Pinker on Human Progress

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Fascinating! I had no idea, as I took my seat near the front of the hall, how much one lecture could change my thinking. Our media focuses on crime, conflict, and injustice - what demands attention. But Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker suggested we look past the headlines, to the long-term trends. And when we do, it's not what most people think.

The world today is better than it ever has been. Poverty, famine, violence, and work hours have all declined; life expectancy, democracy, civil rights, education, and happiness have all risen. Although problems persist, so does progress. Solving problems does create new ones, but the previous ones were generally worse. When we take a broader perspective of history, the improvement in human well-being is remarkable.

As intriguing as our progress are the reasons behind it. Pinker argued it was the growth of reason, science, and humanism over religious morality, authoritarianism, and reactionary and romantic ideologies. The growth of these ideas can be attributed to trailblazers like Martin Luther, Galileo, and Adam Smith who had the creativity, persistence, independence of thought, and courage to question prevailing wisdom and orthodoxy.

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