming you out lately thanks to the twin specters of pandemic and politics, you’ll enjoy our conversation with Rutger Bregman, historian and author of Humankind: A Hopeful History. On this episode, he’ll walk us through why the human condition has actually improved over time rather than gotten worse, how we’ve evolved for friendliness and cooperation, and what we can do to remind ourselves of this when the media keeps painting us into the corner of an unending bleakscape. Listen, learn, and enjoy!
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Miss our conversation with Arthur Brooks about the merits of learning to love your enemies (especially during these divisive times)? Catch up by listening to episode 211: Arthur Brooks | How Loving Your Enemies Can Save America here!
On the True Underdog podcast, entrepreneur Jayson Waller and his high-profile guests share motivational tips, inspiring stories, and business-building lessons to help each listener grow in their entrepreneurial journey. Listen here or wherever you enjoy podcasts!
THANKS, RUTGER BREGMAN!
If you enjoyed this session with Rutger Bregman, let him know by clicking on the link below and sending him a quick shout out at Twitter:
And if you want us to answer your questions on one of our upcoming weekly Feedback Friday episodes, drop us a line at email@example.com.
Resources from This Episode:
- Humankind: A Hopeful History by Rutger Bregman | Amazon
- Other Books by Rutger Bregman | Amazon
- Rutger Bregman | Website
- Rutger Bregman | Twitter
- Rutger Bregman | Facebook
- Anne Frank: ‘People Are Really Good at Heart’ | The Berlin Spectator
- The Diary of a Young Girl: The Definitive Edition by Anne Frank | Amazon
- 15 Powerful Photos of the Blitz | Imperial War Museums
- 78 Days of Fear: Remembering NATO’s Bombing of Yugoslavia | Balkan Insight
- Slobodan Milošević | Wikipedia
- Misleading Reports of Lawlessness after Katrina Worsened Crisis, Officials Say | The Guardian
- A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster by Rebecca Solnit | Amazon
- How We Can Deal with ‘Pandemic Fatigue’ | Scientific American
- Balcony Singing in Solidarity Spreads Across Italy During Lockdown | The Guardian
- Are Humans Evil? Rutger Bregman on Veneer Theory | Big Think
- Fighting Mean World Syndrome | Wired
- All Men Would Be Tyrants If They Could | Lapham’s Quarterly
- What Is the Negativity Bias? | Verywell Mind
- The Power of Bad: How the Negativity Effect Rules Us and How We Can Rule It by John Tierney and Roy F. Baumeister | Amazon
- John Tierney | Harnessing the Power of Bad | Jordan Harbinger
- The Contact Hypothesis Offers Hope for the World | The Cut
- The Road to Character by David Brooks | Amazon
- Stoicism | Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- The New Age of Ayn Rand: How She Won Over Trump and Silicon Valley | The Guardian
- World War II: The Holocaust | The Atlantic
- Lord of the Flies by William Golding | Amazon
- The Real Lord of the Flies: What Happened When Six Boys Were Shipwrecked for 15 Months | The Guardian
- Reality TV Shows That Are More Scripted Than You May Realize | The Delite
- Temptation Island | USA Network
- How Humans Domesticated Themselves | Shots, NPR
- Cumulative Culture and Explicit Metacognition: A Review of Theories, Evidence, and Key Predictions | Nature
- The Origin of Dogs: When, Where, and How Many Times Were They Domesticated? | The Atlantic
- James Fallon | How to Spot a Psychopath | Jordan Harbinger
- When Does Equality Flourish? | The New Yorker
- Why Do People Blush? | Mental Floss
- Exploring the Dark Side of a Widely Celebrated Psychological Experiment | CBC Radio
- Stanford Prison Experiment: Why Famous Psychology Studies Are Now Being Torn Apart | Vox
- The Shocking Truth of the Notorious Milgram Obedience Experiments | Discover Magazine
- Fact Check: Did 38 Witnesses Do Nothing While Kitty Genovese Was Killed in 1964? | Newsweek
- Malcolm Gladwell | What We Should Know about Talking to Strangers | Jordan Harbinger
- The “Marshmallow Test” Said Patience Was a Key to Success. A New Replication Tells Us S’more. | Vox
- Bystander Effect in Street Disputes Disquestioned | NSCR
- Marie R. Lindegaard | Twitter
- Some Men Just Want to Watch the World Burn | The Dark Knight
- The Story of the WWI Christmas Truce | Smithsonian Magazine
- Why Do People Bully? The Scientific Reasons | Ditch the Label
- This Filmmaker Sat Down Neo-Nazis and Jihadists. Here’s What She Learned. | Vox
- Maria Konnikova | Pulling Off the Biggest Bluff | Jordan Harbinger
Rutger Bregman | Humankind: A Hopeful History (Episode 494)
Jordan Harbinger: Coming up on The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[00:00:02] Rutger Bregman: Well, I like to call it the puppification of humanity. So you literally see that we look sort of kinder, friendlier, than our ancestors. We've domesticated ourselves. Just like, you know, dogs are domesticated wolves, basically. You know they've been selected for a very long time for friendliness and tameness. Exactly the same process of domestication, we also see it with humans. And I think it's the secret of our success, because it has enabled us to build something, this collective culture, this collective knowledge that no other species has been able to do.
[00:00:40] Jordan Harbinger: Welcome to the show. I'm Jordan Harbinger. On The Jordan Harbinger Show, we decode the stories, secrets, and skills of the world's most fascinating people. We have in-depth conversations with people at the top of their game, astronauts and entrepreneurs, spies and psychologists, even the occasional four-star general, Russian spy, or a neuroscientist. And each episode turns our guests' wisdom into practical advice that you can use to build a deeper understanding of how the world works and become a better critical thinker.
[00:01:07] If you're new to the show, or you're looking for a handy way to tell your friends about it, we have episodes starter packs. Those are at jordanharbinger.com/start. They are collections of your favorite episodes, organized by popular topics. They can help you and/or new listeners get a taste of everything that we do here on the show. Again, jordanharbinger.com/start is where you can find those and get started. And we love it if you help other people get started with the show here as well.
[00:01:31] Today, many people have this view of humanity that people are just going to do whatever they want. They're selfish, they're self-serving, they're primal. And on some of our worst days, we might actually believe this. But as you'll hear from our conversation today, it just isn't true. That science does not back this up. Rutger Bregman is a Dutch historian. And today, he'll argue that us humans we're fundamentally mostly decent. And if more of us would just realize this, it would be beneficial to everyone, to humankind as a whole. Today, we'll debunk some of the sacred cows of social science and show that humans even devoid of structure, rules, and government are actually better to each other when left to our own devices. This was a really interesting conversation with a super sharp guest. I know you're really going to enjoy it.
[00:02:14] And if you're wondering how I managed to book all of these amazing authors and thinkers and creators every single week, it's because of my network. And I'm teaching you how to build your network for free over at jordanharbinger.com/course. Most of the guests on the show, they subscribe to the course. They contribute to the course. Come join us, you'll be in smart company where you belong. Now, here's Rutger Bregman.
[00:02:37] We have this view of humanity that people are going to do what they want. We're selfish, self-serving, primal but this is, at least according to your book, not true. And look, I want to believe that. So on the same side here. I love the idea that people are not — this is like an Anne Frank thing, right? Like people really are good at heart, even though there's some horrible stuff that happens out there. The general population is not a bunch of trampled babies to get toilet paper because of the pandemic folks. It's just that, that's what we see. And we'll talk about the reason we have this bias, but first in the prologue of the book, you give the example of the London Blitz, which actually says that crises bring out the best, not the worst in people. Can you tell us about that?
[00:03:19] Rutger Bregman: It's a really fascinating story because basically everything is in there. You got to imagine that just before the start of the Second World War, many of the experts in the military believe that the war was going to be decided in the air, you know, by the bombers and the fighter planes. And that once the bombs would start falling on a big city, London, that people would go nuts, basically that they would start to panic. And that the military, at some point couldn't really fight the enemy anymore because they would have their hands full controlling the masses. So they were really preparing for this, setting a lot of psychiatric hospitals, for example, in London, just before the war. And this was also the strategy of the German military, by the way, they also thought, "You know, if we just bombed the hell out of them, then we'll break their morale.
[00:04:10] Now, what's interesting. Is that what happened was pretty much the opposite. So as soon as the bomb started falling, it seems as if some kind of, you know, strange serenity dawned on London and there was actually an explosion of altruism and cooperation. The number of suicides activity went down. There's even some evidence that people after the war missed this period in which it was basically everyone for everyone, and there were no distinctions between the left and the right and rich and poor, et cetera. This obviously had to be explained—
[00:04:41] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:04:42] Rutger Bregman: How could they be so resilient, these British people? And so what they came up was a cultural explanation. They said, "You know, this is just our stiff upper lip. We are such a special people. We've got our dry humor, et cetera, et cetera. And that explains it." Now, in 1942, 1943, the British [Eric Lamont] had to decide, "What are we going to do with our planes? The tide of the war sterning and now we can start bombing the Germans." He could have said, "Well, we'll try a different strategy," right? And some people high up in the government said, "Well, let's just bomb the railroads. Let's bomb the industry, et cetera, the factories where all their materials are being produced," but they didn't really win the debate, the discussion because other people said, "No, no, no. We got to bomb the German cities, the German people because they have a much weaker, moral character than we are. They don't have this special British culture. If we just bomb the hell out of them, it will be very easy to break German morale." That's what they did. And well—
[00:05:40] Jordan Harbinger: It didn't work.
[00:05:40] Rutger Bregman: It didn't work.
[00:05:41] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:05:41] Rutger Bregman: The same thing happened again because it turns out it wasn't British culture. It was human nature. This is what people do during times of crises, we tend to pull together and, in a way, it brings out the best in us. So I think it's a hugely ironical part of the history of the Second World War, because all of these experts and politicians believe that average people couldn't handle it and that they would just start to panic but really the opposite happened.
[00:06:08] Jordan Harbinger: The same thing — this is not quite the same, but it's very similar in Serbia when NATO was bombing them. I remember a lot of people telling me afterwards, like, "You know, this sounds weird, but it was a great time," because nobody that really went to work, unless you were in the military or something like that, a lot of people weren't at work. They weren't at school. So it was like, wake up. You're going to hang out with your friends. The news is going to be on or not because it was always the same thing. "Hey, we make it bomb today, whatever." Everyone hated Slobodan Milosevic, who was the dictator at that time. But it was like, go out, play cards. "Oh, the power went out because we got bombed. Well, all right, light a candle, and bust out a fresh deck of cards and pull out a case of beer or the homemade moonshine, the Rakija, that they drank. There's a lot of people that felt like, "This is probably one of the best times of my childhood, was getting bombed by NATO as weird as it sounds." But then even adults who were probably more scared than kids, just because they're like in their 40s or even in their 50s, they were saying, "You know, that was the time where my mom was living with us because we didn't want her living alone during a bombing. My dad was living with us because we didn't want him alone. And then all the grandkids were over here all the time. And we had all the food and all the family and everyone was hanging out and we knew we weren't going to get bombed. We live in a freaking house. They weren't bombing houses. They were bombing the Defense Department miles away." They really loved in a weird way, that period of time, where they were getting bombed. And of course, they were thinking, "And now we can start thinking about Slobodan and how crappy he is. And we can start thinking about NATO in America and how bad they are, because they're the ones who are launching freaking missiles at us. It's hard to hate the guy who's saying stupid shit on TV. Like that is the least of our problems.
[00:07:43] Rutger Bregman: It's very strange, isn't it? All these Hollywood movies, they couldn't be more wrong. The same is true by the way, for how people respond to natural disasters. So if you watch a standard disaster movie, it's all about, again, people panicking and they start looting, they start plundering. They basically reveal who they really are, that deep down people are just nasty and selfish. And that when civilization disappears, which is only just a thin veneer, anyway, we reveal who we really are, which is just animals or monsters or beasts. That's the same story that we've been told over and over again.
[00:08:18] The science of disasters actually says the opposite. So we now have more than 700 case studies done by sociologists from around the globe. And they studied again and again in different countries how people respond to an earthquake or tsunami or a flooding or something like that. And again, and again, you see the same phenomenon, people start cooperating on a massive scale, again, from the left to the right, rich, poor, young, old. It's often the stories in the media that are very different, obviously.
[00:08:46] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:08:46] Rutger Bregman: Right. The stories in the media tend to focus on rumors about looting and plundering. And some of that is real, but it's a very small part of all of the behavior that is happening.
[00:08:56] Jordan Harbinger: Right. So Hurricane Katrina comes to mind, right? It seems like it just started off. It was just chaos. And you see like, all of these people are spray painting houses. Like, "Help me. There's a body inside. And if kids are getting murdered and there's rape gangs running around," and then it looks like you were sort of investigating this and it's like, well, okay. Maybe like one or two isolated cases of this, but otherwise the looting was — this was in your own book, right? That the looting was like people stealing water to give to people who didn't have water. It was less like, "I need a bigger flat screen TV and more, we don't have any food over here, and there's a grocery store that's empty. Let's go take all that food and give it away."
[00:09:35] Rutger Bregman: And look, there will always be nasty, selfish people. I don't deny the existence of these kinds of people, but there are quite tiny minority, especially in those situations.
[00:09:45] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:09:46] Rutger Bregman: A wonderful book about this. It's been written by Rebecca Solnit called A Paradise Built in Hell. I think the title says it all is that people really sort of miss this paradise after the disasters ended. Many people describe it afterwards as one of the most wonderful periods of their lives, which is very weird and strange. But I think it says something fundamental about human nature. It says something about what our real superpower is as a species, which is that in times of crisis, we can cooperate and work together.
[00:10:14] Jordan Harbinger: Do we see that COVID is any different, right? Like maybe bombings bring people together. The pandemic causes isolation. Because you talk about the bombing, you talk about Hurricane Katrina, but like COVID we see people, "I'm not wearing a mask. That's something, something freedom. I can't quite articulate it, but something, something freedom." And it's like, "Hey, you're being really selfish here." "Oh, well, you know what? F you! I'm going to cough on you, even though you have a baby in your hands." Or is that the news showing us the 0.1 percent of people that have completely lost their shit and should probably be in prison, the baby coughers. And everyone else is just kind of like, "Look, I don't want to wear a mask. I think it's kind of BS, but I'm not going to make a big deal out of it." Like, are we just seeing the fringe of the fringe crazies out there?
[00:10:55] Rutger Bregman: There's so much to say about this. The first thing I think to keep in mind is that viruses are in a way attacking our very humanity itself because we humans, we have evolved to connect with each other. We want to touch, hear, feel, see each other. And we basically can't do that when there's a pandemic going on. So we have to deny a very fundamental part of who we are. That's the pro-social thing. That's the right thing to do, but it's obviously very hard and it's completely understandable that people find it very hard, especially when you have to do it for months and months and months. .
[00:11:28] Therefore, I think it's, to be honest, pretty impressive, actually, that still billions of people around the globe quite radically changed our lifestyle to stop the virus from spreading further, even though this was a threat, they couldn't see, they couldn't fully understand, but they still did it. I thought that was quite impressive and especially the beginning of the pandemic obviously, you saw a lot of phenomena that were quite similar to what happens after a natural disaster. You know, people singing on the balconies in Italy and a huge amount of — you know, just small acts of kindness, people helping their neighbors, et cetera, et cetera.
[00:12:00] Obviously, quite a bit of that fades away as it goes on and on, and people are used to the situation, but still, I would say that the headline of the pandemic has been cooperation. Also on the scientific front, by the way, I mean, it's just been amazing to see how quickly the sciences have developed all these highly effective vaccines.
[00:12:18] About the mask wearing what you get — you see, there is obviously the tribal part of our nature. So I wouldn't say that people who say, "Oh, I don't believe in masks," or even think that, you know, COVID is some kind of conspiracy or that's all fake, or it's just like the flu or whatever, that they're all evil or selfish people.
[00:12:36] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[00:12:36] Rutger Bregman: Now, they're just a part of the other political team, I'd say and it's just a sign of how far polarization has gone. It's really the two sides of human nature. On the one hand, we've evolved to be one of the friendliest species in the animal kingdom, with the ability to cooperate on a scale that pretty much no other animal can do. But on the other hand, we're incredibly groupish, we're incredibly tribal. We just want to be liked. We don't want to be left alone. We want to be part of our own group. And if that means that we even threatened our own health by not wearing masks or not getting a vaccine, because that's what our group has decided to do well, so be it. So I wouldn't say it's selfishness, it's really groupish is what we see there.
[00:13:15] Jordan Harbinger: That's an interesting differentiation. In the book, you talk about veneer theory, right? And this is the idea that you were talking about before, correct me if I'm wrong, where humanity or society as — I let the other person go in front of me or the other person behind me in line is in a hurry, I let them go. Like that all melts away as soon as there's lawlessness. And then I'm just like stabbing them in the parking lot with a sharp pencil for their toilet paper, because there's no consequences for me and as soon as that close, but that turns out to just be like — well, it just turns out to not be true. Veneer theory is interesting because a lot of people believe it and yet we believe it almost because we see some of it on the news, but it's like, there's a part of us that wants to believe it. Right? Why do we want to believe this? Or do we? Because that's what it really looks like. It looks like we want to believe that everyone is a total POS. The second there's no guns aimed at us from authorities.
[00:14:04] Rutger Bregman: Yeah. Yeah. This is really one of the biggest questions that I spent so much time thinking about it. Why do we so often believe that most people are just selfish and nasty? I think there are basically four reasons. So the first, most superficial reason is obviously the kind of information that we get every day. You know what we call the news. The news is mostly about exceptions, about things that go wrong, corruption, violence, terrorism, et cetera. If you watch a lot of the news, then you get what psychologists call mean world syndrome, where you get the feeling that the world is just a nasty place and human nature is very dark, which is why I recommend that people stop consuming all this news. If it was a drug—
[00:14:44] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:14:44] Rutger Bregman: If someone would see news today and was introduced as something, probably the government would say, "Well, no, we can't, we can't allow that because it has all these dangerous side effects. And you know, it's not good for your health," but that's only sort of a superficial explanation. If you go a little bit deeper than you find out that veneer theory actually has deep roots in Western culture. It goes back all the way to the ancient Greeks. Thucydides, the Greek historian, who already wrote about the plague in Athens or the Civil War in Corcyra and had some very dark observations about human nature, or think about Christianity, Orthodox Christianity, that was built on the idea that people are just sinners and that there's something called original sin. Or read Enlightenment philosophers of the 17th and the 18th century. You would expect some kind of break between Christianity and the Enlightenment philosophers. But when you look at their view of human nature, it's actually quite similar. These philosophers also believe that people are fundamentally selfish.
[00:15:41] If you study the works of the founding fathers of the United States, it's also full of veneer theory. John Adams once wrote an essay with the title, All Men Would Be Tyrants if They Could. And that's exactly what they had in mind when they were designing the constitution of the United States, because they believed there had to be some kind of balance of power, right? All these selfish people needed to keep each other in check, because that was the only way you were going to have stability.
[00:16:06] Now, we move on a little bit in time and you look at the 19th century and the rise of evolutionary theory, which quickly became social Darwinism. Again, you know, survival of the fittest, which was interpreted by a lot of people as survive of the nastiest. Then we have the rise of capitalism. And I think at the heart of capitalism is, again, the idea that people are just selfish or as Gordon Gekko said, "Greed is good," right? So from the ancient Greeks to the Orthodox Christians, to the Enlightenment philosophers to the capitalists from the left to the right, from the religious to the atheist, again and again, and again, and again, the same idea, people are just selfish. Now, we got to go even deeper because then the question is why did they come up with the same idea again and again and again.
[00:16:46] Jordan Harbinger: Right, yeah, if it's not true, what's the deal, right?
[00:16:49] Rutger Bregman: Yeah, exactly. I would say the most fundamental reason why the idea comes back again and again, is that it's in the interest of those in power, because if people cannot trust each other, if they believe that deep down, most people are just selfish and nasty, then someone needs to be in control. Then we need hierarchy. Then we need kings and queens and presidents and CEOs and managers, et cetera, to control all those selfish people, because the alternative would be some kind of war of all against all, right? So I guess that's the most fundamental reason. And lastly, why are we so vulnerable to this? Why as individuals do we often believe it? Or do we fall for the stories that our leaders often tell us? Well, it says the negativity bias. This is something that has been proved over and over again in psychology is that the negative is just stronger than the positive, man. It just has a bigger impact on us.
[00:17:44] There's one psychologist. What's his name? Roy Baumeister who says that, you know, for every bad event you need, like at least four positive events to sort of counterbalance that.
[00:17:55] Jordan Harbinger: For me, personally, it's like 10 to one, right? I get 10 five-star reviews or like, "This podcast is great. He has the best guest, such a good interviewer." And then I get one, two-star and the person is like, this guy interrupts all the time. Like you just did with Rutger Bregman." You know, I don't like Jordan, he's a dipsh*t." And then I'm like, "Guys, did you see the reviews today?" And they're like, "Yeah, it's so great. You know? Isn't it fulfilling?" And I go, "That POS said I interrupted a lot," and I did just right there.
[00:18:19] Rutger Bregman: Yeah, yeah.
[00:18:19] Jordan Harbinger: So he's not wrong, but still—
[00:18:21] Rutger Bregman: I was giving very long answers, but you're asking very big questions.
[00:18:25] Jordan Harbinger: Sorry. Maybe I should listen to the negative feedback. Maybe they're right. They are obviously. I can't even shut up now — look.
[00:18:33] Rutger Bregman: It's something that people will recognize indeed in their own lives. This sort of the power of the negative but you see it in politics, you see it in the media. Yeah, it's something we're susceptible to. I've got one chapter in my book about contact theory, which isn't relatively all theory from psychology developed in the 1950s about what we can do against hate and prejudice and racism. And the simple answer is, well, contact. If people just meet each other and become friends, then that's the best medicine we have. That sounds obvious maybe, but everything is obvious once you know the answer. So you got to do the actual research and scientists have done that. Now, we've got more than 500 studies again from around the globe that indeed show, yes, contact works pretty well if you want to counter prejudice and racism and hate.
[00:19:18] But there's one interesting thing, if people have a negative experience with someone from another group that obviously has a much bigger impact on what they think about that group, right? If you are, let's say, a Dutch guy living here in the Netherlands and you have a negative experience like there's someone, a Moroccan young guy or something, someone robs you on the street, obviously that's going to have a bigger impact than all these small acts of kindness that you experienced with other people with a Moroccan background. Now, why then does contact still work? But researchers have said it still works because the number of positive interactions that people have once, they lived in more diverse environments, vastly outnumber the negative interactions. So, yeah, it's the only way the good can win with an overwhelming majority basically and luckily often it does exactly that.
[00:20:08] Jordan Harbinger: I like, by the way, that you didn't take a self-help angle with this book, by the way, we're the number one show on self-help today, which has got a funny, but there is too much self-help out there right now and I agree. I agree. There's like a lot of introspection, but too little outrospection, which is kind of what we're trying to do with some of your work here, right?
[00:20:25] Rutger Bregman: You know, I'm not necessarily against self-help, against looking into the mirror and trying to improve yourself.
[00:20:31] Jordan Harbinger: Of course, I didn't take it that way, right? No, of course.
[00:20:33] Rutger Bregman: Yeah, yeah. I would say though, that I'm actually working on a bit of a self-helpy book right now. But if I would write a self-help book, it would not be about how to live a happier life or how to live a more successful life or how to live a more mindful life or something like that, but how to live a more difficult life, how to make life more difficult for yourself. Because to be honest—
[00:20:53] Jordan Harbinger: It's going to be a bestseller, man. How to make your life even harder than it is now?
[00:21:00] Rutger Bregman: Because that's basically where progress comes from. It comes from people who are willing to make life difficult for themselves. Progress often starts with people who are first dismissed as unreasonable and unlikable and difficult and unrealistic, and then their ideas and practices start moving towards the center. If it is true that we are living in a time of extraordinary crises all happening at the same time — what we're doing to the planet? What's the state of our democracy? You name it. Then that means this era asks more of us as individuals as well. And there's a tendency among the right. People on the right always say, "Well, we got to talk about individual character," right? And then David Brooks, write another book about, I don't know, The Road to Character, blah, blah, blah. And it always feels to me as if they're trying to distract from the structural forces, you know, the inequality, the tax evasion, et cetera. No, no, no, no. We don't want to talk about tax evasion. We want to talk about, I don't know, Plato and ethics or something like that.
[00:21:57] Jordan Harbinger: You need to be stoic when people are taking the money that you pay in taxes and spending it on their jets.
[00:22:03] Rutger Bregman: Yeah.
[00:22:03] Jordan Harbinger: Be resolute in the face of that.
[00:22:06] Rutger Bregman: Yeah. And that's so annoying, isn't it? It's so annoying. But on the other hand, what I also find annoying is all these people on the left and all these progressives who go on for hours and hours about Shell and Unilever and tax evasion and Bill Gates and billionaires. But you never really want to look in the mirror, right?
[00:22:23] A couple of months ago, I was at this — it was actually a little bit longer ago. This was a couple of years ago. Here in the Netherlands, I was in Amsterdam. It's sort of like a fancy party for writers organized by a very high-profile publisher here. There were all these writers writing about inequality and tax evasion, and about climate change and blah, blah, blah, all these progressive people and then a dinner arrived. And I noticed I was literally the only vegetarian I could see. Those are moments that for me, sometimes that makes me very right-wing. That makes me want to, I don't know, what to buy copies of Road to Character and show them—
[00:23:02] Jordan Harbinger: I bet Ayn Rand everybody over there.
[00:23:05] Rutger Bregman: Yeah, exactly.
[00:23:06] Jordan Harbinger: Tell me about the real-life Lord of the Flies story, right? Because this is absolutely incredible. First of all, the story itself is incredible. And secondly, I think Lord of the Flies is what everyone points to, when we think like, well, humans left to their own devices, well Lord of the Flies, and it's like, well, yeah, a fictional work, right? First of all, second of all, well, yeah, well, you tell it.
[00:23:27] Rutger Bregman: Yeah. Well, this is a great example of veneer theory. After the Second World War people obviously have to deal with the question: why did we do this? How has humanity been capable of such atrocities? Genocide in a way we've never seen before on an industrial scale. Now, obviously the easiest explanation that people had was again, veneer theory. It was the explanation that people had always use to explain bad behavior. So there was a real demand out there for someone to write a book in a creative way where veneer theory was once again, used to basically explain the horrors of the Second World War.
[00:24:04] And I think that's what William Golding did with Lord of the Flies. He wrote it in 1956 book about children that ship wrecked on an Island, or actually it's an airplane that crashes. Anyway, they end up on the Island and at first they try to build a democracy of sorts. They tried to work together, but very quickly human nature took over the kids turned into savages, revealed who they really are, and at the end of the novel, three of them are dead, and they've basically turned into monsters. And that's the story that we've been telling to millions and millions of children from around the globe since 1956. Basically, for decades, it's been one of the most influential stories in British and American culture, but also in other European countries. It's been incredibly influential. I would say that, especially for the British political class, people in parliament, especially in the government who went to boarding schools, et cetera, Lord of the Flies is their worldview. That is how they look at the world.
[00:25:03] So for this book, I just asked myself a very, very simple question. Here we have a novel, so that's fiction. Has it ever really happened? Because that would be interesting.
[00:25:14] Jordan Harbinger: Right, sure.
[00:25:15] Rutger Bregman: Can we find one story of real kids who shipwrecked on a real Island sometime? And how did they behave? It turns out that scientifically this is hard to do. So most parents wouldn't agree to dump their kids on an Island just for the—
[00:25:29] Jordan Harbinger: You just got the timing wrong. You know, you got to ask them like a week or two before Christmas when they're being horrible or maybe a week or two after Christmas. And it's like, you would have so many kids locked in the back of a truck. Like, "Take them, throw them on the Island. I'll be back in two months."
[00:25:43] Rutger Bregman: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Anyway, I had to rely on a natural experiment. I thought maybe this happened sometime by accident. So as a proper investigative journalist, I obviously started Googling and after a couple of hours, I found this secure blog where story was told that supposedly, in 1977, there were six Scott kids near in Tonga, which is an island group in the Pacific Ocean who didn't like school. There were students at a boarding school, who borrowed a boat and then said, "You know what? We're going to go on an adventure." They ended up in a storm already on the first night drifted for eight days, the shipwrecks on this uninhabited Island and supposedly survived there for more than a year by staying friends. That's the story that I found on this blog. And I was obviously very excited about it. I thought, "Oh, this is wonderful." I wrote a short article about it, myself. Share it with readers. And then all these readers responded very skeptically. And they said, "Come on, Rutger, you know, you can do better than this. Do you actually believe this happened? You know, there's no source here. It's just a story on the Internet. You just want to believe that humans are pretty decent. Are you working on the new book? Is this a material for—?" Anyway, they didn't believe it. And I thought, "Okay. That's fair. I got to do some more research here."
[00:26:55] So yeah, I devoted basically a year of my life on this story and after a lot of research in the archives, I found out that actually it didn't happen in 1977. That was a typo. By accident, I discovered that had happened in 1966. And I found an article, short article in a newspaper, Australian newspaper, The Age that said that yeah, indeed six kids have been found and they had survived for more than a year on the silent near Tonga. And then I thought, well, maybe they're still alive.
[00:27:26] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[00:27:27] Rutger Bregman: It's 50 years later. And they were around 14, 15 years old at the time, but you know, they should still be alive if I'm lucky I can track them down. So yeah, that's basically what I did. It took a lot of time, but I managed to find one of them in Australia and I'm one of them lives in the United States. And I also managed to find the captain who sort of found them after 15 months.
[00:27:49] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:27:50] Rutger Bregman: And you know, together, they told me the story of the real Lord of the Flies. And I can assure you if this would be a fictional novel or a Hollywood movie, people would say, "This is incredibly unrealistic. That would never happen. Please allow me to barf. This is a way too romantic. Kids would never, never behave like that."
[00:28:15] Jordan Harbinger: The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guests, Rutger Bregman. We'll be right back.
[00:28:19] This episode is sponsored in part by Mailman HQ. Do you get too many emails bombarding you at all hours of the day? I used to and I would get distracted by my inbox all the time. It's the deepest rabbit hole there ever is. What's even worse is you go to zero out your inbox and then people's replies come in while you're answering other emails and the stress just compounds. Now, we've been using Mailman. Mailman allows me to control when I want to receive my emails. For example, you can elect to receive them twice a day once at 7:00 a.m. Then one set, 1:30 p.m. All of the emails are collected and delivered to me in batches at those two times. Nothing comes in between no more distractions, no pile up, calling my name between other tasks. What I like is that I can also screen incoming emails from first-time senders. So I have fewer spam and marketing emails coming in. I'm more comfortable sharing my email address in public now. Here, firstname.lastname@example.org. Send me your feedback on this episode directly to me. No matter how many emails I've received now, I'm not overwhelmed by my inbox and I can keep that thing more or less at zero, which is a great feeling and keeps my business and my communication with you, lovely folks, on track.
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[00:30:44] Jordan Harbinger: Now, back to Rutger Bregman on The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[00:30:48] Well, it's funny, right? Because they put a fire, they made a fire, right? A rescue fire. It kept it going for like the whole year or, I mean, maybe it went out, but they released it. You know, they kept it going here. They had all these different dynamics of how they could — if somebody got mad, they had to go to the other side of the Island. They come back, they apologize. Everything's better because they realized they had this overarching goal of survival. What I felt was funny is they built water collection, but also they built a gym on this impossible to inhabit Island. And I thought this is funny because I'm like, I can imagine these teenage guys being like, "Look, we need food. We need water. But we got to start doing squats because I want to be Jack AF when I get off this Island. I want to come back and be ripped."
[00:31:25] Rutger Bregman: They were, they were. The doctors who examined them after they came back were really astonished to see how healthy they were and how muscular they were. It was really bizarre. One of the kids actually fell down one of the cliffs and broke a leg, but the other five cared for him really well. They also applied some traditional medicine that was really important that they have this knowledge. So, yeah, they were basically fine. That's why I hesitate to say that they were rescued by this captain because they were not really rescued. They were picked up. I mean, they were bored witless. Don't get me wrong.
[00:31:57] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[00:31:57] Rutger Bregman: They really wanted to leave the Island. They also had their own badminton court. They have made a sort of guitar and started writing a lot of songs and that kind of thing, but in almost every single way, the real Lord of the Flies is the opposite of the fictional Lord of the Flies. Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying this is some kind of scientific experiment. If he would drop me on an Island or if you would have dropped me on an Island when I was 15, you know, I don't highly specialized knowledge of Red Alert 2 or Command & Conquer games or Age of Vampires, that was not going to help me to survive probably.
[00:32:32] Jordan Harbinger: No.
[00:32:32] Rutger Bregman: But I am saying that millions of kids around the globe are still basically forced to read Lord of the Flies in school then can we please also tell them about the one time in all of world history that we know of where real kids shipwrecked on a real Island because that's a totally different story.
[00:32:49] Jordan Harbinger: Reality TV would have us think that people are just horrible once the rules are out. That would prove veneer theory. But now, it seems like maybe that's just what happens when the cameras are on. And you talk about this in the book. You give some examples of just how much prodding from a TV producer, or is actually required to routinely create negative drama, mistreat one another. And you have shows like The Real World where it's like, "Oh, people are just being real," but I know people who've been on that show, producers for that show. And they're like, "All right, what are we going to do? They're not really doing anything. Get them really drunk. And then we want to do this thing where it looks like Stacy's trying to get with Tracy's man. And we're going to like take him out of the equation so that he can't clarify that there's nothing going on. And then we're just going to put the girls together, outside doing something that they both hate so that it just kicks off. Make sure the cameras are rolling." Its like you have to construct this chess board to get people to be pissed off with each other, or you have nothing on TV. Nobody wants to watch people garden and have fun over drinks for 13 or 30 seasons.
[00:33:52] Rutger Bregman: Yeah. You know, I have a lot of respect for these producers of reality television because it's incredibly hard. You know, they're working with humans and humans tend to be relatively nice and friendly to people. So it's really hard work to bring out the worst in them. You've got to deceive them, you got to lie to them. You got to give them a lot of alcohol, et cetera. And then maybe something small happens that you can take out of context and then feed it to someone else. And then maybe you can get something going, but sometimes it goes horribly wrong.
[00:34:21] Actually two years ago, there was a season of Temptation Island. Do you have that?
[00:34:26] Jordan Harbinger: I'm sure I've seen it. I'm sure I've seen like the advertisements. It sounds like — I don't know what it is though or anything, no.
[00:34:33] Rutger Bregman: It's Basically like couples going to an Island and they're being seduced by seducers who are like really handsome men and girls, et cetera. That's the idea. And then can they resist the temptation. Anyway, it turns out that yeah, they really can and quite often that yeah, nothing really happens. And so there was this particular season where everyone on Twitter was incredibly angry at the producers of Temptation Island, because it was the most boring season ever. It was like, "Are they going to start f*cking already? I'm wasting my time watching this. What is this?"
[00:35:05] Jordan Harbinger: Right. "I want to watch other people's relationships fall apart so I can feel better about myself. Why is it taking so long?" Yeah.
[00:35:13] Rutger Bregman: Exactly.
[00:35:13] Jordan Harbinger: That makes sense. I love the fact that — I mean, look, even on regular reality TV, they show the trailer and you're like, "Whoa, that looks pretty juicy." And then you watch the full clip, which is still contrived bullsh*t. And you're like, "Oh, that was it. Eeh, whatever." I mean, you're right. It does take a lot of poking and prodding and setting up with a play board here.
[00:35:29] Rutger Bregman: Yeah.
[00:35:30] Jordan Harbinger: You mentioned that humans may have evolved to become more social. You talked about how we possibly survived an ice age because we developed the ability to work together. But you also mentioned that we may have evolved to become more cute, which I think is funny because I can definitively say that I am less cute as time goes on. What am I doing wrong?
[00:35:48] Rutger Bregman: Yeah, this is what science is called self -domestication theory. For a very long time, researchers have been asking the question: what makes us special as a species? Why have we conquered the globe? Why not the Neanderthals or the bonobos or the chimpanzees? What is it really that distinguishes us from these other animals? For a long time, we like to believe that we are just very smart. We've got these huge brains that take up around 20 percent of the energy that we consume. So yeah, maybe that's it. But then you do intelligence test and you let a human toddler of around two years old compete with a pig or a chimpanzee. And then quite often the animals win. It's a bit uncomfortable. So it's really hard to argue that on an individual level, people are that smart.
[00:36:34] Actually, if we think about what we can and what we have and what we do and what we know, we mostly got it from other people, right? I'm using technology right now. I have no idea, no clue how it works. It couldn't make it on my own. Actually, people are incredibly incompetent in most respects of their lives. We've just learned to rely on others. That we can just work together in big groups. And we've got this thing that scientists call cumulative culture. Language, for example, we don't invent our own languages. It's something that's just developed and passed on generation to generation. That's it really. That's what distinguishes us from other animals.
[00:37:09] Some scientists talk about survival of the friendliest. Which means that for millennia was actually the front among us who had the most kids and had the biggest chance of passing on their genes to the next generation. And there's really striking evidence for that. If you look at the archeological record, for example, and you compare skeletons human skeletons, you know, of Homo sapiens from 50,000 years ago, 40,000 years ago, 30, 20, 10,000 years ago, what you see is the — well, I like to call it the puppification of humanity. So you literally see that we look kinder, friendlier than our ancestors. We've domesticated ourselves. Just like, you know, dogs are domesticated wolves, basically. You know, they've been selected for a very long time for friendliness and tameness and this exactly the same process of domestication, we also see it with humans. And I think it's the secret of our success because it has enabled us to build something, this collective culture, this collective knowledge that no other species has been able to do.
[00:38:10] Jordan Harbinger: Further, you mentioned in the book, primitive societies didn't fight wars as often as we think, right? We kind of have this image, or I kind of have this image that like primitive societies are running around and they run into another group in the Savannah picking fruit off of the Berry things. And it's like, "All right, everybody pick up rocks and smash these people and kill them and take their baskets." But it's not necessarily, that's not really supported by science necessarily.
[00:38:35] Rutger Bregman: No.
[00:38:35] Jordan Harbinger: And it seems like there's also some evidence that early civilization may have been even more egalitarian, less macho BS, aggressive types were not necessarily rewarded. Episode 28 of this show. I did an episode with James Fallon. He's a researcher about psychopaths and psychopathy. And one thing he mentioned was that since some societies nowadays are so dysfunctional, such as many in the United States, like urban centers, South America, you look at Honduras, Guatemala, like there's some serious, serious problems there where it's almost just gang warfare, gang life that nature in those areas is actually selecting for psychopaths who can be brutal and can protect their partners and their offspring from violence. But this may not have been/probably wasn't the case in primitive societies.
[00:39:24] Rutger Bregman: Yeah, it probably was the opposite. So anthropologists have studied hundreds of nomadic hunter-gatherer societies from around the globe and obviously, you see a huge amount of differences. So the culture of hunters in the jungle in Brazil is going to be very different from the culture of people who live in the desert in Namibia or people who live in the Tundra or live in the ice. It's still going to be very different, but there are also striking, striking similarities. One of the most striking similarities is that they tend to have these egalitarian cultures. Humbleness is very important for leaders. There are leaders. So especially if you are simply better at something, you know that you're a better storyteller or you're a better hunter, then people think that it makes sense that you basically lead, but leadership is temporary. And again, humbleness is prerequisite. So being a narcissist or being arrogant is potentially lethal actually. The group can really crack down on you. That people don't like you. You're being expelled. And yeah, being expelled is basically a death sentence because you can't survive on your own. And it's all a fair environment.
[00:40:32] So this is what anthropologists called a reverse dominance hierarchy. And it's pretty much the opposite of the political system that we have today. In a reverse dominance hierarchy, well, it's an actual democracy, right? It's the people who control the leaders instead of the other way around. It was in that kind of political environment that we spent most of our time, basically as a species. You know, 95 percent of our history, we weren't nomadic hunter-gatherers in that period of history, there was all this evolutionary pressure. And in that period of our history, friendliness actually helped you to survive. The friendly people got more kids. Nice guys finish first.
[00:41:08] And it's so striking that you can still see this within our own DNA and in our own bodies today. So for example, one pretty fascinating thing about humans is that we are the only species in the whole animal kingdom, with the ability to blush, we involuntarily give away our feelings to other members of our species in order to establish trust. Now, you can ask the question, why do we blush? How could there ever been, have been an evolutionary advantage to just give away our feelings? So we don't actually want to do that? Well, the reason is it works on a group level. It helps us to trust each other. And obviously, then if you think about where we are right now and think about some of our leaders, and we can't really imagine them blushing anymore.
[00:41:49] Jordan Harbinger: No they're blush proof.
[00:41:51] Rutger Bregman: Exactly. And it's more like survival of the shameless instead of survival of the friendliest. Yeah. It's a real indictment of the thing that we call democracy today, but I would say an elective aristocracy where the only thing we're allowed to do is to pick our own aristocrats, but that's pretty much it. We've come very far from our original political system.
[00:42:13] Jordan Harbinger: The book further explains how humans transition from hunting and gathering to farming what we call now, civilization. And you do a really good job debunking Robbers Cave, the Stanford prison experiment, the Milgram shock experiments, which people have heard of where like they thought they were shocking someone else. And it turned out to be fake and they're like, "The experiment must continue," right? So if you're familiar with those and you're thinking, "Wait, what about the Stanford prison experiment? What about all these people who were shocking others?" Turns out, you know, maybe these aren't so reliable. I don't want to get too in the weeds on this.
[00:42:42] But one thing I will say is the Kitty Genovese murder, which is this bystander effect, right? This woman supposedly was running around a neighborhood. And I think, was it Brooklyn?
[00:42:52] Rutger Bregman: Queens.
[00:42:53] Jordan Harbinger: This is decades — so Queens, running around, she was stabbed a bunch of times, like over two hours and nobody did anything and nobody called the police. And it just illustrates how people are so callous. And there's this bystander effect where if nobody's doing anything about something, then nobody will do anything to help someone in need. I'd like to dig into this a little bit because this story is so horrible and people do point to this and go, "Look, I mean, this woman was murdered. Look how terrible civilization/America/New York really is right. Let's poke some holes in this.
[00:43:27] Rutger Bregman: Yeah. I used to believe in this as well. So. I had read books by Malcolm Gladwell, for example, who gives the example of Kitty Genovese. I've read the papers by some psychologists who try to build a whole theory, indeed, of the bystander effects on it. I really thought it was, I thought it was true, but it turns out that almost everything about this whole field of research and the story itself is completely wrong. So if you look at Kitty Genovese, the New York Times had a story two weeks off in a murder. Initially, they didn't really give it attention, but then two weeks after the homicide, there was a story that supposedly 37 people had witnessed it and basically did nothing. We now know that in reality, Kitty Genovese died in the arms of one of our best friends, Sophia Farrar, who was really angry at the media, but you know, it didn't give the story that they've wanted to hear. She recently passed away, by the way. These 37 people, that was just the list of people who were interviewed by detectives but the vast majority of them were asleep when it happened. They didn't hear anything. And if they heard something, they thought, you know, this is just a bar that is on the corner of the street. There was noise in that street. You know, basically every night there was always something going on.
[00:44:39] There were only two people who really noticed what was going on. One of them was probably a Neo-Nazi and he didn't do anything. The other one was actually a really good friend of Kitty Genovese, but it's really a tragedy because back then it was incredibly dangerous to be gay and call the police. The police back then were basically kicking and punching gays all the time. And he was drunk as well. And so he just didn't know what to do. You witnessed it and thought, "I can't call the police on my own because then they'll kick the hell out of me." And so he wasted too much time and then warned a neighbor and neighbor, which was Sophia Farrar. And then she called the cops, et cetera. It's very different from 37 people heard it and did nothing.
[00:45:27] Jordan Harbinger: Right, I studied this in law school and it was like, people saw it and closed the curtains and closed the windows. They were screaming, "Help me, help me." And people like pretend that they didn't hear and turn the TV up. And it's just all bullsh*t.
[00:45:39] Rutger Bregman: It's really bizarre. At some point people started writing that there was one couple who just opened the window and put two chairs in from the window and then dimmed the light for a better view. I mean, it's total fake news, but somehow this became incredibly famous and it ended up in all the psychology textbooks. If you study psychology anywhere in the world today, there's still a pretty big chance that they'll teach you about Kitty Genovese. I'm getting emails from psychology PhDs regularly that say, "Oh, I didn't know that."
[00:46:08] What was even more interesting is that this whole research into the bystander effect that people suppose that they don't do anything when there's an emergency going on, someone's attacked in the street, someone's drowning because they think, "You know what? It's not my responsibility. Other people are around here. They can interfere. I don't have to do anything." That was based on laboratory experiments, which are, as you know not the most reliable forms of research. Psychology has had a real crisis in the past 10 years. Basically, a huge amount of landmark studies had gone down, the marshmallow studies, and what is it? Indeed, the Stanley Milgram experiment, the Stanford prison experiment, basically all the, all these hugely famous psychology experiments that ended up in all these pop scientific books that we all love — I'm afraid it's all wrong.
[00:46:58] Jordan Harbinger: Right. It turned out to be reality TV where it's like, "Hey, we're doing this fake prison thing. And look at the guards being sadistic. And then you go and dig in and it's like, it was boring and nothing was happening because everybody was just being normal and the prisoners were being treated well. And they're like, "No, no, no, no, no, no. Do something terrible. And then like make this guy miss his exam." And so the guy has to fake sick and they're like, "Look, he's sick. And no one cares." And it's like, "No, no, no, no. You're making people do this because your results are otherwise, it doesn't support your conclusion and you're trying to get tenure or whatever.
[00:47:27] Rutger Bregman: Yeah. It's really unbelievable how crappy all that science has been and how influential it's been.
[00:47:35] Jordan Harbinger: This is The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Rutger Bregman. We'll be right back.
[00:47:40] This episode is sponsored in part by TextExpander. And I love TextExpander. I've been using it for years. People always think that emails and messages I send are either from a robot or not actually me because they can't believe I would spend time doing that. One, I love you. But two, I respond to thousands of messages because I use TextExpander and it saves me a crap load of time. Our entire team uses TextExpander. It's like keyboard shortcuts, but on fire. Don't just take it from me. A listener just tried this out and has this to say about TextExpander. "Hey Jordan, I started listening to your podcast. I've learned so much from you and the guests, but the overall point of my email is actually the TextExpander tool and ad. I know this is a way for your show to be sponsored and supported, which I'm a hundred percent about, but it's also a tool I thought it would be useful for my day job. I've been helping my team improve our everyday operations in the company. And I presented TextExpander to my VP of operations and they were blown away by the tool. They want me to get it incorporated into the company and gave me serious props within the organization. We have a customer service center. So a lot of the TextExpander functionality is going to help with tickets and notes, but we're also going to use it with our engineering team, which is just total bonus points." So if you're trying to get a little prompt for your boss, try TextExpander for free. It'll increase your productivity. And our listeners get 20 percent off your first year by going to textexpander.com/podcast to learn more about TextExpander.
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[00:49:41] Jen Harbinger: To get the hydration you need to hit your goals, visit nuunlife.com. That's N-U-U-N-L-I-F-E.com for 20% off your first order.
[00:49:50] Jordan Harbinger: This episode is also sponsored in part by MasterClass. You've heard of this. With MasterClass, you can learn from the best minds in the world. Many that were also guests on The Jordan Harbinger Show. Obviously, you can learn anytime, anywhere at your own pace. I watch mine at 2X speed, obvi. You can learn how to improve your negotiating techniques from former FBI hostage, negotiator, Chris Voss, like how mirroring behavior will help or learn some storytelling and humor from David Sedaris. You can also learn how to make elevated scrambled eggs with sea urchin and white truffle if you're a really snobby chef. You can learn from Gordon Ramsey himself. That's obviously a super popular course. Jen, you got to take that. I kind of liked the idea of white truffle and sea urchin in my eggs, just saying. So I learned that in order to make perfect fluffy scrambled eggs, you got to take the heat off for 20 seconds, then put it on for 60 seconds, then 20 seconds off. Don't cook the eggs too quickly and keep stirring it up with that spatula. Don't use a wooden spoon. I didn't think that would make a difference but it does. Here I thought I knew everything about scrambled eggs or that there was just nothing to know about scrambled eggs, but I was blown away. And what I learned in like five minutes and of course, the production quality of MasterClass is masterful.
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[00:51:07] Jordan Harbinger: Thanks for listening to and supporting the show. I know it's got to be pretty easy with great guests like this, right? This is why I love doing the show because of conversations like this, but I got mouths to feed. I got a new one now, 20 months old. So if you want to help support the show, please consider doing so. We put all the deals, all the discounts on one page, jordanharbinger.com/deals is where those are at. Please do consider supporting those who support us. And don't forget, we've got worksheets for today's episode. If you want some of the drills and exercises talked about during the show, those are all in one easy place, right there in the worksheets. That link is in the show notes at jordanharbinger.com/podcast.
[00:51:43] Now for the conclusion of our episode with Rutger Bregman,
[00:51:48] We want to believe it, right? So when we see the prison experiment, we go, "Of course people are terrible," and we see the Kitty Genovese thing and we go, "See, look how dangerous it is. Look how terrible people are." And it goes back to what you talked about earlier, where it's like, we want to believe that people are crappy because it fits into the narrative and the people in power — look, it's really hard to justify by having a strong central authority and taking away people's freedoms if you go, "Well, when we have freedoms, people don't really abuse them and maybe we don't have to lock everything up. That's not nailed down because people will steal it." No, we, we need you to buy security and we need you to buy the idea that we have to have a strong central possibly even authoritarian state, because otherwise you're going to get eaten by your neighbors. And it's like — or everything will be fine? No, no, no, no, no, no, no. It's not going to be fine. Look at this terrible thing that maybe didn't happen that we're going to say happened, right? Yeah. Look at this science that's total bullshit that we're going to make really influential and then we go, "Oh, okay." That totally makes sense.
[00:52:47] And I kind of understand this, right? Because we've all seen examples of the bystander effect in action, possibly even in our real life. But also so many people, we find that — look, I've seen people having heart attacks on the streets of New York and there are dozens of people and most of them are like, "What can I do? What do I—? Okay, I'm calling the police. You do CPR." I mean, I've seen that happen over and over and over again. I've seen car accidents where everyone stops, gets out, runs over. And what you're finding is that you're arguing over what should we do? Should we move them? And until someone with first date experience says, "Don't move them. They're injured." You find people like there's too many people helping. First responders, they have to get people to back up and move out of the way. Some of them are gawking, fair, but most of the time. It's like there's too many people trying to help and not everyone is qualified. It's not, "Oh, look, there's a kid in the road. Whoa, I didn't see that. I don't want to deal with that." We rarely see that. And when we do it's on the news and then you find out later it's a bunch of BS for whatever the 1960s version of clicks were for Kitty Genovese, right?
[00:53:51] Rutger Bregman: By far, the most important study on the bystander effect was very recently published. It's a study done by Marie Lindegaard. She's a Danish psychologist and some of her colleagues and what she basically did is say, "Hey, we've relied on all these laboratory experiments for decades. Why don't we look at how people behave in the real world? We've got cameras everywhere these days. There's CCTV cameras in all the big cities, we've got them." So she started building this huge database with videos from Cape Town in South Africa, London, Copenhagen in Denmark, and also in Amsterdam. A database of, I don't know, what is it? Like 1500, 2000 videos by now.
[00:54:29] And then she just started counting because these were all videos of incidents, right? People especially being attacked, and do then other bystanders help? Do they interfere? Did it tried to calm the situation? And so she arrived at the magical numbers. She found the exact percentage in which people interfere and help each other. And it turns out it's 90 percent, 90 percent of all cases, people help. They do something. So yes, there are apathetic bystanders, it exists, but that's only 10 percent. 90 percent of cases, people help each other.
[00:55:03] And it also turns out that if there are more people who see something bad happening, it's actually more likely that you'll be helped because people find support in each other. You know, it's the total opposite of what we've been taught for such a long time. So all these textbooks, you know, you can basically throw them in the garbage bin. It's totally wrong.
[00:55:21] Jordan Harbinger: There's a lot of really interesting and uplifting stories in the book. And of course, you know, this is your selection, but we talk about how, when we expect more from people, they rise to the occasion. And of course, we talk about how, when we expect a little from people, we can actually damage their performance. That's a whole different show probably. But there's one story that you end the book with, which is particularly interesting that I'd never heard, which is World War I. There's Germans, the English, and probably some other groups here and this is trench warfare, right? It's like by all accounts, as bad as it gets hell on earth. Every account of this is just like, it's the worst and there's dead people screaming for three days for help and you can't get to them. And it's just awful.
[00:55:59] But the story is that during Christmas, the Germans and the English are singing and they're sharing tobacco and they're celebrating. And that to me was really shocking. And I almost couldn't wrap my head around it because these are guys that are going to be asked to shoot each other, stab each other, cut each other up with knives at any moment. But right now, they're just in trenches and they're sharing the one bottle of wine that some guy had in his pack.
[00:56:25] Rutger Bregman: Well, look, the big question that hangs over a book like this is obviously if humans are really so nice and friendly and decent, as you argue, then what about all the wars—
[00:56:36] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:56:36] Rutger Bregman: —all the genocides, all the atrocities? What about the Holocaust? How do you explain that? And that's one of the ironies of writing a book like this is if you have to go on for hundreds and hundreds of pages about all the dark chapters in human history. And it turns out that it's sort of two sides of the same coin. So on the one hand, we're the friendliest species in the animal kingdom. On the other hand, we're also the groupiest. You know, we really want to be part of a group. As we talked about at the beginning of our conversation, we're very tribal.
[00:57:03] This dynamic often plays out in history. In the Batman movies, you've got the Joker, right? Who's just a sadist and who just enjoys violence for violence sake. He just wants to watch the world burn. I'm not saying those people don't exist. There are people who are genuinely sadistic, but it's very, very rare. Most violence is committed in the name of comradeship or a friendship because you don't want to let your own group down because you actually often find it hard to do it, but you're just loyal to your own.
[00:57:33] One chapter in the book is about the German soldiers during the Second World War who kept fighting and fighting and fighting, and the allied psychologists couldn't understand it. "Why were they still fighting in 1945? When it was clear that we're going to lose the war?" It turns out it was comradeship. That's what they discovered when they interviewed prisoners of war. There were not fighting for Nazi ideology. They were fighting because they didn't want to let their friends down. And exactly the same phenomenon, obviously, you see in the First World War, I think the role of distance is incredibly interesting.
[00:58:05] So distance is to my mind, really at the heart of the root of evil basically, is that we, as a species, we've evolved for face-to-face interaction, we want to see, hear Dutch, et cetera. And then when we actually see each other, when we can look one another in the eyes, it's much easier to trust one another. We also have unique eyes by the way, so I can see what you're looking at right now. I can see you're looking at the camera. I can see you're looking at your screen probably. I can track your gaze. Basically, if you are a chimpanzee, I couldn't do that. If you're a bonobo, it would be very hard. All the other primates they've got dark around their irises, you know, they've got dark sclera as they call it. They're a little bit like mafiosi wearing shades, but we humans, we involuntarily give away our gaze, but that is really something that especially works. If you can look one another in the eye.
[00:58:55] And now when the distance increases, when also technologies get better, so you don't have this bayonet or a sword anymore, but you have the artillery device where you can just push a button and kill a lot of people far away. Then it becomes much easier to commit terrible crimes. Indeed. If we look at the First World War, probably around 80 to 90 percent of all casualties were caused by artillery fire, not by bayonets. Military historians have studied that during the Battle of the Somme, for example, in the First World War, also the battle of Waterloo, it turns out that less than one percent of all victims were victims of bayonet wounds. Most bayonets throughout history have never been used because psychologically, most people can't do it, especially if you're just a normal drafted soldier. You just have another job in your real life and now you're suddenly at the front and you have a bayonet in your hand and you're supposed to shove it down someone else's body, you can't do it. Really, the vast majority of people can't do it. You have to be conditioned and brainwashed, et cetera. And maybe then you can, but it's really, really hard actually to be violent, which is again, something where all these Hollywood movies are totally wrong.
[01:00:06] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[01:00:07] Rutger Bregman: Because violence, we are capable of it, but most of us find it quite hard. And if we do it, if we kill someone else, then often we destroy something within ourselves as well. I mean, all these soldiers who come back from Vietnam, for example, with PTSD, because they've killed someone else they've developed this trauma. It really shows that distance, I think, is the heart of evil and that what's so amazing and so bizarre about this period in the First World War is that these soldiers are so close to one another. You know, sometimes just 50 meters apart, and it's Christmas and they hear the singing on the other side and they recognize the melody. They recognize the tune and they start singing together and they realize something very simple and very fundamental is that, "Hey, these guys are exactly like us. They've got kids at home, they've got a wife at home. They've got their own life and we're stuck here because our leaders want us to wait some war with some geopolitical, stupid reason or something like that. What are we doing here? Let's just have a good time. And that's what they start doing. And actually it starts spreading like a pandemic. So it really spreads around the front and the leaders get really, really nervous. So they really have to do everything in their power to stop this piece from spreading further.
[01:01:20] And it was something that during the whole First World War, there was always the danger lurking of peace breaking out among the troops because they absolutely hated the war. There's one historian who describes it as like an iceberg that peace is this iceberg that always threatens to—
[01:01:38] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, pop up.
[01:01:38] Rutger Bregman: Yeah. pop up, et cetera. Again, again, it's the opposite of how we've learned to look at these things, right? That war is in our nature that we're natural-born killers, et cetera, et cetera. I think that in reality, it's pretty much the opposite.
[01:01:51] Jordan Harbinger: As we wrap here, I got to ask about bullying, right? Because that's something that's taken front and center and I worry about it. My kid is smaller than other kids who are even younger than him. He's only 20 months old. It's probably going to fix itself. My wife is small and I'm not. So it'll sort itself out here. But bullying, obviously, it does happen. It happens. It's pretty severe. It happens online. It's pretty devious and psychological and horrible in a lot of cases. What about bullying? I mean, it's hard to ignore this like really obvious facet of kids being just absolute trash to one another.
[01:02:23] Rutger Bregman: That is a really, really great question. I used to think that bullying is just a tragic but inevitable part of childhood but this is just what kids or at least some kids do to one another. Then I started to really dive into the research. It turns out that bullying is actually quite specific phenomenon. That is the product of quite specific institutional circumstances. So sociologists have noticed that bullying especially tends to happen in so-called total institutions. That total institutions are environments, where there are strict rules. There's a strict hierarchy. You can't get away like a prison. That's the best example of a total institution. And we know that a huge amount of bullying takes place in prisons. You know, there probably, there's probably nowhere as much bullying as in prisons.
[01:03:12] Jordan Harbinger: You weren't in middle school with me, but yes, continue.
[01:03:15] Rutger Bregman: Well, that's the other thing I wanted to talk about. Obviously, there are quite a few schools, especially more traditional schools that are pretty much like a prison. You can't get away. With boarding schools, you have to stay there all year. There's a strict hierarchy. People are sorted, right? According to academic level or according to their age, et cetera. But that's obviously, highly artificial environment. Another example is a nursing home. So we also know that in these traditional nursing homes, where again, people can't get away, there's a pecking order among the elderly. And again, we see a lot of bullying.
[01:03:48] Now, once you realize that, that it happens in quite specific, in a way artificial environment, right? We've created these environments. We've created these schools where we've said, "Okay, all the kids of 11 years old, go here. All the kids of 12 years old, go here. All the kids, this SAT score, go there, blah, blah, blah." You selected all, right? And then you have this hierarchy, then you have this curriculum that is imposed top-down. It doesn't have to be this way. You can design in the school in a totally different way.
[01:04:16] And for my book, I've visited one school that mixes all the ages, mixes all the backgrounds, right? And you get a totally different dynamic, more like hunter-gatherer environment, basically. We talked about the similarities and the differences in hunter-gatherer cultures, mostly differences, but also striking similarities. One of them is this egalitarian political culture. The other thing is how they raise their kids, incredible amount of freedom. All the kids of all the ages, all the different characters and backgrounds, they'll play together and learn from each other. And the most wonderful thing that you see in these schools, I think, I mean, it's been proven over and over again that bullying basically disappears. You don't get bullying in these kinds of diverse settings.
[01:05:00] It doesn't make sense anymore because everyone is weird, right? If you have a class of 30, pretty much similar kids, and then one kid is a little bit different, well, everyone starts bullying that kid. But if all the kids are different, they have different ages. They've got different backgrounds, they've got different curiosities, et cetera, then bullying doesn't really make sense anymore because everyone's weird.
[01:05:20] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[01:05:20] Rutger Bregman: Weird is normal.
[01:05:21] Jordan Harbinger: And then it's like which weirdo are we going to pick on today? Well, shoot, maybe I'm the weirdo now. Maybe I'm the different one. I'm the only one who's thinking about pushing people down the stairs because of the shorts they're wearing, right? Maybe it's my fault.
[01:05:31] Look, I find it interesting — and I love it. The book, I thought it was great. It's a nice long read that debunks a lot of the most famous psychology studies in history that shaped many people's views of humanity and human nature. I hope you're happy with yourself, young man. You've ruined a lot of people's life's work. They were making a lot of money on some bullsh*t, right? There's a lot of speaking fees and teaching positions that have been earned on the backs of those studies that you have found to be largely not accurate.
[01:06:00] Rutger Bregman: Yeah.
[01:06:00] Jordan Harbinger: But I've never been so glad to change my mind about so many things at once, especially when it comes to human nature. Would you say that it's safe to say that social science has proven Anne Frank correct, that deep down humans really are good at heart?
[01:06:13] Rutger Bregman: Yeah. I think that's the right way to phrase it. Good at heart. I wouldn't say that we're angels. Clearly, we're not, right?
[01:06:19] Jordan Harbinger: Clearly, we're not, yeah.
[01:06:21] Rutger Bregman: And we're capable of the most horrific things. In a way you could say that we're one of the cruelest species in the animal kingdom. You know, I've never heard of pandas who commit genocide against koalas or something like that.
[01:06:33] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[01:06:33] Rutger Bregman: So, I mean, that's absolutely clear, but if you ask the question, what makes us special? What distinguishes, you know, why have we conquered the globe? It's our capacity to work together. It's our friendliness, it's this deep yearning that we all have for connection. Loneliness is similar to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. You know, it's like a real mental health hazard. We can't live without each other. That is something to build on. It's a good message for all of us.
[01:06:59] Jordan Harbinger: Rutger Bregman, thank you very much. I love this one. This is a good one. I appreciate your time.
[01:07:03] Rutger Bregman: Thanks, man.
[01:07:03] Jordan Harbinger: I don't know what time it is there, but again, thank you for matching your shirt to the wall. I really think that works. You don't have to go the extra mile, but I appreciate it.
[01:07:11] Rutger Bregman: Yeah. Yeah. I really thought very deeply about that one.
[01:07:15] Jordan Harbinger: Clearly.
[01:07:16] Rutger Bregman: Thanks, man. I really enjoyed it.
[01:07:19] Jordan Harbinger: I've got some thoughts on this episode, but before I get into that, here's what you should check out next on The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[01:07:25] Arthur Brooks: Anytime you catch yourself, comparing yourself to others, you have to stop and say, "That's what I'm doing. Don't do that."
[01:07:31] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, God, easier said than done.
[01:07:32] Arthur Brooks: Yeah, I know, but once you know, that knowledge is power.
[01:07:35] Jordan Harbinger: I was just at a bachelor party and some of my friends were like, "Oh man, so some of our friends, they just became like high school teachers." And I was like, "Well, let me stop you right there. You know how happy those people are? They figured out what they wanted to do when they were like 24, they got married to somebody they'd been dating for a while. They had kids well, before age 30. They're satisfied with what they're doing in a lot of ways. They have way more free time than you and I. We cannot sit back and judge. We're wired in a way that we're always dissatisfied. They're wired in a way where that is fine." I'm jealous of that on many levels.
[01:08:05] One in six Americans have actually stopped talking to a family member because of the election. That's pretty scary.
[01:08:09] Arthur Brooks: It's almost one in five now, yeah. Politics has become super, you know, hyper attenuated in our culture where it's taken on this outsized role and importance assume ad hominem. It's just what you were saying, it's like, Jordan made this joke on Instagram. And so therefore, I know residing in the depths of his heart. Like I bet you, he bears animus towards some racial groups of wild leap, but that's exactly what we're talking about. Motive attribution asymmetry on the basis of ad hominem. Don't be that guy.
[01:08:40] 93 percent of us wish the country were more united. You're part of the problem when you do that. So I got a win, win, win proposition for our listeners and viewers today. Number one is I'm going to make you more persuasive. I'm going to make you happier and I'm going to start a social movement in your heart in a tiny little way to bring our country together. And that's answering hatred with love as much as you possibly can.
[01:09:04] Jordan Harbinger: For a great discussion on how we can bridge the divide in our relationships, our country, and even within our families, check out episode 211 with Arthur Brooks here on The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[01:09:16] I really enjoyed this one. You know, we can put ourselves into the shoes of others, but only one at a time, we can't put ourselves into the shoes of a hundred people or a million other people. And this is an interesting point from the book that can really lead us to dehumanizing larger groups as a whole, but not necessarily the individual. And it reminds me of this documentary where this Muslim journalist visits a basically a white supremacist sort of clan group and a bunch of guys quit the group after she studies them and visits them because they liked her personally and they couldn't reconcile their beliefs. Their beliefs have hatred for the whole group versus their genuine affection for this one gal who came in and learned from them and was shooting with them. It's a quite interesting documentary. I'm going to have to dig that one up and recommend it.
[01:09:57] Rutger also has some commandments from the, and a few of them I'll go through right here. One when in doubt, assume the best. And I know that sounds naive, but he was very persuasive in the book, right? Because it is more realistic to trust people initially, instead of not trusting them initially. You get feedback if you're wrong, when you trust someone, right? If you trust someone and you shouldn't, they screw you over, you're wrong. You learn from it. If you trust someone and they don't screw you over, great. But if you never trust anyone, you'll never know nor actually gained the benefit of having trusted them in the first place. So that's interesting, right? Because yes, we can protect ourselves by never trusting, but then we don't experience the upside at all. So we just have to accept that we will occasionally be cheated and that's fine.
[01:10:38] And that mirrors something from my friend, Maria Konnikova who's also been on the show. She is one of the world's foremost experts on con artists and con men. And she actually said, "Look, the idea here is not to not trust anymore. The idea here is to realize that some people are going to milk the system and screw you over, but it's still better. You still have more upside from trusting others and giving others the benefit of the doubt."
[01:11:01] Another one of these commandments is avoid the news. Probably don't need to explain that too much, but it does highlight the bad people. It breaks people into groups, right? Elites and immigrants and liberals and right-wing crazies and all that stuff. It really does divide us. It doesn't do much for you. And it heightens that negativity bias and just sharpens it so much.
[01:11:17] And look, I know some of you are going, "Oh, you didn't debunk everything." Look, yes, there's stuff in the book. And I know we can't really debunk science, even bad science with anecdotal evidence and stories. But in many ways, we are the stories we tell ourselves and we can make things better by examining those stories and making sure they're not only accurate, but they reflect the way we actually want to live and how we want to build our society.
[01:11:43] Big thank you to Rutger Bregman for coming on the show today. The book is called Humankind. Links to that will be in the show notes. And please use our website links if you buy this book or any book from any guest here on the show. That stuff adds up, it helps support the show. Worksheets for this episode are in the show notes. Transcripts are in the show notes. There's a video going up on our YouTube channel of this interview. Jordanharbinger.com/youtube is where that's at. I'm at @JordanHarbinger on both Twitter and Instagram, or just hit me on LinkedIn.
[01:12:10] I'm teaching you how to connect with great people and manage relationships using systems and tiny habits over at our Six-Minute Networking course. That course is free. It's over at jordanharbinger.com/course. I'm teaching you to dig the well before you get thirsty. Most of the guests on the show, they subscribed to the course. They contribute to the course. Come join us, you'll be in smart company where you belong.
[01:12:30] This show is created in association with PodcastOne. My team is Jen harbinger, Jase Sanderson, Robert Fogarty, Millie Ocampo, Ian Baird, Josh Ballard, and Gabriel Mizrahi. Remember, we rise by lifting others. The fee for the show is that you share it with friends when you find something useful or interesting. If you know somebody who's into the social science or believes that humans are fundamentally bad or maybe they take the opposite viewpoint, they need a little support. Look, if you found this interesting, please share it. I hope you find something great in every episode of the show. Share the show with those you care about. In the meantime, do your best to apply what you hear on the show, so you can live what you listen, and we'll see you next time.
[01:13:11] Jayson Waller: Jayson Waller here, host of your True Underdog podcasts and YouTube channel. This is what you've got in store on our episodes. I'm going to tell stories of me growing up, being trailer parked, high school dropout, teen dad, to opening three businesses that were successful. The latest business winning Inc 500, three out of four years, entrepreneur of the year and it's a billion-dollar company. That's right. I'm going to give you tips, strategies, how to overcome adversity, how to be better, how to not stay in the mud. On top of that, on this show on the full episodes, we're going to have interviews with people who have overcome adversity, people that have been successful, but started with things in their way, things they had to overcome and struggle with. How did they get there? Check us out on iHeartRadio, Spotify, or Apple Podcasts. You can go to treuunderdog.com. Subscribe to everything, or go to YouTube at the True Underdog Podcast.
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