This weekend I had the extreme fortune to meet Steven Pinker and hear him talk about his new book: Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress. This book presents a hopeful view of the future, and the facts that support that hope. Our media frequently presents us with one side of the story, a side that shows a world which is violent and scary. But the truth is, progress has brought us farther than we tend to acknowledge, in terms of health, safety, education, and happiness. While we are far from solving all the world’s problems — we still have a lot of work to do — there’s little or no reason to think there is doom on the horizon.
It was a refreshing message, and the best part is that Pinker doesn’t rely on blind optimism, he doesn’t rely on his own opinion, but rather on statistics, truth, and logic. He’s got the state of the world down to a science, looking at it from a global perspective, and from almost every possible angle. It is impressive how much research this man has done. But not only has he done the research, he’s absorbed all of it. He is a true expert.
One of my favorite moments was when Pinker discussed a question he often gets: Isn’t it good to be pessimistic? Surely if we all looked at the world through rose-colored glasses we would become complacent and stop making progress, right? His answer: it’s not important to be pessimistic. It is important to be accurate.
Thank you Steven, and The Tattered Cover, for a fantastic event. It was truly a breath of fresh air.
Here are some pictures from the event. The second picture is a friend from my writer’s group/book club talking to Steven.
Here is an official synopsis of the book:
Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress
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. Instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping 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.
With intellectual depth and literary flair, Enlightenment Now makes the case for reason, science, and humanism: the ideals we need to confront our problems and continue our progress.