So many great articles out with the publication of Steven Pinker’s new book, Enlightenment Now. Some excerpts from David Brooks op-ed in the NYTimes below as well as some links to others I’ve recently enjoyed.
“This week I asked a group of students at the University of Chicago a question I’m asking students around the country: Who are your heroes? There’s always a long pause after I ask. But eventually one of the students suggested Steven Pinker. Another chimed in Jonathan Haidt. There was general nodding around the table.
That was interesting. Both men are psychology professors, at Harvard and N.Y.U., who bravely stand against what can be the smothering orthodoxy that inhibits thought on campus, but not from the familiar conservative position.
One way Pinker does it is by refusing to be pessimistic. There is a mood across America, but especially on campus, that in order to show how aware of social injustice you are, you have to go around in a perpetual state of indignation, negativity and righteous rage. Pinker refuses to do this. In his new book, “Enlightenment Now,” he argues that this pose is dishonest toward the facts.”
“Pinker is a paragon of exactly the kind of intellectual honesty and courage we need to restore conversation and community, and the students are right to revere him.
But today’s situation reminds us of the weakness of the sort of Cartesian rationalism Pinker champions and represents. Conscious reason can get you only so far when tribal emotions have been aroused, when existential fears rain down, when narcissistic impulses have been given free rein, when spiritual longings have nowhere healthy to go, when social trust has been devastated, when all the unconscious networks that make up 99 percent of our thinking are aflame and disordered.
Our problems are relational. I don’t know about yours, but after the CNN Town Hall Wednesday night, my Twitter feed was aflame, with two raging warring camps. If we had an emotionally healthy polity, it would be completely easy to pass eight or 10 sensible restrictions to at least make it harder for lonely attention-seekers to get guns. But our nation is emotionally sick.
Pinker’s rationalism is not the total cure. But I have to confess, I really like him. A few years ago the magazine Moment gave genetic tests to a bunch of writers with Jewish heritage. The tests reveal that Pinker and I are third cousins. Learning of this kinship tie, I now feel special affection for him. Why? There’s no rational, scientific reason. I just do.”
Read More below: