Enlightenment now

Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress, by Steven Pinker

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  1. Just finished this refreshingly “enlightening,” gem of a book by Steven Pinker, one of Foreign Policy’s “World’s Top 100 Public Intellectuals” and Time’s “100 Most Influential People in the World Today.”

    Basically, societies in the world have become healthier, wealthier, freer, happier, better educated, and are better caring for our planet than in years past.

    Rather than seeing this astonishing statement as coming from a Pollyanna or a Pangloss, consider the following:

    1) Although our world is improving, our expectation for improvement always outpaces actual improvement, so improvement is seen to be lacking.

    2) If if bleeds it leads (in the news); so, vastly more negative news is reported, not positive news (also, bad news happens in general more suddenly than good news, so the suddenness is more newsworthy).

    3) Due to the Availability Heuristic, we interpret the present and future based on available observations – so the last terrorist attack (or flood) means that another is imminent.

    And before worrying about how dangerous this idea is, lest we ignore ongoing, persistent problems, realize that this idea embraces the notion that there are still gargantuan. problems. Still massive and incredibly under-reported progress is being made.

    But, like Pinker says in the TED talk, “progress does not mean that everything becomes better for everyone everywhere all the time. That would be a miracle, and progress is not a miracle but problem-solving.”

    For those who don’t want to or have the time to read or listen to it, I highly recommend this TED-talk version:

    https://www.ted.com/talks/steven_pinker_is_the_world_getting_better_or_worse_a_look_at_the_numbers

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