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Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress by Steven Pinker
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“One student asks: Why should I live?

Steven Pinker answers: In the very act of asking that question, you are seeking reasons for your convictions, and so you are committed to reason as the means to discover and justify what is important to you. And there are so many reasons to live! As a sentient being, you have the potential to flourish. You can refine your faculty of reason itself by learning and debating. You can seek explanations of the natural world through science, and insight into the human condition through the arts and humanities. You can make the most of your capacity for pleasure and satisfaction, which allowed your ancestors to thrive and thereby allowed you to exist. You can appreciate the beauty and richness of the natural and cultural world. As the heir to billions of years of life perpetuating itself, you can perpetuate life in turn. You have been endowed with a sense of sympathy—the ability to like, love, respect, help, and show kindness—and you can enjoy the gift of mutual benevolence with friends, family, and colleagues. And because reason tells you that none of this is particular to you, you have the responsibility to provide to others what you expect for yourself. You can foster the welfare of other sentient beings by enhancing life, health, knowledge, freedom, abundance, safety, beauty, and peace. 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.”
Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress
tags: life
“Left-wing and right-wing political ideologies have themselves become secular religions, providing people with a community of like-minded brethren, a catechism of sacred beliefs, a well-populated demonology, and a beatific confidence in the righteousness of their cause.”
Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress
“As we care about more of humanity, we’re apt to mistake the harms around us for signs of how low the world has sunk rather than how high our standards have risen.”
Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress
“What is progress? You might think that the question is so subjective and culturally relative as to be forever unanswerable. In fact, it’s one of the easier questions to answer. Most people agree that life is better than death. Health is better than sickness. Sustenance is better than hunger. Abundance is better than poverty. Peace is better than war. Safety is better than danger. Freedom is better than tyranny. Equal rights are better than bigotry and discrimination. Literacy is better than illiteracy. Knowledge is better than ignorance. Intelligence is better than dull-wittedness. Happiness is better than misery. Opportunities to enjoy family, friends, culture, and nature are better than drudgery and monotony. All these things can be measured. If they have increased over time, that is progress.”
Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress
“The standard explanation of the madness of crowds is ignorance: a mediocre education system has left the populace scientifically illiterate, at the mercy of their cognitive biases, and thus defenseless against airhead celebrities, cable-news gladiators, and other corruptions from popular culture.”
Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress
“Our greatest enemies are ultimately not our political adversaries but entropy, evolution (in the form of pestilence and the flaws in human nature), and most of all ignorance—a shortfall of knowledge of how best to solve our problems.”
Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress
“People see violence as moral, not immoral: across the world and throughout history, more people have been murdered to mete out justice than to satisfy greed.”
Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress
“Remember your math: an anecdote is not a trend. Remember your history: the fact that something is bad today doesn't mean it was better in the past. Remember your philosophy: one cannot reason that there's no such thing as reason, or that something is true or good because God said it is. And remember your psychology: much of what we know isn't so, especially when our comrades know it too.

Keep some perspective. Not every problem is a Crisis, Plague, Epidemic, or Existential Threat, and not every change is the End of This, the Death of That, or the Dawn of a Post-Something Era. Don't confuse pessimism with profundity: problems are inevitable, but problems are solvable, and diagnosing every setback as a symptom of a sick society is a cheap grab for gravitas. Finally, drop the Nietzsche. His ideas may seem edgy, authentic, baad,while humanism seems sappy, unhip, uncool But what's so funny about peace, love, and understanding?”
Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress
“There can be no question of which was the greatest era for culture; the answer has to be today, until it is superseded by tomorrow.”
Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress
“But it’s in the nature of progress that it erases its tracks, and its champions fixate on the remaining injustices and forget how far we have come.”
Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress
“People are by nature illiterate and innumerate, quantifying the world by “one, two, many” and by rough guesstimates.21 They understand physical things as having hidden essences that obey the laws of sympathetic magic or voodoo rather than physics and biology: objects can reach across time and space to affect things that resemble them or that had been in contact with them in the past (remember the beliefs of pre–Scientific Revolution Englishmen).22 They think that words and thoughts can impinge on the physical world in prayers and curses. They underestimate the prevalence of coincidence.23 They generalize from paltry samples, namely their own experience, and they reason by stereotype, projecting the typical traits of a group onto any individual that belongs to it. They infer causation from correlation. They think holistically, in black and white, and physically, treating abstract networks as concrete stuff. They are not so much intuitive scientists as intuitive lawyers and politicians, marshaling evidence that confirms their convictions while dismissing evidence that contradicts them.24 They overestimate their own knowledge, understanding, rectitude, competence, and luck.25”
Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress
“A Babylonian in 1750 BCE would have had to labor fifty hours to spend one hour reading his cuneiform tablets by a sesame-oil lamp. In 1800, an Englishman had to toil for six hours to burn a tallow candle for an hour. (Imagine planning your family budget around that—you might settle for darkness.) In 1880, you’d need to work fifteen minutes to burn a kerosene lamp for an hour; in 1950, eight seconds for the same hour from an incandescent bulb; and in 1994, a half-second for the same hour from a compact fluorescent bulb—a 43,000-fold leap in affordability in two centuries. And the progress wasn’t finished: Nordhaus published his article before LED bulbs flooded the market. Soon, cheap, solar-powered LED lamps will transform the lives of the more than one billion people without access to electricity, allowing them to read the news or do their homework without huddling around an oil drum filled with burning garbage.”
Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress
“(As Montesquieu wrote, “If triangles had a god they would give him three sides.”) For”
Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress
“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.”
Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress
“The first step toward wisdom is the realization that the laws of the universe don’t care about you. The next is the realization that this does not imply that life is meaningless, because people care about you, and vice versa.”
Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress
“If my starting offer is “I get to rob, beat, enslave, and kill you and your kind, but you don’t get to rob, beat, enslave, or kill me or my kind,” I can’t expect you to agree to the deal or third parties to ratify it, because there’s no good reason that I should get privileges just because I’m me and you’re not.32 Nor are we likely to agree to the deal “I get to rob, beat, enslave, and kill you and your kind, and you get to rob, beat, enslave, and kill me and my kind,” despite its symmetry, because the advantages either of us might get in harming the other are massively outweighed by the disadvantages we would suffer in being harmed (yet another implication of the Law of Entropy: harms are easier to inflict and have larger effects than benefits). We’d be wiser to negotiate a social contract that puts us in a positive-sum game: neither gets to harm the other, and both are encouraged to help the other.”
Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress
“When I grew up, bullying was considered a natural part of boyhood. It would have strained belief to think that someday the president of the United States would deliver a speech about its evils, as Barack Obama did in 2011. As we care about more of humanity, we’re apt to mistake the harms around us for signs of how low the world has sunk rather than how high our standards have risen.”
Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress
“Economic inequality has long been a signature issue of the left, and it rose in prominence after the Great Recession began in 2007. It ignited the Occupy Wall Street movement in 2011 and the presidential candidacy of the self-described socialist Bernie Sanders in 2016, who proclaimed that “a nation will not survive morally or economically when so few have so much, while so many have so little.” 2 But in that year the revolution devoured its children and propelled the candidacy of Donald Trump, who claimed that the United States had become “a third-world country” and blamed the declining fortunes of the working class not on Wall Street and the one percent but on immigration and foreign trade. The left and right ends of the political spectrum, incensed by economic inequality for their different reasons, curled around to meet each other, and their shared cynicism about the modern economy helped elect the most radical American president in recent times.”
Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress
“Any jackass can kick down a barn, but it takes a carpenter to build one.”
Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress
“This heroic story is not just another myth. Myths are fictions, but this one is true-true to the best of our knowledge, which is the only truth we can have. We believe it because we have reasons to believe it. As we learn more, we can show which parts of the story continue to be true, and which ones false-as any of them might be, and any could become.

And the story belongs not to any tribe but to all of humanity-to any sentient creature with the power of reason and the urge to persist in its being. For it requires only the convictions that life is better than death, health is better than sickness, abundance is better than want, freedom is better tha coercion, happiness is better than suffering, and knowledge is better than superstition and ignorance.”
Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress
“The ideals of the Enlightenment are products of human reason, but they always struggle with other strands of human nature: loyalty to tribe, deference to authority, magical thinking, the blaming of misfortune on evildoers.”
Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress
“Psychologists have long known that people tend to see their own lives through rose-colored glasses: they think they’re less likely than the average person to become the victim of a divorce, layoff, accident, illness, or crime. But change the question from the people’s lives to their society, and they transform from Pollyanna to Eeyore.”
Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress
“If the multiverse turns out to be the best explanation of the fundamental physical constants, it would not be the first time we have been flabbergasted by worlds beyond our noses. Our ancestors had to swallow the discovery of the Western Hemisphere, eight other planets, a hundred billion stars in our galaxy (many with planets), and a hundred billion galaxies in the observable universe. If reason contradicts intuition once again, so much the worse for intuition. Another advocate of the multiverse, Brian Greene, reminds us:
“From a quaint, small, earth-centered universe to one filled with billions of galaxies, the journey has been both thrilling and humbling. We’ve been compelled to relinquish sacred belief in our own centrality, but with such cosmic demotion we’ve demonstrated the capacity of the human intellect to reach far beyond the confines of ordinary experience to reveal extraordinary truth.”
Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress
“Our understanding of who we are, where we came from, how the world works, and what matters in life depends on partaking of the vast and ever-expanding store of knowledge. Though unlettered hunters, herders, and peasants are fully human, anthropologists often comment on their orientation to the present, the local, the physical. To be aware of one's country and its history, of the diversity of customs and beliefs across the globe and through the ages, of the blunders and triumphs of past civilizations, of the microcosms of cells and atoms and the macrocosms of planets and galaxies, of the ethereal reality of number and logic and pattern—such awareness truly lifts us to a higher plane of consciousness. It is a gift of belonging to a brainy species with a long history.”
Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress
“The idea of a universal human nature brings us to a third theme, humanism. The thinkers of the Age of Reason and the Enlightenment saw an urgent need for a secular foundation for morality, because they were haunted by a historical memory of centuries of religious carnage: the Crusades, the Inquisition, witch hunts, the European wars of religion. They laid that foundation in what we now call humanism, which privileges the well-being of individual men, women, and children over the glory of the tribe, race, nation, or religion. It is individuals, not groups, who are sentient—who feel pleasure and pain, fulfillment and anguish. Whether it is framed as the goal of providing the greatest happiness for the greatest number or as a categorical imperative to treat people as ends rather than means, it was the universal capacity of a person to suffer and flourish, they said, that called on our moral concern.”
Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress
“Enlightenment humanism, then, is far from being a crowd-pleaser. The idea that the ultimate good is to use knowledge to enhance human welfare leaves people cold. Deep explanations of the universe, the planet, life, the brain? Unless they use magic, we don't want to believe them! Saving the lives of billions, eradicating disease, feeding the hungry? Bo-ring. People extending their compassion to all of humankind? Not good enough—we want the laws of physics to care about us! Longevity, health, understanding, beauty, freedom, love? There's got to be more to life than that!”
Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress
“Human life has become more precious, while glory, honor, preeminence, manliness, heroism, and other symptoms of excess testosterone have been downgraded.”
Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress
“A quantitative mindset, despite its nerdy aura, is in fact the Morally enlightened one, because it treats every human life as having equal value rather than privileging the people who are closest to us or most photogenic.”
Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress
“Nationalism should not be confused with civic values, public spirit, social responsibility, or cultural pride.”
Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress
“Franklin Pierce Adams pointed out, “Nothing is more responsible for the good old days than a bad memory.”
Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress

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