Telling Pinkers: A Failed Defence of the Enlightenment Project By Chris Knight

     A new book by intellectual Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now (2018), sets out to defend reason, science and progress. So far so good. But there is always a problem, which ultimately has a political root. Pinker sees the real threat to all of the above good things to be…well…us…or people like us: 

“It is the “resurgent” ideology of “authoritarian populism,” ethnic nationalism, and “political tribalism” among whites that constitute “the most insidious form of irrationality today” (p. 383). I will show in this review, however, that it is Pinker who is the enemy of the ideals of the Enlightenment, misinterpreting these ideals as if they were projects for the creation of a race-mixed humanity on European lands. He complains that the “ideals of the Enlightenment are treated by today’s intellectuals with indifference, skepticism, and sometimes contempt” (p. 6). But it is he who extemporaneously alters the definition of cosmopolitanism to mean that all white nations must become “multicultural and multiethnic.”

There is nothing in the Enlightenment requiring European nationalists (who believe in peaceful cultural exchanges among nations) to welcome immigration and diversity. Pinker’s claim that European national pride and ethnic identity lead to parochialism and intellectual narrowness can be categorized as a form of irrational indoctrination obscuring the actual origins of Enlightenment ideals within ethnically homogeneous European nations. Pinker compiles an incredible array of statistics and graphs showing that “the world is about a hundred times wealthier today than it was two centuries ago”; that “poverty among racial minorities has fallen”; that “Americans are half as likely to be murdered as they were two dozen years ago”; that “Americans became 96 percent less likely to be killed in a car accident . . .

99 percent less likely to die in a plane crash”; that 83 percent in the world can read and write today as compared to only 12 percent in the early in the nineteenth century; that Americans today work 22 fewer hours a week than they did a few decades ago; that as societies have become wealthier “they have emitted fewer pollutants, cleared fewer forests, spilled less oil, set aside more preserves, extinguished fewer species”; that the “world’s nuclear stockpiles have been reduced by 85 percent” — to list only some of the many numbers he collects from “data scientists.”

     Ok, I have read enough. I can’t support the book, and won’t read it. After all, if someone cannot see the saga of the headlines and deal with them, then that is no real defence of reason. 



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Saturday, 13 August 2022