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

In 2011, Steven Pinker published The Better Angels of Our Nature, arguing that violence has declined over time and humans are actually enjoying the most peaceful time on Earth. Since then, the United States and other nations have elected right-wing populist leaders who challenge this peace. Using divisive rhetoric steeped in fear rather than fact, they claim our best days are behind us. Pinker, a professor of psychology at Harvard University, asserts that our best days lie ahead--provided we embrace the ideals of progress.

In Enlightenment Now, Pinker presents a wealth of data to show that where its ideas were allowed to flourish, the Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th centuries marked a dramatic increase in the quality of life. A majority of citizens worldwide thrive in democracies, without fear of persecution. Education has led to greater individual wealth and a march toward equal rights for women, the LGBTQ community and people of color. Advances in science have eradicated diseases, increased access to food and led to countless other improvements. Over time, humans have slowly shifted away from superstition and toward rational, evidence-based decision making. Yet some in the West--many of whom have benefited from progress the most--denounce "unfettered" capitalism for inequality, "elite" education for upending traditional values and many other hallmarks of an advanced society.

Pinker urges us (on both the political right and left) to reject ideology and tribalism, to look beyond the daily onslaught of negative news and to challenge preconceived notions and romantic ideals. By embracing the spirit of Enlightenment, he believes, the future is not bleak but bright. --Frank Brasile, librarian

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