Some few courageous souls have not been taken in by Steven Pinker’s version of the Enlightenment. Today, in the New York Times Jennifer Szalai vigorously opposes Pinker’s Panglossian optimism. She is none too impressed by his seductive effort to grant his version of the Enlightenment credit for everything that is right with the world and denigrating the Counter Enlightenment as the cause of everything that is wrong. As Bill Gates, the world’s richest dupe, drools over Pinker’s seductive wiles, Szalai offers us a better, more balanced approach.
As she suggests, Pinker’s theory seems to be: Don’t worry; be happy. You will immediately understand that if you bask in happiness and ignore all dangers, you will run straight into a ditch. You will not see it coming. It will descend upon you like a black swan. After all, writers at the turn of the twentieth century were declaring that humanity had achieved a higher plane of existence, the kind that would end wars and famines and oppression. How did that one work out?
Stuart Schneiderman again, this time with Jennifer Szalai.