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  • all right.

  • I have the distinct pleasure today of being able to sit down and talk to Dr Steven Pinker, Harvard University, who's just written a new book, May.

  • He's written many books, but this is the newest one.

  • It's called Enlightenment now, and it's Ah, New York Times bestseller for seven weeks.

  • So that's a great accomplishment.

  • And Dr Baker is indicated to me that it's doing its this.

  • It's doing better than his other books have, and and and they've also done very well.

  • So that's really something.

  • So Steven Baker is the Harvard College professor of psychology at Harvard University.

  • He's a two time Pulitzer Prize finalist and winner of many awards for his research.

  • Teaching and Books is being named one of times 100 most influential people on one of foreign policies, 100 leading global fakers.

  • His books include The Stuff of Thought, The Better Angels of Our Nature, The Blank Slate and The Sense of Style.

  • And so I'm welcoming Dr Baker, obviously, and I'd like him to start telling us to start by telling us about the book itself, and then we'll talk about broader issues and about the other books.

  • He's written and not sort of thing.

  • Well, the book's subtitle is The Case or Reason.

  • Science, Humanism and Progress.

  • I'll begin with the progress because that was the epiphany that, more than anything inspired the book I did in a previous book, The Better Angels of Our Nature.

  • When I was surprised to come across data sets showing that many measures of violence, it declined.

  • Over the course of history, I was stunned to see a graph that showed the rates of homicide from England and other Western European countries from the 13 hundreds to the 20th century showing a decline of anywhere from 35 to 50 in the chances of getting murdered.

  • When I, uh, called attention to this fact in a block post, I then got correspondents from historians from international relations.

  • Scholars from sociologists say you could have mentioned other declines.

  • Another decline of violence and one war scholar should be that the greater death of war have plummeted.

  • Another showed me that rates of domestic violence have gone down.

  • Still another that rates of child abuse is going down, and I realized at the time that it was important story here that was, uh, that had to be told that these different declines of violence ought to be presented to the world in between a single pair of covers just because it didn't seem to be something of a pattern and as a psychologist had opened up the challenge of how to explain it.

  • First of all, how do you explain the fact that there's been there is so much violence security affairs, but also the fact that it can be brought down?

  • We'll have a similar set of epiphanies that led to the writing of enlightenment.

  • Now, when, after they're angels published, I started to come across data showing that other aspects of human well being approved.

  • The rate of extreme poverty had plummeted by about 50% just in three decades and now stands less than 10%.

  • Life expectancy has been increasing all over the world, including the poorest parts of the world.

  • Uh, the number of kids going to school has increased, including girls.

  • More than 90% of people under the age of 25 on the planet are literate.

  • Now we have more leisure time.

  • We're safer in measure after measure.

  • Life has been getting better, and it's not the kind of development that you could learn about reading the papers.

  • Quite the contrary, because journalism covers what goes wrong, not what goes right.

  • You could easily come away with the impression that the world is getting worse and worse as a kind of statistical illusion of feeding a cognitive bias on DDE.

  • Not realize until you looked at data sets.

  • How many ways in which life has I improved, including measures like war and crime, which would when my guests are going in the wrong direction is supposed to be the right direction that combined that.

  • The other motivation for the book was a set of attacks on the application of science, to the traditional domains of the humanities, to history, to the arts, to morality, to language.

  • Ah, an effort that I I think is quite salubrious.

  • The fact that that scientific insights are being brought to bear on, um on human affairs and how could they not given the art society are, in a sense, products of our psychology products of human nature.

  • But I'm in a lot of intellectual life.

  • There's bitter resentment to any application of scientific ideas or the scientific mind set to human affairs.

  • This was first noted by C.

  • P.

  • Snow in this famous lectures and accuracy of the early rate fifties early 19 sixties, but the conflict is very much with us.

  • I wrote an essay called Science Is Not Your Enemy, which were published The New Republican, which went viral.

  • That was the immediate kickoff for the proposal that ended up dedicated like now I was involved in something of, ah, literary spat with with Leon Wieseltier and editor of The New Republic.

  • But I quickly realized that two guys having an argument is not enoughto plump out a book.

  • And so I had the centerpiece of the book Just be the documentation of a fact that most people are unaware off.

  • Namely, that in most measures, life has gotten better over time.

  • Now, as with the better angels of our nature, I didn't want to just present Ah, bunch of grants alike did present many grafts, but I wanted to explain them.

  • It seemed to me that if we if there was any overarching explanation as to why life get got better, it's that people in the past thought that by understanding how the world works, putting ourselves we could try to solve problems.

  • Remember what works?

  • Drop, drop, the failures.

  • And as we accumulate our cultural knowledge, we can improve our well being.

  • And I attribute that mindset to the Enlightenment, the idea that we can use knowledge to improve human well being that I've met that might sound almost too banal and that try to be worth defending.

  • No, I don't think it does.

  • Said so.

  • I thought that those ideals very much needed a defense.

  • Yeah.

  • Okay, so you're leaving a number of things together.

  • So the first is your discovery that if you look at the data that things were getting better at a rate that's so remarkable, that is really nothing short of miraculous.

  • And you've produced dozens of graphs showing that in enlightenment.

  • Now, I noticed the same thing about three years ago when I was working for a U.

  • N.

  • Panel on economic sustainability theory.

  • You for that?

  • For the secretary General, the original narrative was extremely pessimistic detail how we were despoiling the planet and how everything was getting works and how we were at a teach others throats.

  • And I started to read extremely widely, and I found that on measure after measure, with some notable exceptions, like ocean oceanic overfishing, we have being doing so staggeringly much better in the last 150 years that you can't believe it on almost every on almost every measure you can imagine.

  • Which is exactly what your detail.

  • Oh, enlightenment Now and and then no, that's a secret.

  • Let's say people don't know about it and and that's strange.

  • And then you also associate it with a critique of the of the Enlightenment and scientific rationality.

  • And it seems to me that you're implying.

  • Or perhaps you're stating explicitly that you're stating explicitly that there's a connection between the pessimism and the lack of knowledge.

  • Both this and the critique of the Enlightenment and rationality, because there's a question here if things were getting so much better.

  • And if the news is overwhelming on that front, I mean, some of the things you outlined are like the or that the deeper decreases in starvation, I suppose of the most remarkable and the provision of bountiful food on less and less far, but which is not something that people know.

  • Like if all this is happening, why don't we know about it.

  • And how is late to the How do you think if if it all, it's late to the critique of enlightenment rationality.

  • Yeah, One of the reasons is untrue.

  • Action between the nature of journalism and the nature of cognition, namely, news is about what happens, not what doesn't happened.

  • And a lot of the very beneficial developments consists of things that don't happen.

  • Countries that are at peace, that used to be, Oh, I move you kids who are not starving terrorist attacks that do not happen.

  • You never see a journalist saying I'm reporting live from a country that's been apiece for 40 years.

  • But if a war breaks out, you could be sure that we'll hear about it all the more.

  • So now that that a majority of humanity consists of on the spot video journalists, thanks to smart phones.

  • Also, uh, bad things could happen quickly.

  • Things could blow up worse.

  • Come start, A massacre could happen.

  • But good things aren't built in a day, and they often consist of incremental improvements a few percentage points a year that the compound that accumulate.

  • But that can never make the news because I've never happened.

  • All of a sentence on a Thursday together without the cognitive impediments to understanding the state of the world.

  • The fact that news reports memorable events and we know from the study of the cognition of risk and probability from Daniel complimented me, Mr Ski, that we tend to assess probability and risk I ah, a shortcut called the availability heuristic namely, the easier it is to I've dreaded up an example for memory, the more likely we think something is.

  • So people think that tornadoes kill a lot of people, but they don't realize that falling off ladders kills far more people.

  • I just saw someone falls off a ladder.

  • It doesn't make the news.

  • But when there's a tornado, guys, do you know that solar power kills more people than nuclear power every year?

  • I didn't did not know that, but it doesn't surprise me because nuclear power kills.

  • No one supposes installers fall off from That's exactly right.

  • Installers full off roofs.

  • Yeah, Okay.

  • So for example Yeah, exactly.

  • And well, so that's interesting.

  • So you could imagine that.

  • So good news or bad news, his son, it's dramatic.

  • We're tilted towards the processing of negative information in any case that way don't naturally computer ratio between occurrences and non occurrences, which is, of course, one goes into probability and rational assessment of risk and probability.

  • So there's that.

  • But it's It's more than that in that, because in intellectual life, in large parts of academia, in in, uh, commentary, taters and pundits, there is an ideology of of decline goes back to the 19th century, part of the counter and light that arose in as a reaction to enlightenment, hopes for for progress and rationality.

  • That said that that the holes that society is is Western civilization is teetering on the brink, or it's circling on circling the drain, and it's gonna collapse any any time now.

  • And it's up to the intellectuals and commentators and, uh, Thio point out how decadent degenerate society is, and people like that musical progress comes on.

  • So is an affront.

  • The reaction is, hey, week, and we've been warning all of you about how society is on the verge of collapse.

  • Don't come around and tell us that everything is going going fine.

  • What are we gonna do now?

  • And you identify a lot of that with the romantic types like Russo.

  • And when I was reading, I wondered, too, the There's a powerful Marxist narrative that's run its course for about 130 years, to that's predicated on the idea that there is a oppressed class and an oppressor class.

  • And that narrative seems also to thrive on or to be affronted by, the idea that the current the current system might be producing benefits across the board.

  • I think you do, in fact, in one part of the book asked about whether or not these benefits are only accruing, for example, to the rich.

  • And that doesn't seem to be the case.

  • A ce faras As far as the data indicate that affair no, quite the contrary.

  • The most dramatic improvements have Bennett be at the bottom among re extreme poor, where the proportion of the world's population living in extreme poverty is falling over the last couple of centuries, from probably around 90% to less than 10% and the United Nations that sends one of its millennia element goals to eliminate extreme poverty everywhere.

  • Five year 2030.

  • That's funny, too optimistic, but the fact that it could be set as a a SZ a plausible aspiration is itself astonishing.

  • Well, I know the U.

  • N had said, as one of its millennial calls, the having of absolute poverty between 4015 and that was accomplished by 2012.

  • Ahead of schedule, yes, be headline every Marxism has.

  • Ah, a complicated relationship to progress because Marxist doctrine actually does lay out a halfway to progress.

  • Unfortunately, that pathway consists of violet class conflict I It isn't the enlightenment ideal of progress through three problem solving from the prosaic the belief that nature throws problems at us and that if we apply brainpower, weaken gradually chip away at your mantra.

  • Mentally of progress is is quite different.

  • And you're right that there is a a strong that their critiques of progress both from the left and from the right.

  • But from from the left there is a kind of contempt for institutions like uh like markets like liberal democracy that deserve a lot of the credit for the progress that we've made in that Me to Lisa in the academic left a ah despising of the very idea of progress, and I found that the only political faction is actually sympathetic to progress of libertarians have been a number of rational optimists books in the last decade by people like Matt Ridley and Ron Bailey and Johan Norberg that, uh, that do have overlapping addition to the one that I took on light but now nearly documenting progress.

  • But both from the the academic left and from the political right, there has been a, uh, ah, contempt for the notion of progress or for their different reasons in academia.

  • It goes back to the romantics to Russo, as you mentioned, but also to Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Heidegger, the existentialists, the critical theorists of Frankfurt school, large swaths of the academic humanity's actually to test the Enlightenment.

  • Ironically enough, not now, by no means all of us.

  • But there's a significant faction.

  • Yeah, well, question there.

  • I guess in part is why I mean, one of the things that really struck me as I've gone through this material over the last years is that this is really good news, particularly it doesn't really matter with your on the left or the right if you're on the left.

  • You think that the fact that this the poorest of the poor are being lifted out of their abject, absolute, abject mystery and rate.

  • It's just, I don't think you could hope for a faster improvement, no matter how optimistic you were.

  • And then on the right.

  • Of course, the fact that the benefits of liberal democracy, let's say and free markets are driving this in large part, you think would also be a cause for celebration.

  • So Thursday you talked about the availability heuristic and some of the role that the press might be playing the fact that negative events stand out.

  • We can also see naked events all over the world now so and we can't fake of all over the world.

  • Whenever you hear about a negative event, it is if it's happening next door is and is a threat.

  • So are the rest of our news is exaggerated and the coverage is exaggerated.

  • But there still seems to me to be this this mystery at the bottom of all this, which is in the face of sex, radically good news.

  • Why is there such an insistence that the system is corrupt, that we're going to hell in a handbasket than that?

  • You know, human beings are a cancer on the planet and everything is heading