Gregg Sapp's Reviews > Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress

Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker
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It seems somewhat odd for a book so effusively upbeat about human progress to look back two hundred years for its inspiration. The title of uber-optimist Stephen Pinker’s latest book practically shouts – Enlightenment Now!

Okay, the exclamation mark is mine, but it is nevertheless representative of Pinker’s zeal in proclaiming that:

“History shows that when we sympathize with others and apply our ingenuity to improving the human condition, we can make progress in doing so, and you can help to continue that progress.”

Not convinced? Pinker has the data to prove it. With copious charts and graphs, he analyzes socioeconomic trends that clearly indicate steady improvement in major quality of life indicators, such as education, equality, health, and material standards of living.

For these benefits and bounties, we can thank rational, secular, scientific thinking, which was a hallmark of the 18th century Enlightenment period and provides a blueprint for continued prosperity. He writes:

“To the Enlightenment thinkers the escape from ignorance and superstition showed how mistaken our conventional wisdom could be, and how the methods of science—skepticism, fallibilism, open debate, and empirical testing—are a paradigm of how to achieve reliable knowledge.”

Therefore, it is time for humans to emancipate themselves from superstition and tribalism and get properly enlightened.

In propounding his arguments, Pinker is an equal opportunity enemy maker (truth tellers usually are). Leftist academics stunt scientific thinking with their obtuse deconstructionist philosophies. Conservatives cling to prejudices and dogmas despite all evidence to the contrary. Apparently, intelligence is not necessarily indicative of enlightenment.

It requires not only a big-picture perspective, but a gigantic leap of faith to accept Pinker’s premise that life has never been better for homo sapiens. Even in this modern era, we are still plagued by war, famine, poverty, terrorism, hate crimes, and while these may arguably be rarer than in the past and/ or declining in intensity or frequency, there is one retrogression that especially concerns me – the devastating and growing sense of despair disillusionment with life and its cruel vicissitudes.

Yes, I do accept Pinker’s argument that the overall quality of like has improved materially. But how about spiritually? Not in any theistic sense, but in terms of existential contentment and emotional well-being. Why does popular culture present exclusively dystopian and apocalyptic visions of the future? Pessimism has never been more fashionable.

Enlightenment can be downright depressing.

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Reading Progress

June 3, 2019 – Started Reading
July 3, 2019 – Shelved
July 3, 2019 – Finished Reading

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