And they think that the cause of any progress is a mysterious force that carries the world upward toward Utopia. If measures of well-being, such as health, prosperity, knowledge, and safety, have increased over time, that would be progress. In fact, they have. As Rosling and others have shown, most people deny progress not out of pessimism but out of ignorance.
At the same time, progress does not mean that everything gets better for everyone everywhere all the time. That would not be progress. That would be a miracle. Problems are inevitable, and solutions create new problems that must be solved in their turn. For this reason, some aspects of life can improve while others stand still or go backwards. Since progress does not mean that the world is perfect, only that it is better, acknowledging progress does not mean being indifferent to the very real suffering of people today, nor to the very real threats that humanity continues to face.
And it certainly does not mean that we should stop worrying because everything will turn out okay. How things turn out in the future depends entirely on what we do now. But what we should do now very much depends on how we understand progress. If you believe that things could not be worse, and all of our institutions are failing and beyond hope of reform, then the appropriate response is to burn the empire to the ground in the hope that anything that rises out of the ashes will be better than what we have now. But if applying reason and science to make people better off has succeeded in the past, however piecemeal and incompletely, the appropriate response is to deepen our understanding of the world and to improve and mobilize our institutions to make more people better off still.
All those numbers showing that the world has been getting better must have been cherry-picked. This is topsy-turvy, and comes from an incredulity at the very possibility that the world could have gotten better. Sometimes the incredulity is nakedly political. The picture of the world presented in EN comes from data which aggregate all the cherries. I began with the three variables that every thinker on social progress agrees are the baseline for measuring well-being: longevity, prosperity, and education being healthy, wealthy, and wise. As I did in Better Angels, I also graphed measures of violence deaths in war, genocide, and violent crime , state oppression autocracy, the death penalty, the criminalization of homosexuality , and bigotry racist and sexist attitudes and violence against women and minorities.
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I added data on one of the psychological causes of progress, liberal values, and one of its psychological effects, happiness. In each case I chose the most objective and agreed-upon measures, such as battle deaths for war and homicides for violent crime dead bodies are hard to fudge. And I reported the entire dataset, from its inception to the most recent year available.
With finer-grained measures such as life expectancy at different ages, or deaths from lightning strikes , I showed data from the US or UK, both because they are where the data are available and because those countries are of parochial interest to the largest number of my readers. But these choices underestimate the amount of progress enjoyed by the developed world.
The US is a backward country, lagging its democratic peers in health, safety, education, and happiness, and the UK is not at the front of the pack either. In every case progress can be seen with the naked eye. Now compare this picture of the world with the main alternative on offer to most readers.
Journalism, almost by definition, is cherry-picking. It reports rare events such as wars, epidemics, and disasters, not everyday states of affairs such as peace, health, and safety. Professional history, too, has an eye for the juiciest fruit. There are many histories of wars and famines and tyrants and revolutions, but fewer histories of peace and plenty and harmony, and fewer still that trace out measures of well-being over time and explain the ups and downs.
The environment presents a different challenge. I could not have presented a global, long-term dataset on environmental quality, because no historical measure of this omnibus concept exists. But no one would suggest that the state of the environment has improved in the past years anyway—on the contrary, many of the improvements for humanity came at the expense of the planet.
The question I then faced was which of the dozens of components of environmental quality deserved to be broken out into their own graphs. I chose the one with the most alarming trend—CO 2 emissions—and four with positive trends emissions within the United States, deforestation, oil spills, and protected areas. Critics have argued that I could have plotted other negative trends such as biodiversity and fresh water resources, and perhaps I should have. But my goal in those pages was not to summarize the state of the environment but to push back against the relentless fatalism of orthodox environmental journalism and activism.
Looking at numbers on human well-being is amoral and callous and insensitive. What do you say to those people who are suffering? It treats every life as equally precious, instead of privileging members of the tribe or victims that are photogenic or conveniently nearby a point developed by Paul Bloom in his case for rational compassion.
Data show us where the suffering is greatest, help identify the measures that will reduce it, and reassure us that implementing those measures is not a waste of time. Smoke from the indoor fire is weakening her lungs. You save some money and buy sandals for your children, and a bike, and more plastic buckets. Now it only takes you half an hour to fetch water for the day.
You buy a gas stove so your children can attend school instead of gathering wood. But the electricity is too unstable for a freezer. Then do it again. And again. And again, around the clock for a millennium. That is a way to appreciate a fact that others can summarize as follows: During the past 25 years, a billion people escaped from extreme poverty. How do you explain Donald Trump? And Brexit? And authoritarian populism? Though the Enlightenment ideals of disinterested reason, scientific naturalism, cosmopolitan humanism, democratic institutions, and human progress offer the best prospects for humanity, they are by no means intuitive.
People easily slide back into motivated cognition, magical thinking, tribalism, authoritarianism, and nostalgia for a golden age. Nor has Enlightenment thinking ever carried the day. It has enjoyed spells of influence which have increased in length since , but always has been opposed by Romantic, nationalist, militarist, and other Counter-Enlightenment ideologies. The authoritarian populism of the s falls smack into that undertow—not just the emotional currents, but a line of intellectual influence. These themes can be appealing during periods of economic, cultural, and demographic change, particularly to factions that feel disrespected and left behind.
They include his kissing up to autocratic thugs, undermining a free press and judiciary, demonizing foreigners, gutting environmental protections, blowing off climate science, renouncing international cooperation, and threatening to renew a nuclear arms race. But before we imagine the future as a boot stamping on a human face forever, we need to put authoritarian populism in perspective.
Despite its recent swelling, populism appears to have plateaued. The demographic sectors that are the hottest hotbeds of populism are all in decline: rural, less educated, older, and ethnic majorities. The travails of Trump and Brexit in are a reminder to supporters that populism works better in theory than in practice. Lined up against it are democratic checks and balances within a country and pressures toward global cooperation outside it, the only effective means to deal with trade, migration, pollution, pandemics, cybercrime, terrorism, piracy, rogue states, and war.
And though Trump and other reactionary leaders can do real damage, and will have to be opposed and contained for some time to come, they are not the only actors in the world. The forces of modernity, including connectivity, mobility, science, and the ideals of human rights and human welfare are distributed among a wide array of governments and private-sector and civil-society organizations, and they have gained too much momentum to be shifted into reverse overnight.
Most of the kinds of progress documented in EN are continuing. The political economist Angus Hervey of Future Crunch maintains a dataset of positive developments of a kind that tend to be passed over in CNN morning meetings. The year saw reports of:. How do you explain the growing epidemic of despair, depression, loneliness, mental illness, and suicide in the most advanced liberal societies? Though some sub-populations are tragically suffering in particular, middle-aged, less-educated, non-urban white Americans , the belief that people are increasingly unhappy is a persistent illusion.
James William Jones (engineer)
And contrary to an urban legend, Bhutan is not particularly happy, coming in 97th among countries, with a mean self-rating of 5. As I reported in EN, the world has been getting happier. What about that epidemic of depression, mental illness, and substance abuse? The prevalence of mental health and substance use disorders is approximately the same as 26 years ago. Here are data for the whole world from the Global Burden of Disease project, showing the 38 percent fall since , together with a sample of countries selected by Our World in Data :.
The crisscrossing lines for the United States and the world explain why so many people are mistaken about suicide trends. American writers who report a suicide epidemic have picked one of the rottenest cherries from the bin: data for the United States, which is defying the global trend, from a starting year of , when it had sunk to one of its lowest points. Zooming out shows that suicide rates were far higher in the first half of the 20th century, not just in the US but in two other countries for which we have data stretching back that far.
Suicide rates are often inscrutable, but one cause of the worldwide decline is identified by two experts quoted in The Economist:. There may be something similar going on in India. If parents disapprove of a relationship, they will tell the police their daughter has been abducted. The cops will then take a year-old away from a consensual relationship. As social mores have liberalised, that is changing. In her essay A Hunger Strike Just to Get to College , the Islamic scholar Nadia Oweidat recounts why suicide crossed her mind growing up in another not-so-liberal, not-so-advanced culture, Jordan:.
When I told my family I wanted to go to university, they were indignant. Having just finished high school, I already had too much education, they told me. And I was starting to have some crazy ideas like wanting to master the English language to go abroad one day. It was time for me to put all that aside and get married, they insisted.
But I knew there was one way this would end. I would go to university and pursue a higher education, maybe even go to America. The Durkheimian conventional wisdom that close-knit families, intimate village life, and traditional social norms protect people against anomie and suicide needs to be rethought.
Social bonds sometimes constrain people as well as sustaining them; escaping an abusive husband or tyrannical mother-in-law is easier in a city than in a village. Life poses tradeoffs. The unprecedented freedom in modern societies includes the freedom to trade off intimacy for autonomy, and to surrender to temptations that may not be best for us in the long run.
We have not hit upon a perfect libertarian paternalism that would somehow nudge everyone into using their freedom wisely. The Enlightenment will be killed off by its own creations, artificial intelligence and social media. But like the revivification of corpses by electricity, the Artificial General Intelligence that will displace humans is a sci-fi fantasy.
In EN, I argued that artificial intelligence is neither going to subjugate us nor inadvertently wipe us out as collateral damage. Imagine his astonishment at holding a small object that allows him to watch a movie, listen to church music, zoom in on a facsimile of his Principia, illuminate a dark chapel, mirror and magnify his face, take pictures, record sound, count his steps, talk to people anywhere in the world, and instantly carry out arithmetic calculations to many decimal places.
Newton might very well guess that the iPhone would work forever without being recharged, like a prism, or transmute lead into gold, his lifelong dream. And if it becomes indistinguishable from magic, anything one says about it is no longer falsifiable. How will AI join forces with the internet and kill off the Enlightenment? Kissinger suggests that since the algorithms of artificial intelligence are opaque to human understanding, the handover of decision-making to AI will make the ideal of rationally justified explanations and policies obsolete.
To dispel the magic: Deep learning networks are designed to convert an input, such as the pixels making up an image or the shape of an auditory waveform, into a useful output, like a caption of the picture or the word that was spoken. The network is fed millions of tidbits of information from the input, computes thousands of weighted combinations of them, then thousands of weighted combinations of the weighted combinations, and so on, each in a layer of simple units that feeds the next, culminating in a guess of the appropriate output.
This is repeated millions of times, which has become feasible thanks to faster processors and bigger datasets. For a more detailed explanation of the first generation of these models, see my books How the Mind Works and Words and Rules. But this is exactly the reason that many AI experts believe these networks, despite their recent successes, have hit a wall, and that new kinds of algorithm, probably incorporating explicit knowledge representations, will be needed to power future advances.
AI is a tool, which serves at our pleasure. The other terrifying sorcery of the moment is social media, now blamed for every problem on the planet, from destroying democracy to ruining a generation the post-Millennial Generation Z or iGen, born after But before we write off Western civilization, we should keep some historical perspective. Nyhan found that relatively little of the election-related news that circulated on social media in was fake, relatively few people were exposed to it, and not many of these were persuadable in the first place.
The psychological effects of smartphones also have to be kept in historical perspective:. The psychologist who sounded this alarm in an Atlantic cover story , Jean Twenge, has done groundbreaking research on secular trends in mental health, but her popular writings are almost a caricature of how every generation panics about the kids today, first the narcissistic Millennials , now the smartphone-ruined iGens.
For one thing, the critics note, the kids are mostly all right: Compared to preceding generations, they have lower rates of alcohol abuse, smoking, crime, car accidents, pregnancy, and unprotected sex. Smartphone use may have positive, not just negative, effects on their mental health, except with extreme overuse and even that correlation may not be causal, since depressed teenagers may lose themselves in electronic distractions rather than having become depressed by them to start with.
Why were you so mean to Nietzsche? My disavowal of Nietzscheism was no digression. Therefore, humanism is the same as Nietzsche. Some people who think this way are just clueless: they have been so crippled by theistic morality that they cannot conceive of how one can ground ethics in anything other than God. Enlightenment philosophers showed how, building on an argument from Plato.
Nietzsche deployed every ounce of his considerable literary skill to imply that most human lives are worth nothing, which is the opposite of humanism. Humanism was inspired not by Nietzsche but by the Enlightenment, which Nietzsche despised. I had no right to criticize anything he said, since his writings are aphoristic, personal, non-logical, and riddled with contradictions and puzzles, so no one really knows what he meant.
Well, perhaps. Even the fact that Nietzsche was hostile to the anti-Semites and German nationalists of his day which I noted in EN turns out to be a lame defense. Though I make no claim to being a Nietzsche scholar, my reading of him as an anti-Enlightenment, anti-humanist thinker was based on the work of several philosophers and intellectual historians, including Bertrand Russell, Richard Wolin, Arthur Herman, James Flynn, R.
Lanier Anderson, and Jonathan Glover. After EN came out, moreover, my reading was vindicated by the legal philosopher and Nietzsche scholar Brian Leiter in an essay pointedly titled Friedrich Nietzsche: The Truth is Terrible :. If there is no God who deems each human to be of equal worth or possessed with an immortal soul beloved by God, then why think we all deserve equal moral consideration? And what if, as Nietzsche argues, a morality of equality — and altruism and pity for suffering — were, in fact, an obstacle to human excellence?
This is the less familiar and often shockingly anti-egalitarian Nietzsche. Why did Enlightenment Now make people so mad? Let them read Proust. Many literary and cultural critics have a streak of Nietzschean Romanticism which exalts feats of artistic and historical greatness as the only authentic virtue and is indifferent to prosaic indicators of mass flourishing such as child mortality, nutrition, and literacy. More than fifty years ago, when C. Snow valorized science for its potential to alleviate suffering in poor countries, he was assailed by the literary critic F.
I suggested that the rest of the world may want the chance to decide that for themselves.
This literarism makes it easy to sneer at the menial work of engineers, businesspeople, and bureaucrats in improving the human condition. Those wonks are laboring within the institutions of bourgeois modernity, seemingly vindicating them by their incremental successes. The Two Cultures. Fury from humanities scholars at any attempt to bridge the two cultures is an enduring feature of modern intellectual life.
Conflict versus Mistake. In a recent essay , Scott Alexander shines a searchlight into the foggy arena of modern disputation by distinguishing two mindsets:. Mistake theorists treat politics as science, engineering, or medicine. The State is diseased. Conflict theorists treat politics as war. Different blocs with different interests are forever fighting to determine whether the State exists to enrich the Elites or to help the People.
He explains how many irreconcilable differences in the public sphere align with this cleft. They include the value of debate and free speech, the nature of racism, the good and bad parts of democracy, the desirability of technocratic versus revolutionary solutions, and the relative merits of intellectual analysis and moral passion. Wrong people can be just as loud as right people, sometimes louder.
Enlightenment Now not only engages in Mistake theory but sees it as the essence of the Enlightenment: Progress depends on the application of knowledge. Conflict theorists think this is just an excuse for reinforcing privilege: progress depends on the struggle for power, and the philosophes were woke avant la lettre. People are irrational. So what were you trying to accomplish with Enlightenment Now? I wrote it for you. As it happens, many people do care about facts, and can change their minds about beliefs that are not sacred to their moral identities—especially, I was tickled to learn, when information is presented in a graph.
EN has seventy-five graphs. In a study published last year, Nyhan and Jason Reifler found that graphs were effective at disabusing even political partisans of their false beliefs. As for what I hope to have accomplished, despite all my riposting and self-defending, I have no right to complain. The response to Enlightenment Now has been rewarding beyond my grandest expectations. The letters were mostly positive and almost entirely constructive. One was a set of invitations to confer with seven current and former heads of government or their advisors.
Effective democratic leaders must have convictions about the value, indeed the nobility, of their mission. A second encouraging reaction was from journalists who are coming to appreciate the problems with the crushing negativity that has become entrenched in their professional culture. It is driving away readers: In a recent cross-national survey, almost a third of the respondents said they avoid the news. It is misinforming them about the state of the world: Most people underperform chimpanzees in their guesses on multiple-choice questions about poverty, health, and violence.
It is corroding their belief that the world can be improved: People who are least aware of human progress are most cynical about the future. And it is creating perverse incentives for terrorists, rampage shooters, tweeting politicians, and other entrepreneurs of outrage. The third and most heartening response of all has come from readers who have shared with me the effect of reading Enlightenment Now on their lives. For the first time in my life I may have earned that credential.
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Of the many items in my Inbox thanking me for bringing positivity into their lives, this is my favorite, because it confirms my belief that the ultimate effect of learning about progress is not complacency but engagement:. Every week I teach current events to my classes, and it has slowly become a harrowing experience. Since most young people rely on social media and headlines for their news, I am constantly bombarded with the ultra-negative and frightening stories that are, as you rightly point out, designed to pull us in for the length of my workday.
This process has slowly eaten away at my outlook on everything, even throwing me into bouts of depression from time to time. Yet your book truly changed my life… I can now face the students each day and provide more context for the fear-mongering headlines that they want to discuss, and most of all I am able to sleep better at night knowing that the world is moving in the right direction. It is vital that these young people recognize that all problems are solvable… because they have an unbelievable energy I see it every day that the rest of us do not. Thank you for providing much-needed context to the culture of fear-mongering.
I am a much happier person and teacher as a result of it. The Christian Science Monitor. February 13, The Guardian. January 6, Aaronovitch, D. The Times. February 17, Aaronson, S. March 22, The Economist. February 24, Ahrens, J. El Pais. August 10, Al-Shawaf, R. February 27, Altares, G. Tenemos motivos de sobra para ser optimistas. February 3, Altschuler, G. The Philadelphia Inquirer. February 19, Anthony, A.
February 11, Are Quakers Humanized? Quaker Universalist Fellowship. Baggini, J. Never Had It So Good. Literary Review. February Bailey, R. Defending the Enlightenment: Steven Pinker takes on the tribalists. February 21, The Amazing and Abundant Future. March 9, March 12, Baker, D. The Center for Economic and Policy Research. February 23, The New York Times. March 2, Baron, M. Washington Examiner. February 22, Bauerlein, M. First Things. Beam, A. The good bad times. The Boston Globe. Beck, C. Splice Today. January 15, Bell, D.
The Nation. March 7, Blewett, K. March Boaz, D. Cato Institute. March 8, Books to Read in January 1, Bornstein, D. Scared by the News? April 10, The New Yorker. March 26, Broadie, K. Steven Pinker: Friend or foe of the Enlightenment? October 11, Brooks, D. The Virtue of Radical Honesty. Cahalan, S. New York Post. March 3, Canfield, K. San Francisco Chronicle.
February 15, Cantlon, T. Cantlon column: Good news! And lots of it. The Daily Courier. Carey, J. The Sunday Times. February 18, Chambovey, D. Un meilleur monde est-il possible? September 13, Clark, P. Pessimism is sometimes an enlightened outlook. Financial Times. February 25, Clark, T. Clifford, C. Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker: The idea that A. Clinton, B. Bill Clinton: By the Book. May 31, Collyer, B. Enlightenment now: The rise and fall of progress. New Scientist. March 19, Cook, G. Scientific American. Coyne, J. The New Yorker goes after Pinker and his progressivism.
Why Evolution is True. July 22, Pinker gets harassed on his birthday. September 18, Crease, R. Unenlightened Thinking. Physics World. May Thus Faked Zarathustra. Wall Street Journal. October 25, Crowder, L. Steven Pinker: Real risks, undeniable progress. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. April 11, Cullen, P. The Irish Times. Damon, J. Les Echos. March 16, Daniels, M. But we like to think they are. The Washington Post. December 26, Dattani, S. March 11, Davies, W. Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker review — life is getting better. February 14, Douthat, R. The Edges of Reason.
Edsall, T. January 25, Trump Against the Liberal Tide. Emerson, B. Should we take brighter view of world? See why this author thinks so. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. March 1, Publishers Weekly. December 11, Kirkus Review. December 15, Farmer, R. Social Progress is Not an Illusion. Ferguson, N. February 20, Feser, E. Endarkenment Later. Claremont Review of Books. July 30, Fitch, A. Los Angeles Review of Books. July 27, Fontana, B. Times Higher Education. Fox, B. The Valley Vanguard.
Fulford, R. Why humanity is winning and optimists are right. National Post. Galanes, P. January 27, Gallo, C. January 30, Ganesh, J. Liberals risk the charge of complacency. Gates, B. My new favorite book of all time. January 26, Gilman, N. The Breakthrough Institute. April 23, Gitz, B. Arkansas Democrat Gazette.
Goldin, I. February 16, Gonzalez, C. National Review. July 14, Gopnik, A. The Atlantic. April Gray, J. New Statesman. Green, D. Academe Is Not Anti-Science. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Gwinn, M. The Seattle Times. Ha, T. Hall, B. Book review: Making the case for hopefulness.
Providence Journal. May 3, Hanlon, A. Too bad it gets the Enlightenment wrong. May 17, Harari, Y. Yuval Noah Harari. October Harpham, G. Get Shorty: Steven Pinker on the Enlightenment. Evolutionary Studies in Imaginative Culture. Fall Harris, J. October 15, Hazony, Y. The Dark Side of the Enlightenment. The Wall Street Journal. April 6, Heuman, L. Hodges, P. Older workers are looking for something more. Illing, S. The case for optimism. February 12, Karlsson, R. Doubling Down on Progress. May 1, Kaseko, B. Renowned psychologist Steven Pinker is here to convince you not everything is going to shit.
AV Club. Kenney, C. Democracy: A Journal of Ideas. Kenrick, D. Psychology Today. March 20, Key, P. Kim, J. Inside Higher Ed. April 4, Kolinjivadi, V. The Conversation. May 30, Kristof, N. Lanigan, J. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Leith, S. Only an idiot would choose to live at any other time than the present. The Spectator. March 10, Lent, J. May 21, Leonhardt, D. December 31, Lind, M. May 8, Lynch, C. Macwhirter, I. Review: Enlightenment Now — the case for reason, science, humanism and progress by Steven Pinker. The Herald.
Marino, E. March 17, Marr, A. Evening Standard. Martin, E. Warren Buffett and Bill Gates agree this is one of the best books out right now. May 7, Marty, M. Colorado Springs Gazette. Mattix, M. The Weekly Standard. February 26, Mcdonagh, M. Monbiot, G. You can deny environmental calamity — until you check the facts. Mondor, C. Moskowitz, C. Breaking News! March 21, Moyn, S. Hype for the Best: Why does Steven Pinker insist that human life is on the up? The New Republic. Is the world getting better or worse? Murchison, W. Main Street U. The American Spectator. Queens Gazette.
Ovenden, O. Palmer, A. Can Science Justify Itself? Harvard Magazine. March, Parsons, K. March 5, Penman, S. The Enlightenment Problem of Steven Pinker. Pinker, S. Does the Enlightenment Need Defending? The Institute of Art and Ideas. September 10, Pullum, G. Taleb on Pinker: Neologism and Bile. March 14, Enlighten Me How? August 26, Reese, H. Reese, J. Our treatment of animals is stalling human progress. Reynoso, D. Friedrich Nietzsche: Nice to Meetcha! September 1, Establishing Some Street Cred.
September 15, Rothman, J. Are Things Getting Better or Worse? July 23, Rubenstein, A. Runciman, D. Bestselling Series. Harry Potter. Popular Features. New Releases. Categories: Historical Fiction. Description A powerful and agile warrior, Wilhelm takes leave from Denmark with five ships and more than one hundred men in the early spring of A group of fearless Vikings, their mission is to pillage the English coastline and return with their spoils. Wilhelm doesn't know his journey will last more than a thousand years. When Wilhelm nearly dies in a vicious battle, Kristin, a Valkyrie, nurses him back to health.
They fall in love, and she takes him to her home of Valhalla, a place where heroes live forever. The ruler Odin discovers the deceit and expels them; they cannot return until they perform a heroic deed that changes history. Forced to live on earth as ordinary humans-but people who do not age-Wilhelm and Kristin have many lifetimes to experience the joys and sorrows of earth. On their epic journey, they participate in events that change Western civilization-from the execution of Joan D'Arc to the apprehension of Jack the Ripper.
Throughout a thousand years, Wilhelm and Kristin assimilate into ever-changing time periods and acquire wealth and education.