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Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now: the Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress- In Reviewniverse

We reinforce these biases by regularly consuming information from those we agree with and regularly denouncing the beliefs of those who disagree with us. This is what causes the liberal/conservative dichotomy we see in the world where both sides are fundamentally convinced that the other side is the root of all evil and that only an idiot would follow the beliefs of them. The result of this is notably a blanketing of complete misinformation.

While I could go on about the 2016 election in the United States, the best bet is to give you a test and show you what I mean.

True or false:

Restrictions on housing development make housing less affordable.

Making abortion illegal would increase the number of black- market abortions.

When two people complete a voluntary transaction, they both necessarily come away better off.

A company with the largest market share is a monopoly.

Legalizing drugs would give more wealth and power to street gangs and organized crime.

Mandatory licensing of professional services increases the prices of those services.

Climate scientists believe that if the north pole icecap melted as a result of human-caused global warming, global sea levels would rise.

Answers: true, true, false, false, false, true, false
(Direct from book, I’ve added Pinker’s citations below)

Did those answers surprise you? You may have noticed that the first six are very much politically inclined, and your incorrect responses could lead to a prediction of your political leanings. Getting the first, fourth, and fifth wrong would suggest that you are Left leaning, while getting the second, third, and sixth wrong would suggest you are right leaning. Getting the last one wrong would show your general misunderstanding of climate change science. If that statement were true “your glass of coke would overflow as the ice cubes melted. It’s icecaps on land that raise sea levels when they melt.” (Pinker)

While this ignorance should surprise you, it is important to note what is going on here: it is not that members of the left are particularly less educated than members of the right, but that both of them are near equally ignorant of important topics. These blinders that we have attained through our political leanings can give considerable light into our rejection of progress in human life.

In Enlightenment now, Steven Pinker argues that not only have we mainstreamed a sense of doom, but we have embraced it to a point where we are unable and unwilling to see what progress has come over the past 200 years. He calls this Progressophobia, the fear of progress.


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Pinker’s always interesting to read. My introduction to him was through the background material for Literary Darwinism. He’s one of the key thinkers in Evolutionary Psychology. The more I read of his work, the more I wanted to read. Edward O. Wilson’s work is very compatible and the two thinkers often interact directly.

I definitely get the same feeling reading his work. I had been skeptical of evolutionary psychology for quite some time before reading Pinker- came to him through linguistics actually. Never heard of Edward O. Wilson though- I’ll have to look him up!

Thank you for reading and leaving a comment!!

Another one to add to your list is Chris Boehm, an evolutionary anthropologist, and his book Moral Origins. Came across Boehm while reading Sebastian Junger’s book Tribe. Boehm’s work does a good job of showing the interrelation between evolutionary psychology and evolutionary biology, especially the nature vs nurture,/genes vs culture questions

Oh that sounds like the perfect read- I’ve been having a lot of conversations lately about how we can interpret evolutionary psychology as something more than speculative. It would be nice to have some grounding in the field.

Thank you for this. If you ever have authors you’d like to share, please send their names my way!

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