Enlightenment & Optimism

9780525427575.jpegSteven Pinker has featured in these pages plenty of times for the quality of his writing. Recently he was featured in a joint interview with Bill Gates that we meant to link to, but never did. And meanwhile we linked to this story about optimism; now this:

…If you think the world is coming to an end, think again: people are living longer, healthier, freer, and happier lives, and while our problems are formidable, the solutions lie in the Enlightenment ideal of using reason and science.

Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? In this elegant assessment of the human condition in the third millennium, cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, which play to our psychological biases…[continue reading on the book’s website]

The book came to our attention thanks to a smart op-ed:

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Steven Pinker, a psychology professor at Harvard, calls himself an Enlightenment man. Credit Chona Kasinger for The New York Times

…Pinker’s philosophical lens prevents him from seeing where the real problems lie. He calls himself an Enlightenment man, but he’s really a scientific rationalist. He puts tremendous emphasis on the value of individual reason. The key to progress is information — making ourselves better informed. The key sin in the world is a result either of entropy, the randomness that is built into any system, or faith — dogma clouding reason.

The big problem with his rationalistic worldview is that while he charts the way individuals have benefited over the centuries, he spends barely any time on the quality of the relationships between individuals.

That is to say, Pinker doesn’t spend much time on the decline of social trust, the breakdown of family life, the polarization of national life, the spread of tribal mentalities, the rise of narcissism, the decline of social capital, the rising alienation from institutions or the decline of citizenship and neighborliness. It’s simply impossible to tell any good-news story when looking at the data from these moral, social and emotional spheres…

Read the whole op-ed here.

 

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