Rutger Bregman’s Humankind explores and debunks the myth that human nature is nasty by default. He acknowledges that it can be and in certain circumstances this can have survival value. But in the majority of circumstances and situations, humans’ default responses are kindness, compassion and being helpful.
In relation to democracy he identifies seven plagues:
- Political parties are eroding
- Citizens no longer trust each other
- Minorities excluded
- Voters losing interest
- Politicians tune out to be corrupt
- The rich avoid paying taxes
- Realisation that modern democracy is steeped in inequality.
In the chapter This is what democracy looks like, he tells the story of Torres in western Venezuela where citizens together staged a quiet electoral revolution and stood up to vested powerful interests.
The method was to start with the questions: what if real democracy is possible? what if there is a constructive and conscientious citizen inside each of us? This questions underlie Bregman’s thesis that humans are by nature decent cooperative beings.
The key reform was to introduce participatory budgeting. When citizens control the budget, money is spent on locally and collectively decided priorities. This was supported by extensive citizen conversations and assemblies. Participatory democracy in its truest sense.
Just think how this could work in Canberra were it linked to the Wellbeing outcomes identified in 2019.