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Defending the Enlightenment

Steven Pinker takes on the tribalists.

Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress, by Steven Pinker, Viking, 556 pages, $35

VikingVikingFor Immanuel Kant, the central theme of the Enlightenment—that great 18th century movement that emphasized the power of reason—was Sapere aude. This is usually translated as "Dare to know" or, more loosely, "Have the courage to use your own understanding." Enlightenment thinking engendered liberal democracies, civil liberties, free markets, religious toleration, and free speech; it helped us move out of the abject poverty, pervasive violence, and appalling ignorance that marked most of human history.

In Enlightenment Now, the Harvard cognitive scientist Steven Pinker defends those ideals, arguing that "we can apply reason and sympathy to enhance human flourishing." He also worries that many of us take for granted the Enlightenment ideals and institutions that have made our relatively peaceful and prosperous world possible. Political leaders and their intellectual fellow travelers, he warns, seek power and position by appealing to some of the less admirable "strands of human nature: our loyalty to tribe, deference to authority, magical thinking, the blaming of evildoers."

In an earlier book, The Better Angels of Our Natures, Pinker showed that violence has been declining for centuries. That is clearly evidence of considerable moral progress. Pinker broadens his focus in Enlightenment Now to document the many other aspects of human flourishing that progress has made possible.

For example, no country had an average life expectancy above 40 years in 1800; now the global average is above 71. In 1947, 50 percent of the world's population was undernourished; now the number is 13 percent. "The gross world product today has grown almost a hundredfold since the Industrial Revolution was in place in 1820, and almost two hundredfold from the start of the Enlightenment in the 18th century," Pinker points out. In 200 years, the rate of extreme poverty (living on less than $1.90 per day) has declined by 90 percent, with half of that decline occurring in the past 35 years. As the economist Angus Deaton once wrote, "Ever since people rebelled against authority in the Enlightenment, and set about using the force of reason to make their lives better, they have found a way to do so, and there is little doubt that they will continue to win victories against the forces of death."

Pinker notes that rising incomes correlate with the growing respect for "emancipative values" such as women's equality, free speech, gay rights, and participatory democracy. In the past 25 years, the percentage of Americans who support equal rights for women and for racial and sexual minorities has grown to a majority. Similar trends are occurring throughout the world. In 1950, almost half of the world's countries had laws that discriminated against ethnic and racial minorities. By 2003, less than a fifth did. By 2016, consensual homosexuality had been decriminalized in 121 United Nations member states. It was still illegal in 73 countries, but that was down from 92 countries just a decade earlier.

Pinker also demolishes intellectually fashionable eco-pessimism. Environmental problems, like other problems, are being solved by the human ingenuity unleashed by such Enlightenment institutions as science and markets. "As the world gets richer and more tech-savvy, it dematerializes, decarbonizes, and densifies, sparing land and species," Pinker writes. "As societies have become healthier, wealthier, freer, happier, and better educated, they have emitted fewer pollutants, cleared fewer forests, spilled less oil, set aside more preserves, extinguished fewer species, saved the ozone layer, and peaked their consumption of oil, farmland, timber, paper, cars, coal, and perhaps even carbon." As poor countries get richer, expanding forests and falling levels of pollution will ensue in those nations too.

And in the last two centuries, literacy has risen from less than 12 percent of the world's population to over 83 percent today. The global literacy rate for young adults—ages 15 to 24—stands at 91 percent.

Pinker also shows that the cultural critics who solemnly declaim that "money can't buy happiness" are largely wrong. Citing data from the World Happiness Report 2016, he writes: "Not only are richer people in a given country happier, but people in richer countries are happier, and as countries get richer over time, their people get happier."

Some pessimists may concede that human condition has improved massively over the last 200 years but nevertheless insist that the total catastrophe is just over the horizon. A nuclear war could break out. Prominent techies, like Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk, warn that super-intelligent robots could eliminate humanity. In 2002, astronomer Martin Rees bet that by 2020, a "bioterror or bioerror will lead to one million casualties in a single event."

While acknowledging that nuclear war is still possible, Pinker points out that mutual deterrence has been working: There have been no world wars between great powers since the development of nuclear weapons. Even more happily, the world's nuclear weapon stockpiles have declined by 85 percent since their peak in 1967. To further reduce the chances of a disastrous nuclear exchange, he advises countries to declare a "no first use" policy and to take their intercontinental missiles off their hair-trigger launch-on-warning alert status.

With regard to supposed existential threats posed by advancements in infotech and biotech, Pinker counters by citing What Technology Wants author Kevin Kelly's insight: "The more sophisticated and powerful a technology, the more people are needed to weaponize it. And the more people needed to weaponize it, the more societal controls work to defuse, or soften, or prevent harm from happening." In other words, the highly connected and cooperative world that Enlightenment institutions have conjured into existence tends to generate social antibodies that protect against risks of rogue menaces destroying civilization.

So is Pinker a 21st century version of Dr. Pangloss, the diehard optimist in Voltaire's Enlightenment novel Candide who claimed that "all is for the best in this best of all possible worlds"? Not at all. There are threats to progress, reason, science, and humanism. Progress is an uneven process, and setbacks do occur.

Pinker is worried about the spread of authoritarian nationalism in many Western countries. The new would-be autocrats appeal to tribalist instincts and encourage zero-sum thinking: the idea that the gains of others must come at our expense.

Pinker also worries that opinions about many issues—climate change, gun control, minimum wage laws, abortion—now serve predominantly as signals to members of your political tribe that you are loyal. Changing your views on some salient issues would make you a traitor to your tribe. "We must not let the existence of cognitive and emotional biases or the spasms of irrationality in the political arena discourage us from the Enlightenment ideal of relentlessly pursuing reason and truth," Pinker writes. He suggests various preliminary efforts to enhance rationality in politics, such as convening small discussion groups of political adversaries with the aim of arriving at a consensus on an issue. But he admits that it will take time to develop new institutions that can more effectively ameliorate toxic polarization.

He points out that "the traditional causes of belief—faith, revelation, dogma, authority, charisma, conventional wisdom, hermeneutic parsing of texts, the glow of subjective certainty—are generators of error." Science, on the other hand, embodies the "ideal that we must allow the world to tell us whether our ideas about it are correct." This Enlightenment insistence on empiricism does not please everybody. Pinker observes that some philosophers, sociologists, and historians teach that science "is just a pretext for oppression." But history, he writes, shows that this idea is absurd: "Genocide and autocracy were ubiquitous in premodern times, and they decreased, not increased, as science and liberal Enlightenment values became increasingly influential."

Pinker defines humanism as "the goal of maximizing human flourishing—life, health, happiness, freedom, knowledge, love, richness of experience." Humanism stands in contrast with the parochial dogmas of various theistic moralities and the seductive idea of romantic heroism. Against theistic moralities, Pinker cites Socrates' argument that "if the gods have good reasons to deem certain acts moral, we can appeal to those reasons directly, skipping the middlemen. If they don't, we should not take their dictates seriously." Romantic heroism, meanwhile, embodies the idea that morality consists of purity, authenticity, and the greatness of an individual or nation. It's a way of thinking that sacrifices the interests of individual people to the supposed greater glory of the tribe, the race, or the class. Instead of productive cooperation, they engender destructive conflict.

As the true heirs of the Enlightenment, contemporary classical liberals will find much that Pinker has to say quite congenial. Enlightenment Now strikes a powerful blow against the contemporary mystifications being peddled by tribalists on both the left and the right. "The appeal of regressive ideas is perennial, and the case for reason, science, humanism, and progress always has to be made," Pinker concludes. That is exactly what he has achieved in this intellectually exhilarating book.

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  • Incomprehensible Bitching||

    Colonist would say that.

  • Unlabelable MJGreen||

    the less admirable "strands of human nature: our loyalty to tribe, deference to authority, magical thinking, the blaming of evildoers."

    I'm glad we're all above that.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Yeah, we definitely all agree about that at least.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    556 pages is a lot of Enlightenment now.

  • Episteme||

    Enlightenment Over Time?

  • $park¥ leftist poser||

    Pinker defines humanism as "the goal of maximizing human flourishing—life, health, happiness, freedom, knowledge, love, richness of experience." Humanism stands in contrast with the parochial dogmas of various theistic moralities and the seductive idea of romantic heroism.

    It's strange, or maybe it isn't, that many philosophers fall into this pit. "Everything else is nonsensical dogma but what I'm pitching is different." I suppose that's what everyone pitching some dogma has to say to make people think they're different.

    And it's unfortunate because for the most part this guy appears to be pitching reasonable ideas.

  • sarcasmic||

    Sales is sales. Don't matter if you're selling drugs, cars, or ideas. It's still sales.

  • $park¥ leftist poser||

    I suppose that's why I'm not a good salesman.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    $park¥ watches Alec Baldwin's speech in Glengarry Glen Ross and just sighs sadly.

  • $park¥ leftist poser||

    There's no way I could ever outact Arric Barwin.

  • ||

    "Because only one thing counts in this life: get 'em to sign on the line which is dotted."

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    Libertarian's ABC = Always Be Criticizing!

  • A Thinking Mind||

    The cool thing is that the enlightenment was all about this. Everyone had their own take, their own philosophy, their own sales pitch, and were quite happy to pit them against other ideas. The marketplace of ideas was probably at its zenith when Immanuel Kant was writing his essay "What is Enlightenment?"

  • JFree||

    I think I prefer Comte's version of Humanism.

    The individual is an abstraction. Only the community is real. And the best way to eliminate the old theistic moralities is to replace them with a new trinity of - well - theistic moralities - le Nouveau Grand-Être Suprême (Humanity); le Grand Fétish (Earth); le Grand Milieu (Cosmos)

    Refreshingly lunatic.

  • Siegzon||

    I think the French tried this already. Things got a bit bloody. I'll stick with Catholicism that cut furrows in the ground for the Enlightenment and outlived it to keep a light shining throughout the Enlightenment's bastard children: the pseudo-science calamities of the 20th century and the central planners who masked mad sociology as hard science.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    Catholicism got a bit bloody as well, mate.

  • redshifted||

    Well, the ideas (i.e. theistic dogma) he's contrasting humanism to are actually nonsense. He's making the case that Enlightenment values are superior to theistic ones, and he has much evidence in support of it. He's not just pitching a different dogma as you imply. Odd you'd call him unreasonable for this.

  • $park¥ leftist poser||

    I didn't call him unreasonable, did I? In fact, I said the bulk of his ideas are quite reasonable.

  • DajjaI||

    Yes I agree that things are getting much better, and it's because of science and technology. However their agenda is to push for science superheroes to run around the world saving the masses from themselves. Thus, Bill Gates's programs to 'eliminate malaria' and universal education and other schemes. Those are great but the thing is, people ultimately have to learn to take care of themselves. Otherwise they will grow and multiply and become dependent and unsustainable and get oppressed and massacred. What's the point of that? Better to let them experience the weight of self-reliance and thereby freely decide not to propagate. And they also think you can't discipline a child because they know right and wrong, meaning that any deviation is due to 'mental illness'. Which is going to become the next major boogeyman, the way things are going with this Parkland shooting. Of course, the epidemic is created by psychiatrists, who should be deported and yes we need to build a wall to keep them from coming back.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    However their agenda is to push for science superheroes to run around the world saving the masses from themselves.

    Where'd you get that? Everything I've read from him is that progress in general is the solution, and solitary single saviors are not part of that "in general" vibe. It has everything to do with individuals making their own progress, not Top.Men.

    I can only conclude that just because he says "humanism", you think it can only mean someone else's definition of humanism.

  • Ron Bailey||

    D: As I note in the review: As the economist Angus Deaton once wrote, "Ever since people rebelled against authority in the Enlightenment, and set about using the force of reason to make their lives better, they have found a way to do so, and there is little doubt that they will continue to win victories against the forces of death." The Enlightenment enables more people to be the heroes of their own lives; no longer subject to the whims of pre-Enlightenment "superheroes" in the form of kings, emperors, generals, dictators, etc.

  • mtrueman||

    One of my fave Enlightenment guys was Marquis de Sade who probably took his individualism, freedom and reason much further than any of his contemporaries dared to. So much for being the hero of his life, though. He spent most of his life behind bars.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    Then there was Max Stirner:

    "Whoever will be free must make himself free. Freedom is no fairy gift to fall into a man's lap. What is freedom? To have the will to be responsible for one's self."

  • Earth Skeptic||

    Interesting point. So, two basic plans (besides just leave people alone or fuck with them for your own ends):

    Plan A
    1. Save people from themselves.
    2. Try to teach them to take care of themselves.

    Plan B
    1. Teach people to take care of themselves.
    2. Let them save themselves.

  • DajjaI||

    Sometimes the best way to help someone is to stop trying to 'help' them. Of course, the liberals will cry 'murderer!' but the fact is, the people will be fine. For example, most of increased medicaid spending goes to 'peer support' for 'addiction' and 'mental illness' treatment - both of which are hugely destructive. FOR GODS SAKES STOP HELPING.

  • Sometimes a Great Notion||

    Well your example mix and malltchq qq

  • Bacon-Magic glib reasonoid||

    Interesting. Science isn't the answer to everything but it sure helps. Just remember there have been times in history where science was used in evil ways too.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    I think you mean technology was used in evil ways. Science is a process of asking and investigating and revising ideas in light of those investigations. It is not accumulated facts and procedures.

  • $park¥ leftist poser||

    I think the problem is that science is misunderstood by some and misrepresented by others. As you say, science is just a process used to evaluate data, but there are people who somehow see it as something more than that.

  • Earth Skeptic||

    Actually, for many people "science" is not much different from magic or religion. I wager that 80% of leftists who claim to "believe" in science do just that: accept a given word from preferred authority figures without understanding any of it. And certainly do not perform any science-like gathering of objective info and logical analysis.

  • Tony||

    Most people don't manufacture and build houses either, but we still live in them--trusting the experts who did the heavy lifting.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Except people who build houses don't use government to demand that you accept how good their houses are and then get millions in grants from government to make more houses no matter how shoddy the work might be.

  • Greg F||

    Most people don't manufacture and build houses either, but we still live in them--trusting the experts who did the heavy lifting.


    Further proof that Tony doesn't know shit about science. We trust them because they don't fall down. There are consequences for those who build stuff that fails. Government funded science doesn't seem to account for failure.

  • Tony||

    How much coral has to bleach, how many species have to go extinct, and how much does the average global temperature have to rise before you start noticing the evidence?

  • ace_m82||

    How many things that happened prior to man have to keep happening?

  • sparkstable||

    Enough to be statistically significant AND be shown to matter in deleterious ways BY TRUSTED sources. See... the problem isn't that I don't believe in climate change. The problem is that there is evidence that suggests I shouldn't trust the people who proclaim climate change. Given that there is counter evidence and other possibilities as to how we evaluate the data... or even conflict over the accuracy of the data itself... conclusions aren't worth a damn.

    And people who say "Game over, I'm right!" aren't practicing science by such a claim and therefore should not be trusted as scientists. That leaves the people who say "I don't know," or people who say "here is counter data" as the trust worthy ones. So... I DO trust people who practice science. I don't trust people who say "TRUST ME I AM A SCIENTISTS! I FUCKING LOVE SCIENCE!!!1!!1!1"

  • $park¥ leftist poser||

    And people who say "Game over, I'm right!" aren't practicing science by such a claim and therefore should not be trusted as scientists.

    I don't know about that. That would be an awful lot of scientists that you'd be discrediting with that statement.

  • BYODB||

    Just out of curiosity, how does one stop species from going extinct?

    Did you know, for example, that if a species becomes some other species that species has 'gone extinct'. Virtually every form of life that has ever been on planet Earth is extinct. That's a fact.

    So how do we stop evolution? It's killing the planet, right?

  • mtrueman||

    "Just out of curiosity, how does one stop species from going extinct?"

    First step is to stop destroying its habitat.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    The best way to stop a species from going extinct is to turn it into a game species for sport hunting.

  • Ariki||

    And thus Tony demonstrates his misunderstanding of science.

  • Tony||

    I agree with the conclusions of a near unanimity of actual scientists on planet earth. Do they not understand science either?

    Why don't you take your middle school textbook vocab words and educate them?

  • BYODB||


    Do they not understand science either?

    Well, since none of their past predictions have ever come true one must assume that they are not as accurate as Nostradamus at the very least.

  • Greg F||

    I agree with the conclusions of a near unanimity of actual scientists on planet earth.


    Once again you prove you don't know how real science operates. History is full of examples of "near unanimity of actual scientists" believing stuff that we now know just isn't true. You consistently beat the stupid consensus drum no matter how many time you are shown it is unscientific.

    A century ago you would have done the same thing with Eugenics. Science to you is a religion. You are a fanatic trying to force your religious beliefs down everybody's throat. You simply lack the skills to evaluate any of the science. You look like a fool.

  • Greg F||

    How much coral has to bleach, how many species have to go extinct, and how much does the average global temperature have to rise before you start noticing the evidence?


    What evidence Tony? Talking points are not evidence Tony. As I pointed out with your house example your logic is faulty. Your question is stupid. It is stupid because you assume the cause. All those things you mention have happened before man even existed.

  • Earth Skeptic||

    Thanks, beat me to it.

  • Bacon-Magic glib reasonoid||

    No I meant science. Germany conducted experiments on humans "in the name of science". That was the context I was using. That aside science and technology has done more to improve the human condition than most everything else except capitalism.

  • BYODB||

    Frankly science isn't connected to morality in any way, shape, or form. Arguably many of the things the German's did were indeed science, up to and including experimenting on people.

    The only 'morals' that exist within science are the morals of those who practice it.

  • $park¥ leftist poser||

    The only 'morals' that exist within science are the morals of those who practice it.

    What you're saying is that morals are connected to science by the scientist.

  • BYODB||


    What you're saying is that morals are connected to science by the scientist.

    I gueass, sort of, but it's not a meaningful distinction.

    I'm saying there is no consideration in the scientific method that determines if a thing is 'moral' or not.

    A scientist can decide not to pursue a line of inquiry because it's immoral in their view, but the scientific method itself makes no value judgment either way. Some later scientist might very well decide that thing is perfectly ethical and moral and pursue that line of inquiry regardless of what any previous scientist thought.

    Those are not the same thing in my view, and since it serves as no meaningful restriction over time I don't see any reason to connect the two.

  • $park¥ leftist poser||

    the scientific method itself makes no value judgment either way

    Agreed. However, B-M's point that you appeared to be refuting:

    Germany conducted experiments on humans "in the name of science".

    Is accurate.

  • BYODB||

    Bacon said it exactly right.

    Just remember there have been times in history where science was used in evil ways too.

    Thing is, if you want something to work on people you would want to test on people for the best scientific results. Ethically a person would be using science in an 'evil' way if they used test subjects that, say, did not consent to be used. It's more or less two completely different considerations but they are correlated.

    No more confusion. I was agreeing with Bacon's version in his analogy over your attempt to insert 'technology' in place of 'science' but you're also both right. All the above works for 'technology' as well, since 'technology' is the end result of science.

  • Greg F||

    Science is a process of asking and investigating and revising ideas in light of those investigations.


    Engineering also involves "asking and investigating and revising ideas in light of those investigations". We call it applied science.

  • Ron Bailey||

    B-M: Nothing is perfect; but Enlightenment institutions - free markets, representative democracy, free speech, religious toleration, free inquiry (science) - have manifestly guided people toward better outcomes, aka, flourishing, than any other system devised by human beings. I would like readers to think about what their lives would have been like - their work opportunities, their health, their entertainments, their educational opportunities, their experiences of the world, their liberties, their mobility - had they been alive 250 years ago during the pre-Enlightenment. This is why 2017 was the best year ever in human history.

  • Ron Bailey||

  • silver.||

    Don Boudreaux of Cafe Hayek writes about how the average American in 2016 is richer than John D. Rockefeller in 1916.

    Good stuff.

  • Kivlor||

    Although I can appreciate the message they are trying to convey, no, the typical or average American is not richer than Rockefeller was in 1916. There have been new technologies developed that weren't available to Rockefeller. That's not the same thing as wealth.

    Quality of life for the typical American is drastically better than it was 100 years ago. Which is awesome.

  • silver.||

    Just finished the article and came here to say that my description was misleading, thanks.

    Should've RTFMA.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    Yes, it is wealth, in its own way. The poorest American, unless a hermit down by the river, has technology that Rockefeller could not have bought for any amount of money. What else matters? Only if you think hiring servants matters was Rockefeller better off.

  • BYODB||

    Can you buy an entire ship staffed with your own personal crew and hire an entire boatload of prostitutes to service you for two weeks or a month while you get to your destination?

    No?

    Than it's a stupid comparison. You're not as rich as Rockefeller, you just benefit from technology that didn't exist when he was alive. They are not comparable. Reverse the situation and Rockefeller would still be able to buy you under the table with his past-money adjusted for inflation or not.

    Oh? What's that you say? It's a stupid argument? Yes, yes it is.

  • sparkstable||

    He may have had more money and more purchasing power... but that isn't the same as "wealth" per se (depending on how we wish to define wealth). Ludwig von Mises argues that in ways which matter inequality is down greatly. His exams is in the past a long could travel in a coach with 10 horses and a peasant had to walk with shoes IF lucky. Today the king-equivalent had a Bently (engine, seat, doors, 4 wheels, can reach the normal driving speeds of up to 80ish mph). The peasant-equivalent today can drive a used Honda, slightly beat up (has an engine, wheels, doors, and can reach the same important speed limits).

    Granted, the rich guy today has a NICER car, but the poor STILL HAS A CAR. The functional difference is irrelevant when compared to the functional differences in the past. And it is the Enlightenment advancements that closed that gap.

  • sparkstable||

    ...Mises' example was that a king...

    Damn autocorrect.

  • Griffin3||

    Yes, you can. Celebrity cruises. And transatlantic cruises start at $2999, concierge suite, Ft. Lauderdale to Rome, 15 days. Prostitutes are extra, but wi-fi is included!

  • BYODB||

    Oh cool, so you can buy the cruise ship then set it on fire and sink at your leisure? Sounds legit.

    The fact of the matter here is that someone 'invented' a measure of wealth then retroactively applied it to historical time periods to make a dumb point.

    By this measure, Alexander the Great and all the Pharaoh's, not to mention every Roman Emperor who ever lived, were 'poorer' than some yahoo on the corner on public assistance.

    Sorry, but when you hit that point your 'measure' is fucking stupid.

  • JoeBlow123||

    "Sorry, but when you hit that point your 'measure' is fucking stupid."

    Hahaha. I guess I am a greater man than Julius Caesar?

  • silver.||

    Cincinnatus' corpse for president 2020.

  • BYODB||


    Hahaha. I guess I am a greater man than Julius Caesar?

    Well, at the very least you're far richer. How many lions do you own, exactly, one might ask.

  • Kivlor||

    Ron, it's probably a little presumptuous to think that if the Enlightenment hadn't happened the way it did then we'd be living today like our forefathers did 250 years ago.

    As a general rule, the advancement of technology has improved quality of human life, at least in the long run and on the aggregate. I would question how much "religious toleration" has to do with technological advancement in the aggregate. And for all its self-aggrandizement, representative democracy often holds back much, and it's downsides are glaring for those willing to take off the rose-tinted glasses and actually inspect it.

    Free markets and free speech seem to do more for humanity than the other things you've lumped together with them.

  • JoeBlow123||

    "And for all its self-aggrandizement, representative democracy often holds back much, and it's downsides are glaring for those willing to take off the rose-tinted glasses and actually inspect it."

    This is an interesting proposition. What exactly do you think is better way to organize society than representative democracy then?

  • Ron Bailey||

    J: Maybe "constitutionally limited representative government" - just a thought.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Ron, you forgot to drop mic.

  • Kivlor||

    Constitutional Republics that don't enfranchise the entire adult population are better IMO. Limiting the franchise to land-owning adults for example. Or adults with biological children. Both have an actual stake in the nation and its future.

    But honestly, I'm skeptical of the Enlightenment. I question whether or not Representative Democracy (or a Limited Representative Constitutional Republic even) is all that we make it out to be. For example, Representative governments (such as ours) have indeed turned out to be quite Orwellian in the sense that they are concerned with the very thoughts of their subjects, whereas a healthy authoritarian government (such as a monarchy) has little reason to care about the thoughts of its subjects, and should be merely preoccupied with their obedience.

    Is what we have really all that better than a Monarchy?

  • BYODB||


    Is what we have really all that better than a Monarchy?

    For the individual and their autonomy, yes, although occasionally it may be a marginal improvement.

  • Kivlor||

    I would suggest that perhaps this is exaggerated. And I would point to Molbug's writings for an introduction.

  • JoeBlow123||

    That Molburg guy is a goof. He writes in such an exaggeratedly ridiculous manner to hide his sophistic arguments. I have never been impressed with flowery baloney writing, give me a Hemingway or Orwell any day. Plus the guy is an out and out unashamed neo-monarchist goof. He talks about how great an aristocracy would be under the assumption he would be the guy in a coach running over peasants and not the guy in the field with no property rights, no right to life, no right to freedom of speech, no right to freedom of assembly.

    But I do not agree with disenfranchising people if they do not own property. You can either give them a vote or they will kill you sooner or later, that is the reality. Or you better be ready to kill them and crush them when they do not fall in line. That is the beauty of democracy, it is a war without the bloodshed, a controlled contest.

  • Kivlor||

    That Molburg guy is a goof... I have never been impressed with flowery baloney writing

    The points he notes are quite cogent, if you're willing to examine them.

    The guy is an out and out unashamed neo-monarchist goof.

    Something he backs up, which is more than we can say for whatever you believe in. I could just as easily call you an egalitarian goof.

    But I do not agree with disenfranchising people if they do not own property. You can either give them a vote or they will kill you sooner or later

    War cannot be avoided, merely postponed to your enemy's advantage. --Machiavelli

    As it turns out, let's look at an example of enfranchising people who are generally unworthy of it, and how it actually results in violence... South Africa Farm Murders... Zimbabwe...

    By granting a vote to those who are unworthy, you tell them that not only are they worthy, but that if they can get the mob behind them they can take whatever else they want. It is pathetic appeasement.

    That is the beauty of democracy, it is a war without the bloodshed, a controlled contest.

    Things are not static, and you are demonstrating a very childish view of governments and their stability and legitimacy let alone how conflicts erupt and evolved throughout history.

    Or you better be ready to kill them and crush them when they do not fall in line.

    This is the rule of all governments. Democracies, representative republics, monarchies, theocracies, it is their nature.

  • JoeBlow123||

    Kivlor|2.21.18 @ 6:23PM|#

    I think the mark of a good writer is not how well you can turn a phrase, but how easily your point is understood. Molburg fails on this account. And you are welcome to call me an egalitarian goof, I am happy to own that.

    Just out of curiosity, do you think there is anything in an aristocratic form of government that is consistent with libertarianism? I do not think there could be, it seems by definition anti-libertarian.

  • BYODB||

    Something can be exaggerated yet still be true. Factually speaking it's much harder to get six million individuals to decide you need to die than just one.

    If a modern representative democracy or, hell, even a democracy period wasn't as good as a monarchy or if the returns were minimal we would see modern monarchy's with things like civil rights yet, somehow, we do not.

    And please recall that a straight up monarchy is not the same thing as modern Great Britain which is a 'parliamentary democracy' with a 'constitutional monarch'. Huge difference unless your opinion is that the Magna Carta made little to no difference.

  • Kivlor||

    it's much harder to get six million individuals to decide you need to die than just one.

    It's also much easier to stop one madman than an enraged or maddened mob.

    even a democracy period wasn't as good as a monarchy or if the returns were minimal we would see modern monarchy's with things like civil rights yet, somehow, we do not.

    This is an issue of values. By definition monarchies are going to authoritarian. They care about what you do. Which is where they are far worse than democracies. However, the flip side is that democracies inherently care about what you think, and are oppressive in an Orwellian 1984 way that any healthy monarchy is not. (Sure the unhealthy ones probably do, but that's because they're dying)

    a straight up monarchy is not the same thing as modern Great Britain which is a 'parliamentary democracy' with a 'constitutional monarch

    Yes. However at the time of the Enlightenment, despite the power of Parliament, Great Britain's monarch wielded much more power which is relevant to the Enlightenment discussion.

  • BYODB||


    However, the flip side is that democracies inherently care about what you think, and are oppressive in an Orwellian 1984 way that any healthy monarchy is not.

    Monarchs and dictators care very, very much about what their 'subjects' think and outright monitor it. Consider China. Consider North Korea. Consider Saudi Arabia. Basing a comparison on an idealized form of one government and comparing to a 'reality' version of another gives pre-determined results.

    What is 'speech' if not verbalized thought. Democracy does lead to something else, Tytler seemed to think authoritarianism and I tend to agree on that point, but it's a good place on the wheel to be born and live.

    When was 'noblesse oblige' ever really a thing? Relying on the generosity of a beneficent dictator is like relying on the magic of unicorns in my view. Of course your rulers from on high will claim they have your best interests in mind.

    However at the time of the Enlightenment, despite the power of Parliament, Great Britain's monarch wielded much more power which is relevant to the Enlightenment discussion.

    Less power, and it was transitory. Of course, it will transition back in time.

  • BYODB||


    By granting a vote to those who are unworthy, you tell them that not only are they worthy, but that if they can get the mob behind them they can take whatever else they want. It is pathetic appeasement.

    There is probably a case to be made that only tax payers should get a vote, especially in a more ideal version of a limited government, but 'unworthy' is an odd word to use.

    Of course, what you refer to is democracy and the tyranny of the majority which is specifically why we are not a democracy in the United States of America and it's why I am not a believer in democracy in particular, but I do prefer the democratic process to be involved.

    Everyone should have a say in who becomes a leader in a government who's rule they fall under, even if it's a bad leader.

  • silver.||

    Great discussion, BYODalmationBoat, Kivlor, and JoeBlow123. I enjoyed reading Molbug's essay and particularly the nitpicky retorts by commentator TGGB. Pretty esoteric stuff. I don't necessarily see liberalism (in the classical sense) to be bad. I think most of the successes of modern Western nations are due to liberal ideas. In the past 50 years liberals have moved away from individual freedoms and adopted more authoritarian beliefs, but the social liberalism has not been particularly detrimental to society in my opinion. Of course we can never know how it might've been, but our advancements have been significant in that time period. Our failures have, too, especially financially.

    I think liberal improvements are experiencing diminishing returns, but that could be patently false.

  • Dick Puller, Attorney at Law||

    Indeed. I fail to see how Edison would have been prevented from inventing the light bulb had he been a subject of the Queen rather than a citizen of the republic.

  • BYODB||

    Indeed, it might be wise to recall that the Industrial Revolution was invented in Britain...under the rule of a monarchy.

    Sure, the U.S. effectively stole it in part because of the monarchy (at least if memory serves) but the innovation itself was British. Also America refined it and implemented it better, at least arguably, but we should also recall that this is one of the indirect causes of the Civil War.

  • Kivlor||

    The Enlightenment was forged in Britain and France. Britain was a Monarchy. France was a monarchy, and the "Enlightenment" in France resulted in regicide, endless bloody revolution, and culminated in the Reign of Terror and the Napoleonic Wars.

  • BYODB||

    The Enlightenment was a response to monarchy, so I'm afraid I'll need to disagree with you. After any system of government collapses it will be followed by variable length period of time in which any form of law and order is going to be little-to-none, and it doesn't follow any particular progression.

    A monarchy could be replaced by a Hitler just as easily as it could be replaced by a Washington. It's not linear.

  • BYODB||

    Actually, it's probably not fair to label the enlightenment as merely a response to monarchy but it was (and is) at odd's with a monarchy or any other system of government that centralized all power into one man over all others.

    Man is inherently fallible, thus concentration of all power into the hands of one imperfect man is simply a terrible idea.

  • JoeBlow123||

    The Napoleonic Wars were the result of monarchists across Europe uniting to crush the French Revolution. I am not arguing the Reign of Terror was not terrible, but the wars caused after the French Revolution were not caused by France, France just finished the wars by crushing everyone.

    And lest we demean the Enlightenment, the United States was a product of the Enlightenment too. I would say it was a pretty good time for a new nation to be incubated.

  • Kivlor||

    The Napoleonic Wars ENDED because the monarchists across Europe united to crush the French Revolution. This happened because the French A) Overthrew and executed their monarch and the entire royal family B) went on to execute untold nobility and waged the Reign of Terror and C) openly worked to export their violent revolution to other nations. It's not like the evil monarchists across Europe had no provocation to invade France. In fact, if the "Enlightenment" hadn't been so belligerent and bloodthirsty it is unlikely that the monarchists would have done much. They'd have been glad to see a rival crippled, and at the time France was the juggernaut of mainland Europe.

  • BYODB||

    I think the main takeaway is never invade Russia in the winter.

    Considering how long the serfs were oppressed, it's not terribly surprising that bloodshed resulted. The United States didn't escape without blood either. They even crossed to the other side of the planet to get away from the bullshit first.

  • JoeBlow123||

    BYODB, that is what I am saying. You either give people rights and a voice or they talk with their knives, guns, bombs, and fists. It may take awhile, but they will act eventually.

  • Mickey Rat||

    In the space of about a quarter the French Revolution went through the political evolution from Kingdom to Republic to Dictatorship to Imperium that Rome took a couple of centuries to complete

  • Ron Bailey||

    DP: From my article, Are Robots Going Steal Our Jobs?:

    In 1589, Queen Elizabeth I refused to grant a patent to William Lee for his invention of the stocking frame knitting machine, which sped up the production of wool hosiery. "Thou aimest high, Master Lee," she declared. "Consider thou what the invention could do to my poor subjects. It would assuredly bring to them ruin by depriving them of employment, thus making them beggars."

  • Bacon-Magic glib reasonoid||

    Thanks Ron.

  • silver.||

    Of course. Science is good, but the phrase, "scientists say," should be viewed with skepticism. Everyone's trying to sell us something. We see this all the time with climate science and economics. There are so many variables that it's really not hard to make a model that produces politically-convenient results.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    True.

  • mtrueman||

    "There are so many variables that it's really not hard to make a model that produces politically-convenient results."

    Models are models. Science is about data and measurement. You can produce all the politically convenient models you like, but you're not going to fool mother nature.

  • JoeBlow123||

    "Against theistic moralities, Pinker cites Socrates' argument that "if the gods have good reasons to deem certain acts moral, we can appeal to those reasons directly, skipping the middlemen. If they don't, we should not take their dictates seriously."

    It is funny this Pinker uses a Socrates quote from a Platonic dialogue that supposedly denounces religion when Plato clearly was very religious and for ages was the go to philosopher for mystics. I am sure he would understand the irony if he was honest enough with his readers to admit to this.

  • BYODB||


    Pinker counters by citing What Technology Wants author Kevin Kelly's insight: "The more sophisticated and powerful a technology, the more people are needed to weaponize it. And the more people needed to weaponize it, the more societal controls work to defuse, or soften, or prevent harm from happening."


    This is a dumb argument. I understand what they're getting at, but look at the Manhattan project and tell me that a large group of scientist won't come together to make a weapon that could destroy the world. It seems these authors are guilty of a little perfectibility of man bias here where technology makes us better people instead of simply changing how our base instincts manifest themselves.


    Not that I'm saying that technology doesn't have the potential to change everything, but rather that it doesn't do that often at all and in the meantime usually technology just makes us way better at murdering each other.

  • sparkstable||

    I don't think he was making a binary argument that IF tech is complex it WILL be made safe. Instead the argument is that AS it gets more complex AND requires more hands the CHANCE of social safety valves increases. Look at Snowden or Manning. As the necessary number of people increased so did the likelihood of a leak. The Manhattan project, while complex, was limited in the number of hands as compared to the whole of society.

  • BYODB||

    Except those aren't even remotely connected. Snowden and Manning aren't even in the same ballpark between the two of them.

    Comparing leaks of information regarding technology used for 'information warfare' is not even remotely the same as literal cases of super weapons that were designed by a huge scientific group brought together for that very purpose. Especially when those weapons can and have destroyed an entire city.

    There could be mitigating factors such as the scientists have no idea what they're working on, but pretending that a group of scientists is 'less likely' to do a thing seems unsupported in my view when I can think of numerous examples of that very thing happening.

    In fact, one of the primary limitations on scientists creating things of this nature appears to be, of all things, legislation. Go figure.

  • BYODB||

    In fact, upon further reflection, I suspect a larger group of people has a reduced moral incentive to stop any work on complicated, large weapons projects as it diffuses blame and culpability. There is no one person to blame for nuclear weapons, for example, so no one is really blamed even while individual scientists (long after the invention) expressed regret that they were involved.

  • mtrueman||

    "In fact, one of the primary limitations on scientists creating things of this nature appears to be, of all things, legislation. Go figure."

    Except that your run of the mill scientist doesn't lift a finger without funding.

  • Dick Puller, Attorney at Law||

    The word "silly" is derived from the middle-English word "sely" which meant "blessed". How a word morphs from blessed to silly is anyone's guess. But I will not be surprised when, a few centuries hence, some derivation of "enlightened" is understood to mean "bat-shit insane".

  • Mickey Rat||

    Ironic usage, I suppose. Lile when "nice" meant something closer to "stupid".

  • Robert||

    I think "no 1st use" of any type of weapon is not only more conducinve to war, but also incredible. It says, if you're beating me w 1 type of weapon or warfare, I'm just gonna surrender rather than fighting back w a type of weapon that'd give me a chance to beat you; who'd be stupid enough to do that? A policy of no-no-1st-use is more deterrent, ain't it?

  • Alfred Schickentanz||

    This is my take on the "Enlightenment". The minimum requirement would be, to not grow old and be dead. I also would like to migrate into Orbital Space (L5) see www.homo-immortalis-omnipotent.org

  • Eidde||

    America was lucky because the Founders tended to follow a very specific strand of the Enlightenment: the Scottish Common Sense school.

    Other parts of the Enlightenment haven't aged as well, like Rousseau's proto-totalitarianism and other forms of non-common-sense.

    The American Revolution was influenced by the Common Sense school; the French Revolution was influenced by Rousseau and other forms of Common Nonsense.

  • JoeBlow123||

    Rousseau is an interesting guy. He seemed like a totally degenerate piece of trash, it is interesting he became so prominent.

    Anyways, it is interesting the evolution for how I learned about him. First I learned of him in high school as some important thinker from France. He wrote the Social Contract, he seemed like a pretty cool guy, all my teachers associated him guys like Hobbes and Locke who both seemed pretty cool. Then I learned about him again in college and I learned about his thoughts on the "noble savage." I thought, well, this seems kind of odd but he is one of the big three social contract thinkers so I will give him a pass. Then I learned about him again after college by just reading some books and learned about his lifestyle and the people he influenced. After that I have had virtually no respect for the man, the mask was lifted off.

    It was the same with Nietzsche, he seems pretty cool from afar, like an angtsy hipster, but then you read some of his stuff and learn about him as a person. Totally lifted the mask off the degenerate loser he was.

  • NoVaNick||

    Will have to give this a read. Unfortunately, the progs who claim to be pro-science are most concerned with social justice, wanting to further divide us into tribes along racial, gender, etc. lines with no way to heal past wounds. And of course, the fact that Pinker is a hetero-white-cis-gender male will automatically invalidate anything he says.

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