by Jill Schroder
What about Enlightenment? Pretty potent topic, eh? Steven Pinker, tackles it big time! Check out this recent TED talk based on his book Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress.
Good news, perhaps startling to many of us, especially progressives, is that there are many reasons to be encouraged about the state of the world. I have Pinker’s book from the library right now, and it’s a whopper. It’s brand new too, published in 2018. Even Trump and his dizzy daily doings are mentioned.
Quick summary: It’s not as bad as all that. Take heart and get down to work! Much has improved, and we’ve lots more to tackle. Progress is not inevitable, but it’s possible, takes creativity and hard work, and indeed, describes much of recent human experience. Instead of the horrors and disaster scenarios that we hear and read almost ubiquitously, and that we have imbibed early and often, (in his talk, Pinker speaks about the reasons this is true), Pinker offers a new way of viewing what’s been happening in the last decades, a new story of human development. Based on data, facts not fiction.
While I am not the 100% rationalist positivist that Steven Pinker is (for me there are more ways of knowing, and other kinds of truth than this approach acknowledges or accepts), I am dazzled by Pinker’s capacities, breadth, depth, and conclusions, and the rewriting of the gloom and doom story of our development.
What about Enlightenment? Being human can be cast as a stirring narrative. Existence and human life are fraught with challenges and threatened by daunting problems, as well as our own vulnerabilities, our darker sides. And we also are endowed with tremendous resources, creativity, language, capacities for imagination and compassion. Progress is not inevitable…serious problems arise and must be addressed. But to bring our best to bear to move all humanity forward and upward, requires only, in Pinker’s words, “the convictions that life is better than death, health is better than sickness, abundance is better than want, freedom is better than coercion, happiness is better than suffering, and knowledge is better than superstition and ignorance.”