Progress is Dependant on Reason, Not Emotion

At CapX, Marian L. Tupy wrote about Stephan Pinker’s new book,  Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress. It’s pretty interesting, and I suspect the book is as well. Pinker is a Harvard professor, which sadly is not the recommendation it once was, but neither is it a reason to ignore him. According to Pinker:

Tribal warfare was nine times as deadly as war and genocide in the 20th century. The murder rate in medieval Europe was more than thirty times what it is today. Slavery, sadistic punishments, and frivolous executions were unexceptionable features of life for millennia, then were suddenly abolished. Wars between developed countries have vanished, and even in the developing world, wars kill a fraction of the numbers they did a few decades ago. Rape, hate crimes, deadly riots, child abuse—all substantially down.

That is certainly true, and as Americans, we should note that our prohibition of “cruel and unusual punishments” is in the vanguard of this movement. So is much else having to do with our founding.

Most people agree that life is better than death. Health is better than sickness. Sustenance is better than hunger. Wealth 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.

I certainly can’t find anything to argue with in that definition of progress. Kind of appears to be common sense, doesn’t it?

Being a psychologist, Pinker discusses the reasons for our persistent pessimism. As I wrote previously, Pinker’s explanations include:

  • The interaction between the nature of cognition and nature of news. News is about things that happen. Things that did not happen go unreported. We “never see a reporter saying to the camera, ‘Here we are, live from a country where a war has not broken out.’”
  • Overestimation of danger due to the “availability heuristic” or a process of estimating the probability of an event based on the ease with which relevant instances come to mind. When an event turns up because it is traumatic – as opposed to merely being frequent – the human brain will overestimate how likely it is to reoccur.
  • The psychological effects of bad things tending to outweigh those of the good ones. Psychological literature shows that people fear losses more than they look forward to gains; dwell on setbacks more than relishing successes; resent criticism more than being encouraged by praise. Bad, in other words, is stronger than good.
  • Good and bad things tend to happen on different timelines. Bad things, such as plane crashes, can happen quickly. Good things, such as the strides humanity has made in the fight against HIV/AIDS, tend to happen incrementally and over a long period of time.

Pinker’s is an 18th century understanding of progress. He believes, along with Hume, Kant, Montesquieu and Adam Smith, that people can gradually improve their lot through application of reason and science. The Enlightenment view of progress should not be confused “with the 19thcentury romantic belief in mystical forces, laws, dialectics, struggles, unfoldings, destinies, ages of men, and evolutionary forces that propel mankind ever upward toward utopia.”

And that is important. American conservatives occasionally speak of completing the revolution and bringing the country back on course. In a sense, this is what we are speaking of, a return to the rationality and sense, not to mention sheer intellectuality of our founders, contrasted with the mysticism, and searching for utopia (remember that ‘utopia’ means ‘ nowhere’ in the nineteenth century, bursting at the seems with Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Jung, Tolstoy, even Lenin, and Trotsky. All of whom have brought us, far too often to the brink of dystopia.

In any case, a good read, to make you think, this cold Monday.

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14 Responses to Progress is Dependant on Reason, Not Emotion

  1. the unit says:

    I guess the book gives sources for the nine times as deadly and thirty times more murderous.
    Oh well, some medievals had the right idea about cats. 🙂
    “In medieval France, cats would be burnt alive as a form of entertainment. According to Norman Davies, the assembled people ‘shrieked with laughter as the animals, howling with pain, were singed, roasted, and finally carbonized’.
    It was the custom to burn a basket, barrel, or sack full of live cats, which was hung from a tall mast in the midst of the bonfire; sometimes a fox was burned. The people collected the embers and ashes of the fire and took them home, believing that they brought good luck.” – Wiki
    That’s reasonable, after all cats are witches’ familiars. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • NEO says:

      Probably where it came from. 🙂

      I imagine he did, I haven’t read the book either, but it does seem reasonable.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Anything and everything, but the biblical revelation and doctrine of Sin and Fallen Humanity! Modernity & Postmodernity, are father & son, still the evolution of enlightenment. (See Romans 3: 1-18, with verses 19-23, etc.)

    Btw, light snow here this A.M. in Southern Utah… beautiful! Our first snow in this area this year.

    Liked by 1 person

    • NEO says:

      Had a sprinkling ourselves, far from our first though, this year. 🙂

      Like

  3. the unit says:

    He can be our latest psycho-analyst, a Harvard guy.
    Our other one being interviewed on video by the UK broad, bristled when he said he wouldn’t accept criticism of his credentials, not Harvard.
    The latest example of the enlightenment. FL Gov. Scott reiterated the other day what was likely the first admonition after a horrible event…”If you see something, say something.”
    Friday after after last Wednesday in R.I. a little girl (14) told school admin. she may have seen a possible shooter. Teacher overheard her say she said she saw someone reaching into a backpack. Previously ammo was found in a restroom by a janitor. School locked down. It’s said little girl recanted. Didn’t say if she recanted, the seeing or the reaching, or was it a lie. What? Being afraid after Wednesday?
    Anyway she said something and they’re deciding whether to charge her with a crime.
    http://mediacomtoday.com/news/read/article/the_associated_press-live_ammo_found_in_middle_school_restroom_prompts-ap/category/news
    Got to get some better enlightenment.

    Liked by 1 person

    • NEO says:

      Yeah, you simply cannot punish people for being wrong, lying yes, but being honestly wrong, and most kids are not lying, simply means you get to be blind, next time. That was old new when Nebuchadnezzar was born.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. the unit says:

    Talking about enlightenment, when I mentioned “stray voltage” I hadn’t fully thought about what I’d just read. Now though in thinking about Trumps name calling and smears, how and when did he think to master it on twitter? Did he learn it from Democrats? Article from 2015:
    https://indianaoracle.wordpress.com/2015/08/29/political-misdirection-the-stray-voltage-theory/
    “No good deed goes unpunished.” 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • NEO says:

      Interesting. The idea, the article, and the blog itself. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. the unit says:

    CapX was new to me. I see it’s part of the Centre for Policy Studies. Wiki says it’s neoliberal. Funny that neoliberal means primarily to be for again the 20th-century resurgence of 19th-century ideas associated with laissez-faire economic liberalism, when neoconservative means the regurgitation and spitting out true conservative ideas.

    Liked by 1 person

    • NEO says:

      Yeah, I can’t figure out what it says on the tin. This guys seemed to make sense to me, and that was enough.

      Liked by 1 person

      • the unit says:

        Makes sense I agree. Though what he says most people agree on, it’s just that yeah, that’s what they want. Give it to me. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          usually good and hard. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

      • the unit says:

        And we gotta pay attention who’s marking the tin (and bottles).
        “It seems most likely that the members of parliament did not consider fraudulent weights as a serious threat to honest in trade and public health. The Wine Merchants Association became impatient an took the initiative into their own hands. In 1926 they introduced, in co-operation with the glass industry, wine bottles with a certified volume mark in the bottle: ‘NVW 3/4 L’. ” – from a google book about “tins.”
        Private sector excels again. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          Quite, Presumably Members of Parliament, like Congress Critters can’t be bought, but it often seems the rent isn’t too damned high! 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

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