HYENAS currently prowl the TV studios, yelping and snarling about the clash of civilisations. So let me tell you a story I heard this week, about a real and historical utopia.

It covered 800,000 square kilometres of the landmass we now call Pakistan, India and Afghanistan, and existed between 2600 to 1900 BC. The Indus civilisation, in the words of New Scientist, “seems to have flourished for seven centuries without armour, weapons, inequality or royalty”.

Its largest cities prosperously traded across the Arabian seas and many territories (indeed, Indus units of measure still operate in the traditional markets of Pakistan and India). They had modern-looking street planning and sewage systems, including the world’s earliest known toilets.

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Archaeologists can find no signs of glitzy royal palaces, no friezes of mighty rulers, no slavery, no evidence of differences in diet, and only minor differences between the houses of rich and poor. Compare this with the despotism of ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt.

But as Indus expert Andrew Robinson writes, the most baffling aspect of Indus archaeology is that no-one can find any fortifications, or evidence of specifically military weapons (as opposed to hunting implements).

A century of digging has found only one depiction of fighting – and even that’s mythical. Indus jewellery and artefacts have also been found extensively in its bordering areas. The conclusion drawn is that they had benign trading relations with their neighbours.

How and why did this peaceful, creative, egalitarian civilisation end? Robinson’s survey of the scholarship fingers climate change as the likeliest reason. The Indus area was uniquely blessed with fertile growing conditions. But around 2100BC, it seems the tributaries of the Indus shifted, and monsoons became unreliable, with evidence of populations fleeing malaria.

Some scholars (from north and south) further speculate that the very lack of challenge and conflict in Indus society led to its “stagnancy and inflexibility in the face of change”.

Yet there is a barrier to this judgement. Amazingly, the Indus’ writing system – imprinted on sealstones that hung around the neck of their merchants – has not yet been satisfactorily deciphered. There are more revelations to come from this intriguing, and (so far) inspiring civilisation.

The Indus are seen as “the beginning of Indian civilisation and potentially the source of Hinduism”, as Robinson puts it. Pulling on my populist latex fright-mask, of course, I might begin to question such “expertise”. Surely the xenophobia that besets current Hindu nationalism, or the Saffron terrorism that lurks around it, would refute all this filigreed research?

Or perhaps there is one other lesson to take from looking back to the Indus, or to the sources of any other contemporary civilisation or world religion. Which is that we should remain aware of how any complex and resonant tradition can be abused in the present, by the ruthless, the desperate, the lost, the opportunist or the mentally unstable.

But let me extract one more lesson more from the Indus story. This is more about the material conditions that led to this “early, urban utopia”, as Neil McGregor, ex-director of the British Museum puts it.

Until their climate challenges, the Indus were blessed with a geographical bounty – not just agriculturally, as previously mentioned, but with reserves of timber, precious stones, copper and other metals.

The grim human record of perpetually warring entities seems to have been evaded by the Indus. As Robinson puts it: “Indus peoples had no economic need to invade foreign lands, hence no need for militaristic leaders”.

And today? Do we think we have enough of a material bounty on this part of the earth, or indeed across it, to found creative, supportive and peace-loving societies? Are you kidding me? This is essentially the challenge of a fantastic new book, already a global best-seller, by the sparky Dutch author Rutger Bregman, called Utopia for Realists.

If thinking about the Indus can let some air into our stifling rooms of identity, history and violence, reading Bregman will help you raise your spirits and banish your Brexit blues. His programme – universal basic income, a 15 hour working week and open borders – seems, at first glance, to express both roots of the word “utopia”, as Thomas More coined it 500 years ago. Which is that it’s a “good place”, but also that it’s a “no-place” – and coming around no time soon either.

Bregman’s response is two-fold. One is that in a serious crisis, “the ideas that are lying around are the ones that are ready to be picked up”.

The “neo-liberals” of Frederich Hayek and Milton Friedman had been planning their assault on a welfare-state capitalism since the end of the Second World War. Their ideas about the marketisation of everything – regarded as eccentric in the post-war era – were steadily sustained, through think-tanks and networks of journalists, until being picked up and driven forward by Reagan and Thatcher.

The great virtue of Utopia For Realists is that it shows how thuddingly well-researched notions like universal basic income and shorter-working weeks have been, over the last 30 years. And that they’re ready just when we need them to be, in our current crisis situation.

Bregman also challenges the left to be for something, rather than only against the establishment, homophobia, racism, etc. “It’s not that we don’t currently have it good, or even that we might be worse off later on”, he writes. “No, the real crisis is that we can’t come up with anything better.”

His most persuasive line of research is around universal basic income (UBI) – and particularly the positive and efficient outcomes of directly giving people (particularly poorer people) unconditional sums of money to support their living standards.

From the Canadian “Mincome” experiment in the seventies (now reassessed after years of misrepresentation), to current experiments in African aid, and many other studies, the basic prejudices about UBI are directly refuted by the evidence. It doesn’t decrease the amount of work its recipients do, turning them into couch-dwelling, beer-sucking layabouts – but the opposite.

UBI gives citizens enough of a distance from necessity to go out and either seek a more fulfilling job, or it can support their own entrepreneurial energies, whether pursued in the economic or social sector.

And even for a cash-conscious public sector, the eventual costs of unconditional cash support – in terms of how it improves rates of health, addiction, crime and family breakdown – can be two to three times better than our current miasma of tests and conditions achieves.

But as Bregman constantly asserts, we need to add political imagination and courage to all this research. He takes his 15-hour week from Maynard Keynes’ famous prediction from his 1930 essay, “Economic Possibilities For Our Grandchildren” (with 2030 a tantalising target date).

Keynes notoriously didn’t anticipate hyperconsumerism –how it seduced us into exchanging all those time-gains that efficient technology brings for an appetite for buying more stuff. Even as an advocate myself, I often wonder how might we persuade those who ostentatiously work in high-pressure jobs to submit to a shorter working week, to share out the quality labour.

But Bregman urges the new realist utopians to note surveys where 37 per cent of British workers, on average, think their job is “meaningless”. And as automation (both physical and mental) advances on almost every job sector, we seem to be about to hit a “crisis of work” which will require the kind of bold enthusiasm for a new societal vision which Bregman displays – in spades.

So will we respond, in Scotland? Two pilot schemes for UBI in Fife and Glasgow are being considered. But they need to be part of a much bigger public narrative, and conversation, about future trends in Scotland. Nation-state independence is partly about giving ourselves all the tools to experiment with, and prepare for, the 21st century.

So let’s not be like the Indus, living beautifully and stably until the floods and mosquitos hit us. Let’s get above and ahead of ourselves – in all ways.

Rutger Bregman’s Utopia For Realists is out now from Bloomsbury, £16.99.