Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress Audible Audiobook – Unabridged
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Instant New York Times best-seller. A New York Times notable book of 2018. One of The Economist's books of the year.
"My new favorite book of all time." (Bill Gates)
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.
Includes a Bonus PDF with charts and graphs.
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|Listening Length||19 hours and 49 minutes|
|Audible.ca Release Date||February 13 2018|
|Best Sellers Rank|| #7,002 in Audible Books & Originals (See Top 100 in Audible Books & Originals) |
#71 in Political Science (Audible Books & Originals)
#148 in Philosophy (Audible Books & Originals)
#159 in Social Psychology & Interactions (Books)
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In 12 Rules for Life, Peterson writes:
“People, unsettled by their vulnerability, eternally fear to tell the truth, to mediate between chaos and order, and to manifest their destiny. In other words, they are afraid to walk with God. That’s not particularly admirable, perhaps, but it’s certainly understandable. God’s a judgmental Father. His standards are high. He’s hard to please…
Why should anyone take care of anything as naked, ugly, ashamed, frightened, worthless, cowardly, resentful, defensive and accusatory as a descendant of Adam? Even if that thing, that being, is himself?...
You’re bad enough, as other people know you. But only you know the full range of your secret transgressions, insufficiencies and inadequacies…
And with this realization we have well-nigh full legitimation of the idea, very unpopular in modern intellectual circles, of Original Sin…
Perhaps Man is something that should never have been. Perhaps the world should even be cleansed of all human presence, so that Being and consciousness could return to the innocent brutality of the animal…
So, here’s a proposition: perhaps it is not simply the emergence of self-consciousness and the rise of our moral knowledge of Death and the Fall that besets us and makes us doubt our own worth. Perhaps it is instead our unwillingness – reflected in Adam’s shamed hiding – to walk with God, despite our fragility and propensity for evil…
But every person is deeply flawed. Everyone falls short of the glory of God…
Heaven, after all, will not arrive of its own accord. We will have to work to bring it about, and strengthen ourselves, so that we can withstand the deadly angels and flaming sword of judgment that God used to bar its entrance…”
Contrast this with Pinker’s Enlightenment values:
“The goal of maximizing human flourishing - life, health, happiness, freedom, knowledge, love, richness of experience – may be called humanism, which promotes a non-supernatural basis for meaning and ethics: good without God…
What does an appeal to a supernatural lawgiver add to a humanistic commitment to make people better off? The most obvious add-on is supernatural enforcement, the belief that if one commits a sin, one will be smitten by God, damned to hell, or inscribed on the wrong page of the Book of Life. As with Santa Claus, he sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, he knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness’ sake…
It’s not just that there is almost certainly no God to dictate and enforce moral precepts. It’s that even if there were a God, his divine decrees, as conveyed to us through religion, cannot be the source of morality. The God of the Old Testament murdered innocents by the millions, commanded the Israelites to commit mass rape and genocide, and prescribed the death penalty for blasphemy, idolatry, homosexuality, adultery, talking back to parents, and working on the Sabbath, while finding nothing particularly wrong with slavery, rape, torture, mutilation and genocide. All this was par for the course in Bronze and Iron Age civilizations.”
In a series of fact-filled chapters, Pinker demonstrates convincingly that humanistic Enlightenment values have resulted in increases in human life, health, sustenance, wealth, peace, safety, democracy, equal rights, knowledge, quality of life, and happiness.
According to the World Values Survey, the countries with the most “enlightened” and postmaterialist values in the world are 1. Sweden 2. Denmark 3. Norway 4. Iceland 5. Australia 6. Netherlands 7. Andorra 8. Finland 9. Canada 10. Switzerland.
According to the Social Progress Index, the countries with the highest social progress are 1. Denmark 2. Finland 3. (TIE) Iceland and Norway 5. Switzerland 6. Canada 7. Netherlands 8. Sweden 9. (TIE) Australia and New Zealand.
According to the World Happiness Report, the happiest countries in the world are 1. Norway 2. Denmark 3. Iceland 4. Switzerland 5. Finland 6. Netherlands 7. Canada 8. New Zealand 9. Australia 10. Sweden.
And according to the Reputation Institute survey, the countries with the best reputation in the world are 1. Canada 2. Switzerland 3. Sweden 4. Australia 5. New Zealand 6. Norway 7. Finland 8. Denmark 9. Netherlands 10. Ireland.
However, Pinker acknowledges the dark moment the world is going through right now:
“In 2016 there was a brief hope that the Christian virtues of humility, temperance, forgiveness, propriety, chivalry, thrift, and compassion toward the weak would turn Evangelicals against a casino developer who was vainglorious, sybaritic, vindictive, lewd, misogynistic, ostentatiously wealthy, and contemptuous of the people he called ‘losers,’ But no: Donald Trump won the votes of 81 percent of white Evangelical and born-again Christians, a higher proportion than of any other demographic.”
How to explain Trump, if cultural evolution has been moving slowly but surely to Enlightenment?
In his article “Trump and the Xenophobic Populist Parties", based on the World Values Survey, Dr. Ronald Inglehart suggests that:
“Support for populist authoritarian parties is motivated by a backlash against the cultural changes linked with the rise of progressive, postmaterialist values, far more than by economic factors. The proximate cause of the populist vote is anxiety that pervasive cultural changes and an influx of foreigners are eroding the cultural norms one knew since childhood. The most common theme of populist authoritarian parties on both sides of the Atlantic is a reaction against immigration and cultural change. Economic factors such as income and unemployment rates are surprisingly weak predictors of the populist vote.”
And in his article “Understanding Trump”, George Lakoff suggests that there are two worldviews in conflict: Enlightenment “Nurturing Parent” morality, vs. Trump’s “Strict Father” morality:
“In the Strict Father family, father knows best. He knows right from wrong and has the ultimate authority to make sure his children and his spouse do what he says, which is taken to be what is right. When his children disobey, it is his moral duty to punish them painfully enough so that, to avoid punishment, they will obey him (do what is right) and not just do what feels good. What if his children don’t prosper? That means they are not disciplined, and therefore cannot be moral, and so deserve their poverty. The poor are seen as lazy and undeserving, and the rich as deserving their wealth. What you become is only up to you; society has nothing to do with it…
The Strict Father logic extends further. The basic idea is that authority is justified by morality (the Strict Father version), and that, in a well-ordered world, there should be (and traditionally has been) a moral hierarchy in which those who have traditionally dominated SHOULD dominate. The hierarchy is: God above Man, Man above Nature, The Disciplined (Strong) above the Undisciplined (Weak), the Rich above the Poor, Employers above Employees, Adults above Children, Western culture above other cultures, America above other countries. The hierarchy extends to Men above women, Whites above nonwhites, Christians above nonChristians, Straights above gays.”
Whether the Trump-Peterson moment is a passing fad or the beginning of a deeper cultural backlash, Pinker’s Enlightenment Now, as well as Inglehart’s Cultural Evolution, are invaluable guides to the world in which we live.
"Despair springs eternal," as social and main stream media crank up their sky-is-falling examples and warnings of death, disaster, and destruction. But "news" rarely reports on all that's going right. ("I am reporting live from the airport as we watch the 89th plane today land safely." or "You're watching live a combine harvesting and threshing as much wheat in six minutes, as it took 25 men to do in one day 150 years ago.")
Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress, is a highly inspiring read that brings a strong dose of reality to the truly fake news of negativity and cynical hand wringing all around us. We live in the best times in the history of the world. In over six dozen graphs, Pinker provides powerful data showing how the pioneering leaders of late 18th Century enlightenment thinking is here now. We truly are living the dream.
Health, wealth, safety, poverty, war, democracy, inequality, knowledge, quality of life, happiness, violence, and a long list of other conditions are on dramatic and progressive upward curves that show little sign of slowing down. Pinker notes, "In the year 2000, all 189 members of the United Nations, together with two dozen international organizations, agreed on eight Millennium Development Goals for the year 2015...And here is a shocker: The world has made spectacular progress in every single measure of human well-being. Here is a second shocker: Almost no one knows about it."
This book is chock-full of powerful data, quotes, and insights. I filed over 130 of them in my digital research library. Here are a few points that especially stood out:
• We often mistake problems around us for how low the world has sunk, rather than how high our standards have risen.
• Rarely in history has well-being improved so dramatically, yet few people are aware of it.
• Bad things often happen quickly and often dramatically. Good things unfold gradually with little fanfare.
• Predicting the worst and end times has been the mark of prophets since Biblical times. Journalists and scholars are taken more seriously when they focus on what's wrong, and show these as symptoms of a sick society.
• Psychological research shows we dread losses more than enjoy gains, dwell on setbacks more than savor successes, and are stung more by criticism than heartened by praise. The English language has many more words for negative than positive emotions.
• Wealth is on a steady and dramatic rise across the world because of knowledge and cooperation. This has led to massive improvements in health and well-being around the globe.
• Wealth creation is a major outcome of the Enlightenment. It comes from countries and large groups of people combining ingenuity and labor in unforeseeable and highly creative ways. The steady march of progress shows we can continue creating more of it.
The rapid rise of populism today feeds off the dark side of human nature steeped in pessimistic wallowing. Following the well-worn path of ancient prophets of doom, cynical and manipulative leaders are capitalizing on fear and prejudice. They're determined to make the world unenlightened again, and take us back to a time when faith, dogma, authority, myopic ignorance, and gut feelings trumped science, humanism, reason, and progress.
Enlightenment Now brings an uplifting context and perspective to just how far we've come. And the overwhelming odds are that progress will continue. Pinker opens the Progress section of his book with the words of Barack Obama:
"If you had to choose a moment in history to be born, and you did not know ahead of time who you would be -- you didn't know whether you were going to be born into a wealthy family or a poor family, what country you'd be born in, whether you were going to be a man or a woman -- if you had to choose blindly what moment you'd want to be born, you'd choose now."
To paraphrase Mark Twain, media reports of our demise have been greatly exaggerated. The sky isn't falling. It's just a few acorns.
This book is not an easy read; but well worth the effort.
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Scores of graphs show this to be true. On the verge of repetition, Pinker rams home the message that life is getting much better in almost every way.
My only gripe? Some of the chapter entitled ‘The Future of Progress’. In it, he slams what he calls ‘populism’, and he particularly has it in for Trump. I’m not American and can’t fully comment on his opinions, but I am British so I did get riled when he lumped Brexit in with Trump’s election as proof of an undesirable populist surge. Firstly, it is lazy thinking to lump them together just because they happened in the same year. Secondly, the vote to leave the UK was a progressive, humanistic vote, because it saw people wanting to return to a system of directly elected representatives, to lessen the gap between the rulers and the ruled, to live under laws that were suited to their own circumstances, as opposed to other circumstances in 27 other countries. In other words, it was a vote FOR democracy!
In this chapter Pinker betrays himself as a liberal globalist who has no real understanding of the European Union; he sees it as an instigator of much of the processes that have led to the improvements he details elsewhere in the book. But there is absolutely no reason why a newly independent United Kingdom cannot continue to be at the forefront of pushing forward pro-market, pro-enlightenment, pro-human legislation. Pinker does actually say at one point in the book that the UK is among the three most influential countries in the world (the others being the US and Germany).
So, apart from this small grumble, I’d praise this as an accessible, rationally positive, incredibly valuable book that everyone should read.
This is not quite as overpoweringly persuasive, but then I think it would be impossible for it to be. Angels addresses the many aspects of one long-term trend in human history (the saw-tooth decline of violence over time, and its many causes, corollaries etc). Enlightenment addresses the greater sweep of a large number of such things, and cannot possibly devote the space that Angels did to one subject to each - hence the inevitability that it can't feel quite as persuasive
I note that several critics picked out areas that they felt were dealt with in a cursory manner, or where errors exist, and I would add to this is saying that whilst the ways in which a significant asteroid strike or supervolcano might be tackled are beginning to be understood, but I think Pinker believes that we are further along in these regards than I understand to be the case.
But none of these criticisms matter - not a jot. The case presented is like a building. It is comprised of many things, and finding some fault with one or two of the bricks does nothing to undermine the worldview that is being advanced.
So, less convincing that Angels perhaps, but if anything even more important.
It's an especially good read for those of us who like to see religion and simplistic tribal politics get a kicking ...