So, my last post was a bit about gloom and doom, but Steven Pinker in his essay The Enlightenment Is Working disagrees with it and with anyone who says the world is getting worse. He says,
Such gloominess is decidedly un-American. The U.S. was founded on the Enlightenment ideal that human ingenuity and benevolence could be channeled by institutions and result in progress. This concept may feel naive as we confront our biggest predicaments, but we can only understand where we are if we know how far we’ve come.
You can always fool yourself into seeing a decline if you compare rose-tinted images of the past with bleeding headlines of the present. What do the trajectories of the nation and world look like when we measure human well-being over time with a constant yardstick?
He proceeds to talk about the increase in literacy, safety, human rights, governments responsive to their citizens, and environmental awareness.
To what do we owe this progress? … The Enlightenment is working. Our ancestors replaced dogma, tradition and authority with reason, debate and institutions of truth-seeking. They replaced superstition and magic with science. And they shifted their values from the glory of the tribe, nation, race, class or faith toward universal human flourishing.
The world isn’t perfect, there are plenty of problems to be solved. Shouldn’t activists be talking about them, stirring people up with pessimistic assessments? Yes and no. Yes if it gets us to focus on possible solutions, no if it leads to fatalism or a radicalism that calls “to smash the machine, drain the swamp or empower a charismatic tyrant.” Trump is alarming, he says, but a lot of corporations, governments, people are pushing back, so don’t give up hope. Stay clear-sighted and do what we can to be constructive.
Sounds good to me. There are no guarantees, but at least we can play our part well.
February 10, 2018