Steven Pinker: enlightenment values made this the best moment in human history

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Does the daily news feel depressing? Does the world feel grim? It’s not, says Harvard professor Steven Pinker. This is, in fact, the best moment in human history — there’s less war, less violence, less famine, less poverty, than there ever has been. There’s more opportunities for human flourishing, more personal freedom, more democracy, more education, more equality, more technological wonder, than the world has ever seen.

In Pinker’s new book, Enlightenment Now, he mounts both his case that the world that this moment is astonishingly great from a historical perspective, and argues that there’s a reason for that: enlightenment values of science, reason, humanism, and faith in progress. Values that he says are under attack from a right that is retreating into zero-sum nationalism, a left that has lost faith in progress, and a public that doesn't always appreciate just how much progress has been made.

In this conversation, we talk about Pinker’s new book, as well as his views on political correctness on campus, how politics drives us to irrationality, and what future generations will look back on us with horror for doing. There are things Pinker says in here that I’m skeptical of, as you’ll hear, but I agree with his big point: if all you’re following is the daily news cycle, with our deep bias towards what’s going wrong right now, it’s easy to miss how much has gone right to get us to this moment.

Books and articles mentioned in this episode:

Pinker's piece for the New Repulibic, Science Is Not Your Enemy

Leon Wieseltier's reponse to that piece

Yuval Noah Harari's, Sapiens

Paul Shapiro's Clean Meat

Philip Tetlock's Superforecasting

Peter Singer's The Expanding Circle

Richard Herrnstein's controversial Atlantic piece on IQ

E.O. Wilson's book, Sociobiology

German Lopez's reporting on "The Ferguson Effect"

Books Recommended:

Factfulness by Hans Rosling

The Beginning of Infinity by David Deutsch

Whole Earth Discipline by Stewart Brandt

Atrocities by Matthew White

Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker

172 episodes available. A new episode about every 4 days averaging 77 mins duration .