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There are plenty of reasons to despair: increased partisanship, a warming planet, a potential “infocalypse”, and the Doomsday Clock’s recent tick closer to midnight.
But at least one person is making the argument that not only are our times not bad, but, in fact, we’ve never had it so good. That person is Steven Pinker.
Think about it: If you arrived in a new city and saw that it was raining, would you conclude, “The rain has gotten worse”? How could you tell, unless you knew how much it had rained before that day? Yet people read about a war or terrorist attack this morning and conclude that violence is increasing, which is just as illogical. In fact, rates of war have been roller-coastering downward since 1946, rates of American homicide have plunged since 1992, and rates of disease, starvation, extreme poverty, illiteracy and dictatorship, when they are measured by a constant yardstick, have all decreased — not to zero, but by a lot.
Pinker’s new book “Enlightenment Now” makes the case that, on the whole, the world is improving, and that it can improve further if we embrace the right principles.
The message has resonated in some circles. Bill Gates declared it his “favorite book of all time”.
We’ll talk to Pinker about humanism, optimism and progress.
- Steven Pinker Johnstone Professor of Psychology, Harvard University; author, "Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress;" @sapinker
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