Table of Contents

Psychologie des foules – ‘The Psychology of the Masses’ – by one of the most influential scholars of his day, the Frenchman Gustave Le Bon. Hitler read the book cover to cover. So did Mussolini, Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt. (Location 88)

Tags: btr

Note: .btr

So what is this radical idea? That most people, deep down, are pretty decent. (Location 204)

Tags: humans

Note: .humans

There is a persistent myth that by their very nature humans are selfish, aggressive and quick to panic. It’s what Dutch biologist Frans de Waal likes to call veneer theory: the notion that civilisation is nothing more than a thin veneer that will crack at the merest provocation.4 In actuality, the opposite is true. It’s when crisis hits – when the bombs fall or the floodwaters rise – that we humans become our best selves. (Location 227)

Tags: humannature

Note: .humannature

Catastrophes bring out the best in people. I know of no other sociological finding that’s backed by so much solid evidence that’s so blithely ignored. The picture we’re fed by the media is consistently the opposite of what happens when disaster strikes. (Location 261)

Tags: pandemic

elite panic comes from powerful people who see all humanity in their own image.’14 Dictators and despots, governors and generals – they all too often resort to brute force to prevent scenarios that exist only in their own heads, on the assumption that the average Joe is ruled by self-interest, just like them. (Location 273)

this book is not a sermon on the fundamental goodness of people. Obviously, we’re not angels. We’re complex creatures, with a good side and a not-so-good side. The question is which side we turn to. (Location 319)

Note: Humans hav good and bad sides, this book examines which one we turn to

Imagine for a moment that a new drug comes on the market. It’s super-addictive, and in no time everyone’s hooked. Scientists investigate and soon conclude that the drug causes, I quote, ‘a misperception of risk, anxiety, lower mood levels, learned helplessness, contempt and hostility towards others, [and] desensitization’. That drug is the news. (Location 360)

Tags: news

Note: .news

‘News is to the mind what sugar is to the body.’ (Location 408)

Tags: news

Note: .news

2 The Real Lord of the Flies

That didn’t happen until I picked up the book again years later. When I began delving into the author’s life, I learned what an unhappy individual he’d been. An alcoholic. Prone to depression. A man who, as a teacher, once divided his pupils into gangs and encouraged them attack each other. ‘I have always understood the Nazis,’ Golding confessed, ‘because I am of that sort by nature.’ And it was ‘partly out of that sad self-knowledge’ that he wrote Lord of the Flies. (Location 527)


Human beings are driven by fear. Fear of the other. Fear of death. We long for safety and have ‘a perpetual and restless desire of power after power, that ceaseth only in death’. (Location 774)

Tags: fear

Note: .fear humans are driven by fear

Dmitri Belyaev’s theory was that people are domesticated apes. That for tens of thousands of years, the nicest humans had the most kids. That the evolution of our species, in short, was predicated on ‘survival of the friendliest’. (Location 1014)

humans have another weird feature: we have whites in our eyes. This unique trait lets us follow the direction of other people’s gazes. Every other primate, more than two hundred species in all, produces melanin that tints their eyes. Like poker players wearing shades, this obscures the direction of their gaze. (Location 1076)

Tags: humans

Note: .humans humans are the only creature to have whit in their eye

If Neanderthals were a super-fast computer, we were an old-fashioned PC – with wi-fi. We were slower, but better connected. (Location 1100)

Tags: neanderthal

Note: Homo sapiens were better connected to each other than Neanderthals were

puppy expert, ‘also makes us the cruelest species on the planet.’1 People are social animals, but we have a fatal flaw: we feel more affinity for those who are most like us. (Location 1143)

Tags: social, humans

Note: .humans .social we like people like us

Scholars think there were at least two causes. One, we now had belongings to fight over, starting with land. And two, settled life made us more distrustful of strangers. Foraging nomads had a fairly laid-back membership policy: you crossed paths with new people all the time and could easily join up with another group.25 Villagers, on the other hand, grew more focused on their own communities and their own possessions. Homo puppy went from cosmopolitan to xenophobe. (Location 1535)

Tags: agriculturalrevolution

Note: .agriculturalrevolution settling down made humanns more likely to fight

As nomads, we got plenty of exercise and enjoyed a varied diet rich in vitamins and fibre, but as farmers we began consuming a monotonous menu of grains for breakfast, lunch and dinner.30 We also began living in closer confines, and near our own waste. We domesticated animals such as cows and goats and started drinking their milk. This turned towns into giant Petri dishes for mutating bacteria and viruses.31 ‘In following the history of civil society,’ Rousseau remarked, ‘we shall be telling also that of human sickness.’32 Infectious diseases like measles, smallpox, tuberculosis, syphilis, malaria, cholera and plague were all unheard of until we traded our nomadic lifestyle for farming. So where did they come from? From our new domesticated pets – or, more specifically, their microbes. (Location 1579)

Tags: disease, farming

Note: .farming .disease settling down introduced new diseases

The same with sexually transmitted diseases. Virtually unknown in nomadic times, among pastoralists they began running rampant. Why? The reason is rather embarrassing. When humans began raising livestock, they also invented bestiality. Read: sex with animals. As the world grew increasingly uptight, the odd farmer covertly forced himself on his flock.33 And that’s the second spark for the male obsession with female virginity. Apart from the matter of legitimate offspring, it was also a fear of STDs. Kings and emperors, who had entire harems at their disposal, went to great lengths to ensure their partners were ‘pure’. Hence the idea, still upheld by millions today, that sex before marriage is a sin. (Location 1588)

Tags: sti

Up until the French Revolution (1789), almost all states everywhere were fuelled by forced labour. Until 1800, at least three-quarters of the global population lived in bondage to a wealthy lord.52 More than 90 per cent of the population worked the land, and more than 80 per cent lived in dire poverty.53 In the words of Rousseau: ‘Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains.’ (Location 1693)

The moral is about us. Set Easter Island and Planet Earth side by side and there are some disturbing parallels. Just consider: Easter Island is a speck in the vast ocean, the earth a speck in the vast cosmos. The islanders had no boats to flee; we have no rocket ships to take us away. Easter Island grew deforested and overpopulated; our planet is becoming polluted and overheated. (Location 1820)

Tags: earth, easterisland

Note: .easterisland .earth


For forty years, in hundreds of interviews and articles, Philip Zimbardo steadfastly maintained that the guards in the Stanford Prison Experiment received no directives. That they’d thought it all up themselves: the rules, the punishments and the humiliations they inflicted on the prisoners. Zimbardo portrayed Jaffe as just another guard who – like the others – got swept up in the experiment. Nothing could be further from the truth. Turns out eleven of the seventeen rules came from Jaffe. It was Jaffe who drafted a detailed protocol for the prisoners’ arrival. Chaining them at the ankle? His idea. Undressing the inmates? That, too. Forcing them to stand around naked for fifteen minutes? Jaffe again. (Location 2224)

I’m going to be honest. Originally, I wanted to bring Milgram’s experiments crashing down. When you’re writing a book that champions the good in people, there are several big challengers on your list. William Golding and his dark imagination. Richard Dawkins and his selfish genes. Jared Diamond and his demoralising tale of Easter Island. And, of course, Philip Zimbardo, the world’s best-known living psychologist. (Location 2379)

When the study was over, Milgram sent participants a questionnaire. One question was: how believable did you find the situation? Not until ten years later did he finally publish their answers, in the very last chapter of his book about the experiments. This is where we discover that only 56 per cent of his subjects believed they were actually inflicting pain on the learner. And that’s not all. A never-published analysis by one of Milgram’s assistants reveals that the majority of people called it quits if they did believe the shocks were real. (Location 2415)

Tags: milgram

Note: .milgram many people knew it wasnt real

So if nearly half the participants thought the setup was fake, where does that leave Milgram’s research? Publicly, Milgram described his discoveries as revealing ‘profound and disturbing truths of human nature’. Privately, he had his doubts. ‘Whether all of this ballyhoo points to significant science or merely effective theater is an open question,’ he wrote in his personal journal in June 1962. ‘I am inclined to accept the latter interpretation.’ (Location 2420)

Tags: milgram

Note: .milgram milgram doubted

It’s 3:19 a.m. when a horrifying scream breaks the silence on Austin Street. But it’s cold outside, and most residents have their windows shut. The street is poorly lit. Most people who look outside don’t notice anything odd. A few make out the silhouette of a woman lurching down the street and assume she must be drunk. That wouldn’t be unusual, as there’s a bar just up the street. Nevertheless, at least two residents pick up the phone and call the police. One of them is the father of Michael Hoffmann, who will later join the force himself, and the other is Hattie Grund, who lives in an apartment nearby. ‘They said,’ she repeats years later, ‘we already got the calls.’ (Location 2768)

Note: People did call the police

When she opened the door to the stairwell where Kitty lay, the murderer was gone. Sophia put her arms around her friend, and Kitty relaxed for a moment, leaning into her. This, then, is how Catherine Susan Genovese really died: wrapped in her neighbour’s embrace. ‘It would have made such a difference to my family,’ her brother Bill said when he heard this story many years later, ‘knowing that Kitty died in the arms of her friend.’ (Location 2799)

It’s shocking how little of the original story holds up. On that fateful night, it wasn’t ordinary New Yorkers, but the authorities who failed. Kitty didn’t die all alone, but in the arms of a friend. And when it comes down to it, the presence of bystanders has precisely the opposite effect of what science has long insisted. We’re not alone in the big city, on the subway, on the crowded streets. We have each other. (Location 2822)

The men didn’t hesitate. While Jack disabled the man’s vehicle, Raoul called the police, who arrived to arrest the burglar the moment he re-emerged. Just hours later, the man confessed. Not only to breaking and entering, but also to the murder of a young woman in Kew Gardens.29 That’s right, Kitty’s murderer was apprehended thanks to the intervention of two bystanders. Not a single paper reported it. (Location 2830)

This is the real story of Kitty Genovese. It’s a story that ought to be required reading not only for first-year psychology students, but also for aspiring journalists. That’s because it teaches us three things. One, how out of whack our view of human nature often is. Two, how deftly journalists push those buttons to sell sensational stories. And, last but not least, how it’s precisely in emergencies that we can count on one another. (Location 2834)

Tags: bystander effect

let’s take the causes of death of British soldiers in the Second World War as an example:42 Other: 1% Chemical: 2% Blast, crush: 2% Landmine, booby trap: 10% Bullet, anti-tank mine: 10% Mortar, grenade, aerial bomb, shell: 75% (Location 3139)

Tags: army, war

Note: .war .army

Most of the time, wartime killing is something you do from far away. You could even describe the whole evolution of military technology as a process in which enemy lines have grown farther apart. From clubs and daggers to bows and arrows, and from muskets and cannon to bombs and grenades. (Location 3146)

Tags: war

Note: .war most killing is done from a distance

You can also drug your soldiers to dull their natural empathy and antipathy towards violence. From Troy to Waterloo, from Korea to Vietnam, few armies have fought without the aid of intoxicants, and scholars now even think Paris might not have fallen in 1940 had the German army not been stoked on thirty-five million methamphetamine pills (aka crystal meth, a drug that can cause extreme aggression). (Location 3156)

Tags: drugs, war, army

Note: .army .war .drugs many armies are drugged up

If powerful people feel less ‘connected’ to others, is it any wonder they also tend to be more cynical? One of the effects of power, myriad studies show, is that it makes you see others in a negative light. If you’re powerful you’re more likely to think most people are lazy and unreliable. That they need to be supervised and monitored, managed and regulated, censored and told what to do. And because power makes you feel superior to other people, you’ll believe all this monitoring should be entrusted to you. (Location 3249)

Tags: power

Note: .power

some traits that, according to this scientist, were needed to get you elected leader in prehistory. You had to be: Generous Brave Wise Charismatic Fair Impartial Reliable Tactful Strong Humble (Location 3300)

Typically, our social circles number no more than about one hundred and fifty people. Scientists arrived at this limit in the 1990s, when two American researchers asked a group of volunteers to list all the friends and family to whom they sent Christmas cards. The average was sixty-eight households, comprising some one hundred and fifty individuals. (Location 3328)

Tags: dunbarsnumber

Note: .dunbarsnumber