Not Oprah’s Book Club: Born to Be Good

Born to Be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life by Dacher Keltner is just the kind of reading this eternal idealistic, un-apologetically rosy lady likes. In it Keltner, the head of the Science Center of the Greater Good at U.C. Berkeley, takes on the Machiavellis, Ayn Rands, and Freuds of the world and makes a case for why weren’t just selfish assholes. Keltner sums it up:

Clearly we are wired to pursue self-interest, to compete, and to be vigilant to the bad. Those tendencies make evolutionary sense, they are built into our genes and nervous systems. They are part of human nature. But that is half the story.

The other half of the story, and one long neglected, is what Keltner calls “survival of the kindest” He and his colleagues draw on everything from our Cro-Magnum ancestors–who prove deeply dedicated to caretaking and collaboration–to contemporary physiology–so many health problems are associated with being isolated, indicating that close bonds are a foundation of basic human survival. Frans de Waal observed that our closest animal cousins–chimpanzees–become deeply distressed when they see other apes suffering. In Keltner’s research of status hierarchies, which emerge shockingly fast even among children as young as two-year-old, it is those with emotional intelligence and empathy that inevitably become head honchos: “Power goes to those who are socially engaged.”
Word em up. I love this. As if this feel-good view of human nature isn’t reason enough to read this book, there are all sorts of fascinating gems related to gender and sex. For example, did you know that Bonobo females are sexually active for about five years before they become fertile? They copulate freely with many of the adult males in their immediate social group and female and male homosexual relations are common.
Kind and frisky? What could be better?

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