Read “Enlightenment Now” Now!

Posted by Rex Alexander on Sat 23 Mar 24 in Books & Media, bookshop, Rational living, Rational Thinking, Read any good books lately? |


If you read one book this year, read Steven Pinker’s “Enlightenment Now.” Please! More than any book I have read, this one exposes how the despair, nastiness, anger and masochism characteristic of today’s social-cultural-political climate is irrational, manufactured and simply based on incorrect information. ~Rex 



Enlightenment Now:
The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress

by Steven Pinker
Rex gives 4 1/2 hearts

The follow-up to Pinker’s groundbreaking The Better Angels of Our Nature presents the big picture of human progress: 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.


Rex gives it five out of five hearts!



Have you read this book? Please add a review or comment or question in the form at the bottom.  Thanks!



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Originally posted 2018-10-01 06:33:40.

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    “the article says he labels people as ‘SJW’? Wow. That doesn’t seem good REBT?

    Of course, there are idealists who hold certain values that we might      indeed label as SJW *behaviour.*    However, It seems to me that labelling others, rather than listening to what they have to say, only amplifies division. I’m not keen on populist terms that create division.” 



    At least the author does not attempt to disguise his bias in the lead sentence “Pinker’s Enlightenment Now is a manual for liberal self-congratulation. This preening tome professes a pragmatic and quantitative approach to the world’s problems.”And then goes on to dismiss the entire point of the book “Superficially, Enlightenment Now is compelling to the fair-minded reader, as it is chock full of statistics and graphs ostensibly demonstrating the march of progress since the Age of Reason.”

    Pinker’s work is hardly immune to criticism, and many dislike him, as is their privilege. However, to use this dislike to obscure the fundamental ‘take away’ from the book is unfortunate.


    The book is indeed “chock full” of statistics and graphs. However, Pinker did not just find them under a turnip patch; they are the product of of scholarly research, so “extensive documentation” might be a more fair-minded way of characterizing “chock full.” More importantly, the statistics and the graphs are not the point, the point is what the statistics and the graphs are telling us: Many or most of us stubbornly maintain decidedly inaccurate view of (social) reality because the rate of change from the beginning of the 20th Century has been so vast, and has come upon us so blindingly fast that we simply have not kept up with it, and therefore are forming conclusions about the state of the world in a vacuum of ignorance. You are free to quibble with any of the statistics but it is difficult to argue with the overwhelming, overarching conclusion of those statistics. Circumstances are and have been radically improving world-wide especially in areas that have been the poorest, most oppressed most unequal. Measures of health, wealth, inequality, the environment, peace, democracy are better, in many cases much, much better than even 20 years ago. Just two factlets: Life expectancy in Africa was 30 years in 1900, 60 years in 2015, and projected to be 70 years in 2018.


    The acceleration even more dramatic in other regions. Famine is has been decimated; today most people have access to 2,500 calories.These numbers are easy to gloss over unless you take a moment to compare them to your preconceived notions of reality. Before you heard 2,500 calories, how many calories would you have guessed were available to most people in Africa?


    This is monumental, and Mr. Pinker documents it in 600 pages which have significantly more impact that a few words on a facebook post. But none of this is good news to SJWs (or however they would prefer to be referred to) who depend on stirring up and nurturing a sense of gloom, depression, outrage, victimization to advance their agenda.


    If you are not up to Pinker’s 600 pages, there is a website that does, I think, a pretty good bullet-point summary : http://bit.ly/2t80xrT

    • As a considerably delayed afterthought (Mon 13 Apr 2020, 9:12 am), I would like to add something about terms such as “SJW: Social Justice Warrior”

      Admittedly, the term SJW has become  mostly pejorative, used in an insulting way by those who disagree with the agenda of people who hold SJW views, beliefs and ideology. It was not always that way.  SJW began it’s life in a decidedly positive way, as Wikipedia explains it:

      “The phrase originated in the late 20th century as a neutral or positive term for people engaged in social justice activism. In 2011, when the term first appeared on Twitter, it changed from a primarily positive term to an overwhelmingly negative one…” 

      There are two issues here.  First of all, I think we can concede that using a pejorative to describe people who hold certain beliefs or are engaged in certain activities may not be  helpful. I suppose it would depend on the tone, context and good-faith of the person using the term.  But let’s be clear, if we are not globally attacking the essence, the integrity, the essential self of a person, I don’t see anything that is–as the author suggests–out of accord, in principle, in spirit or in application, with REBT.  Now, holding a negative opinion about certain beliefs, ideas, ideologies or actions might or might not be accurate. It might not be particularly kind. But there is nothing inherently irrational about holding such opinions. It would be highly difficult to function in the world if we did not.  But the advisability of mocking a person’s beliefs is really a separate issue to be sorted out another day.

      Secondly, and more importantly, there is something deeper going on here. The author is not merely objecting to the insult, but rather dismisses any attempt to categorize people who hold similar world views, beliefs, ideologies and engage in similar behaviors. That is “dirty rhetoric” that attempts shuts down communication.

      Christians, for example, hold  a wide range of beliefs and practices, but I think most would agree that Christians are members of a group who are monotheistic, and believe that Jesus Christ was the son of God. They may also hold certain common beliefs about social action such as helping the poor, etc.  That is not to imply that saying someone is a Christian tells us everything we need to know about that person. Of course not! But it does tell us some of the things we need to know about the person. The same would apply to Republicans, or AFL-CIO members, or the Horse Breeders of America, or English teachers, and so on. 

      While the author complains about the term SJW as insulting, he at the same time refuses to provide an alternative term which would be more acceptable. The term “Woke” functions in a similar way and may be subject to the same evolution from positive to negative as SJW.  The implication is that no such group actually exists, and therefore that criticizing or even holding an opinion about them is merely railing against phantasmagoria. It’s a clever tactic. For years, the MAFIA maintained a policy of insisting that there was not MAFIA, that is was all a fabrication.

      A group of people or objects is merely a set; a collection of well-defined elements that hold certain similarities. The important thing is that groups don’t have to be organized, formalized and codified. They can be tight or loose affiliations. They may be formal or informal. They may or may not be centralized or have a centralized location or centralized leadership. The important factor is the similarity of beliefs, ideology, and actions. They may be organic “movements” searching for an identity (or even rejecting the identify as a valid concept).  The may go on  to coalesce into something more recognizable or they may lose momentum and dissolve.  “Hippies” are one example of an unorganized group that resisted being identified (even though it was obvious to everyone that they represented a particular collection of similar beliefs and behaviors) and would eventually go out of fashion.

      SWJ describes a collection of similar ideology, beliefs, world-views and actions. To refer to someone as an SJW (whether meant pejoratively or not) describes a person who directly or indirectly supports a similar ideology, beliefs, word views and actions. While the “movement” may indeed to searching for an identity and an acceptable moniker, referring to someone as a Woke or as an SJW is no different that than as a Republica, Communist, liberal, conservative or whatever. 

      These terms have meaning and utility and tell us nothing about the “soul” of the persons to whom they apply.

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