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Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress (2018)

by Steven Pinker

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9963114,386 (4.23)12
Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? Cognitive scientist Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, which play to our psychological biases. Instead, follow the data. In seventy-five graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise, not just in the West, but worldwide. This progress is not the result of some cosmic force. It is a gift of the Enlightenment: the conviction that reason and science can enhance human flourishing. Far from being a naïve hope, the Enlightenment, we now know, has worked. But more than ever, it needs a vigorous defense. The Enlightenment project swims against currents of human nature -- tribalism, authoritarianism, demonization, magical thinking -- which demagogues are all too willing to exploit. Many commentators, committed to political, religious, or romantic ideologies, fight a rearguard action against it. The result is a corrosive fatalism and a willingness to wreck the precious institutions of liberal democracy and global cooperation. Pinker makes the case for reason, science, and humanism: the ideals we need to confront our problems and continue our progress.… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 25 (next | show all)
Lot of interesting facts. I used this book to prove to my mother that the world is getting better. We're not perfect, but there is read on for optimism. ( )
  Eric_S_Hubbard | Jul 10, 2020 |
I sincerely regret ever thinking anything positive about this man. I already had that figured out when I read my second book by him long ago, but if you'd like a careful appraisal of this latest one try this:

https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/jeremy-lent/steven-pinker-s-ideas-a...
  bringbackbooks | Jun 16, 2020 |
I sincerely regret ever thinking anything positive about this man. I already had that figured out when I read my second book by him long ago, but if you'd like a careful appraisal of this latest one try this:

https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/jeremy-lent/steven-pinker-s-ideas-a...
  bringbackbooks | Jun 16, 2020 |
I sincerely regret ever thinking anything positive about this man. I already had that figured out when I read my second book by him long ago, but if you'd like a careful appraisal of this latest one try this:

https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/jeremy-lent/steven-pinker-s-ideas-a...
  bringbackbooks | Jun 16, 2020 |
If you're looking for a cure for the common pessimism, you might do much, much worse than to pick up this book.

I've read or seen many other examples of the facts portrayed here, but Steven Pinker does a very admirable job of showing us, exactly, how much better the world is now compared to the one we had even a hundred years ago. It's not just time-saving devices or some outright reversals of ecological damage, but how lifespans, general IQ, overall poverty level, and even WAR has improved for the better for all. Not that war is ever really all that great, mind you, but few nations jump into it with quite as little reason or abandon as they used to.

Pinker isn't saying that everything is peachy, of course, but the trend toward real positive progress is undeniable. This is, despite setbacks. And yes, we have many. But for every problem that exists, he makes a very good point that we have it in us to FIX our problems. It's not out of the question.

Global Warming, for example, not only has possible temporary and minor fixes available, such as applying a metaphorical sunscreen to the atmosphere, but we have the means to do much more than cut our carbon footprint down to the bone. We have a history of moving on to different methods whenever resources of one type or another run out, too.

Health and education are at an all-time high.

What we don't have is our optimism. In fact, we have a very solid outlook that things are worse than ever.

Terrorists are few in number and never accomplish their stated goals. They merely rouse the combined might of all the powers to quash them. Most of the first world countries have made a point of living by equality in the sexes and the trend is more of the same across the world. LGBT is already accepted on the same scale.

Pinker attributes all our actual progress to the Enlightenment. The old standard of 19th-century thinking, where humanism reigns supreme.


Look. I freely admit to being a humanist, myself. I LOVE the idea that we all should get along. That every life is valuable. That we should have a high fundamental basis for living for every man, woman, and child alive. It's so pervasive an idea that practically everyone shares it. It's like... OBVIOUS, right?

And as far as I know, Steven Pinker is right. But he also makes a very cogent point about the need to be rational, to use science for what it is intended. Inquiry, truth-seeking. No matter what the result, the truth is much more important than any ideology. He uses this to encourage each and every one of us to see past the doomsayers and the demagogs. Again, I totally agree.

Skepticism is not the same thing as pessimism. Almost everyone I know is a fundamentally decent person and we all want the same fundamental things.

So why didn't I give this book a full five stars?

Because he gives all the credit to humanism. Wishing does not make it so. He might be right, but let's face it: this might be what he, himself warned us about. Selection Bias.

Even so, I love thinking about it and I totally recommend this book for anyone who is sick and tired of the news and wants someone with a lot of facts and good reasoning to pick them up off the ground, dust their shoulders, and tell them that we are, on the whole, doing pretty damn well for ourselves. You know, despite the actual problems. But then, we DO have it in ourselves to FIX THEM. :) ( )
  bradleyhorner | Jun 1, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 25 (next | show all)

Sixteen years ago, in his book “Blank Slate,” he acknowledged that false conceptions about human nature in unequal societies make it “easy [for the rich] to blame the victim and tolerate inequality.” He allows that if “social status is relative,” then “extreme inequality can make people on the lower rungs of society feel defeated.” He sees real consequences.... But in “Enlightenment Now,” Pinker celebrates inequality as “a harbinger of opportunity.” Observing these differences in his work some 16 years apart, it seems that he has not become the champion of Enlightenment ideas in this respect, but rather has forgotten them without even noticing.
 
Enlightenment Now ... is a dogmatic book that offers an oversimplified, excessively optimistic vision of human history and a starkly technocratic prescription for the human future. It also gives readers the spectacle of a professor at one of the world’s great universities treating serious thinkers with populist contempt. The genre it most closely resembles, with its breezy style, bite-size chapters, and impressive visuals, is not 18th-century philosophie so much as a genre in which Pinker has had copious experience: the TED Talk
added by rybie2 | editThe Nation, David A. Bell (Mar 8, 2018)
 
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PREFACE

The second half of the second decade of the third millennium would not seem to be an auspicious time to publish a book on the historical sweep of progress and its causes.
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In the course of several decades giving public lectures on language, mind, and human nature, I have been asked some mighty strange questions. [Introduction]
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