Critique of Steven Pinker's Enlightenment Now
by Jeremy Lent (Patterning Instincts, fatal flaws)
Pinker's Enlightenment Now is optimistic about the overwhelming success of western civilization, where reason, science, and a secular morality derived from grand narratives have all resulted in global prosperity and peace. Lent pessimistically criticizes the successes of Pinker's enlightenment with the failures of eight progressive issues. Lent argues that the failures of his eight issues below counter the progress of Pinker's enlightenment:
1) there is still lots of pollution of air, drinking water, and ocean;
2) there are still species going extinct;
3) there are still inequalities of incarceration rates;
4) there is still a great inequality of wealth;
5) increase in GDP does not measure true progress;
6) increase in life span same as increase in education, not due to increase in per capita GPD;
7) Pinker's view of capitalism's good versus Marxism's evil is wrong and Manicean;
8) The decrease in ethnic humor noted by Pinker as a success of enlightenment is a result of progressive thought, not of enlightenment.
Pinker states that the enlightenment brought reason, science, and a secular morality all derived from enlightenment's many grand narratives. This has resulted in an unprecedented global prosperity and peace in our post modern times. Despite these undeniable truths, of course, a pessimist like Lent will invariably emphasize instead the equally undeniable shortcomings of our current prosperity and peace, but Lent's complete denial of enlightenment's many successes seems Manicean and simplistic.
Lent claims the moral high ground on Pinker by suggesting Pinker's enlightenment has resulted in a destructive global economic system at the price of prosperity and peace and Lent instead advocates...
"...replacing a destructive global economic system with one that offers potential for greater fairness, sustainability, and human flourishing."
Lent argues that Pinker's selfish capitalism of enlightenment is instead a
"...Manichean landscape of capitalist good versus communist evil..."
Lent evidently believes in the neo-Marxist dogma that there is a tyranny of the selfish rich over the resentful poor and the best way to reduce this selfish tyranny is to impose a much more compassionate Marxist tyranny of state versus individual. This compassionate Marxist tyranny will transfer wealth from the selfish rich to the resentful poor as well as reduce a myriad of other selfish tyrannies.
Lent does not seem to believe that all of the people who died as a result of Marxist state tyrannies in the 20th century show the abject failure of Marxist compassion in reducing tyranny. Instead, Lent seems to propose a neo-Marxist state tyranny that will replace all of the existing tyrannies and finally solve all inequality and offer greater compassion, fairness, sustainability, and human flourishing.
By denying the historical fact of the suffering and misery of Marxist compassion, Lent fantasizes about a neo-Maxist compassion of fairness despite the overwhelming demonstrative failures of Marxism to reduce tyranny. In contrast to the suffering and misery of Marxism, individual freedom and capitalism offer a much more successful albeit still imperfect world economic order despite its many flaws. Thus, Lent appears ready to replace success of enlightenment with yet another neo-Marxist experiment in state tyranny over individual freedom, this time in the guise of fairness, sustainability, and human flourishing.
It is ironic that Lent appears fundamentally pessimistic about Pinker's optimism about the world order even while Lent is decidedly optimistic about the fairness and compassion of some other tyranny that might replace what Lent sees as an unfair and destructive global economic system. Lent seems overly optimistic and Manicean in believing that humans are naturally good and therefore not prone to the same malevolence of current tyrannies. Therefore Lent believes that humans will flourish when the kinder and gentler tyranny of a neo-Marxism state compassion replaces the destructive global economic selfishness of enlightenment...yeah, right...
Pinker appears fundamentally optimistic about what he sees as a highly successful global economic system of individual freedom and capitalism imbued with many inequalities of outcome and certainly not perfect. Pinker further supposes that humans are equally capable of either compassionate good or selfish malevolence and in fact, evolution guarantees that, given the right circumstances, human malevolence can and will emerge from anybody's tyranny and lead to suffering and misery.
Therefore, Pinker argues that the grand narratives of the enlightenment have indeed been highly successful in spite of an ever present human malevolence. Pinker touts a secular morality that derives from the grand narratives and ancient wisdom of literature, art, music, and religion but Pinker pointedly excludes any role for religion in civilization's future. Pinker argues that the enlightenment is much better off without the fiction and mysticism of religious narratives and indeed, the post-modernist doctrine likewise denies the intrinsic value of any of the grand narratives of individual freedom and capitalism, including those of religion.
Lent uses a fascist epithet for Pinker and so ruins his otherwise civil discourse by saying that Pinker uses "...Nazi-like comparisons of human beings to vermin..."
Lent uses an Manicean “no shades of gray” epithet to smear Pinker as naive. Lent is a Marxist apologist who believes that capitalism and individual freedom are part of a destructive global economic order that must be replaced. Ironically, it is Lent who seems to follows a Manicean black and white paradigm with his compassion versus Pinker's selfishness.
For postmodernists, there are no absolute truths from the grand narratives of Western civilization and only interpretations of their value. As a result, nothing really matters and people can just make up whatever they want to believe is good and moral. Since what a compassionate person believes is necessarily good and moral, that person then has the right to impose their beliefs on anyone who disagrees with them since there are no grand narratives to rank beliefs, just feelings.
Lent and Pinker are a discourse in polar opposites engaged in a civil discourse that bonds an optimistic narrative of enlightened capitalism and individual freedom with the pessimistic narrative of a neo-Marxist state tyranny that is necessary for a fair and constructive global economic system. The polar opposites of civil discourse result in both the bonding of compassion and serenity as well as the selfishness of conflict and anger. While compassion bonds polar opposites, selfishness results in conflict and as long as there is a civil discourse, results in the bonds of civilization and the free exchange of ideas.
Jordan Peterson, just like Pinker, also believes in the grand narratives of literature, art, music, and religion but Peterson also believes that there is a role for religion and mysticism in civilization's future. Peterson argues that there are and will always be limits to what the facts of science can reveal about the world and the grand narratives provide a necessary transcendence that consciousness needs to fill in the missing blanks and therefore make sense out of reality. Grand narratives provide people with a necessary causal set of unconscious archetypes (a la Carl Jung) and these unconscious archetypes are what give people meaning and purpose from emotion and feeling. Peterson believes that there are things about consciousness that people will never understand and one of those things is the role of unconscious archetypes in how we all choose desirable futures.
Successful archetypes are those that reduce suffering and misery, since suffering and misery can otherwise make people angry and resentful over inequalities of outcome among competencies. Unsuccessful archetypes are those that increase suffering and misery and it is a profound mystery exactly how civilization seems to have found the successful archetypes of Pinker's enlightenment. Since people do not really understand the deep mysteries of consciousness and free choice, people need to be very, very careful about changing what Lent regards as a destructive global economic system. After all, those changes may actually increase and not decrease misery and suffering.
While equality of opportunity is always a desirable result of individual freedom, inequality of outcome is a fundamental and also an unfair part of human nature. There will always be hierarchies of human competency because some people are simply better than others within every human competency. Neo-Marxist compassion uses the guise of the benevolence of a mother grizzly bear protecting her cubs to impose a compassionate state tyranny to correct selfish injustice. In neo-Marxism, even inequality of outcomes needs the imposition of a state tyranny to correct, for example for wealth.
There is no fairness in any human competency since some people are more competent than others and so the very few people who are very very successful will invariably rise to the top of each hierarchy of competence. People need to judge whether the success of these hierarchies of competence makes them desirable and people should judge success when there is a reduction in suffering and misery. Human nature is, after all, inherently unfair since some people are more talented and wealthy and motivated as writers, musicians, artists, engineers, nurses, etc., than others. Human nature also is inherently malevolent and so the inequalities of these hierarchies can also result in tyrannies.
Therefore people should only tolerate some limited tyranny and inequality of outcome so that there is as much individual freedom and equality of opportunity as possible. Equality of outcome, however, should not be a large part of any state tyranny without much civil discourse and this means that we will always live with certain inequalities of outcome in group competencies, in wealth, for example. It is simply an immutable fact that 2% of the population are responsible for 80% of the growth of wealth in the U.S., but U.S. wealth also means that people who live at the U.S. poverty level have more wealth than 95% of those in a Marxist state like Cuba.
In China's nascent capitalism, only 0.5% of the population are responsible for 80% of China’s growth of wealth. Thus, China has a much greater wealth inequality than even in the U.S. or other Western nations, but the evolution of China’s capitalism will eventually result in more wealthy people and a more equitable wealth distribution like those of the West...unless there is another revolution of tyranny….
Sustainability is certainly a necessary part of survival, but as long as global population keeps increasing, population growth will continue to degrade earth’s resources and preclude true sustainability. Somehow Lent does not address overpopulation in his pessimism and completely ignores how overpopulation today results in the illegal immigration that strains resources of many nations.
Human flourishing is of course exactly what Pinker's Enlightenment Now shows so well, but the optimism of Pinker's flourishing global economic order does not seem to impress the pessimism of Lent's destructive global economic order. Lent has a blind spot with overpopulation and the resultant immigrant crises and these crises do not seem important to Lent...of course, leftist politics might have something to do with Lent's blind spot.
Granted. There is still plenty of room for improvement within the grand narratives of individual freedom and capitalism of the flourishing global economic order of the enlightenment but for goodness sake, let's recognize and support enlightenment's successes for what they are...successes. The global economic system still, after all, still has its flaws and people must work to correct those flaws, but every alternative order tried so far has even worse flaws that have invariably led to more suffering and misery. So It seems really silly and petty for Lent's eight evils of a destructive global economic system to trump Pinker's countless goods of the individual freedom of capitalism.
This is especially since Lent's epithets simply smear Pinker as essentially being selfish and unfair and promoting inequality and injustice. The polarized discourse of unfettered compassion often uses these invectives against the selfishness of individual freedom. Lent, after all, claims that he knows how to replace the selfish global economic system with Marxist compassion for humans to flourish in a sustainable and fair global economic system of unfettered compassion without the selfishness of Steven Pinker and Bill Gates.
Lent has written much about the evil of selfish growth and and the inevitable collapse of unfettered progress and Lent seems to deny that economic growth is even progress at all. It is true that global population cannot increase indefinitely, but he does not seem to talk about how to limit population growth and the wars and crisis of illegal immigration that necessarily result from overpopulation. Lent also seems oblivious to the dangerous tyrannies of unfettered compassion.
Fortunately, it does appear that Mother nature is slowing population growth and so global population will likely stabilize by 2050 at about nine to ten billion or so.
Can we feed that ten billion people? Certainly, but there will be inequality in the kinds of food available. However, there is a large environmental price to pay with agriculture in decreased habitat, extensive irrigation, fertilizers, and pesticides.
Of course, housing, transportation, and health care will all be unequal and unfair...is that wrong? Is the level of inequality in the U.S. fundamentally wrong? Or is inequality of outcome a fundamental part of the dominance hierarchies of all competencies and each group must simply manage their inequalities with a limited amount of tyranny.
How about the other competencies?
Knowledge: Seems like education and literacy can be equality of opportunity. However, no matter how equal is educational opportunity, there will always be outcomes with both high and low IQ people. Since high IQ people tend to be more successful in many different different competencies, high IQ will therefore invariably result in inequality of outcome despite equality of opportunity.
Tools, leisure, and environment are all desirable competencies, but the environment is how we intersect with greater world. Since there is an environmental impact for every species, it is never really clear when the growth of successful species is bad for the environment.
Security, risk, administration, energy, money, and communication are all very necessary competencies that people generally wish to spend less wealth on. The money competency is not wealth per se
, but the banks, credit cards, paypals, and so on, by which people exchange wealth for matter and action.