Author Topic: The illiberalism of liberalism ...  (Read 375 times)

Offline Baruch

The illiberalism of liberalism ...
« on: February 27, 2018, 12:55:51 PM »
https://www.newstatesman.com/culture/books/2018/02/unenlightened-thinking-steven-pinker-s-embarrassing-new-book-feeble-sermon

A critical review of the self-delusion of progressives, targeting Pinker's new book of Panglossian scholarship.
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Re: The illiberalism of liberalism ...
« Reply #1 on: February 27, 2018, 01:21:43 PM »
I'm halfway through Pinker's book Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress. I will consider sharing my thoughts once I finish.

Offline Sal1981

Re: The illiberalism of liberalism ...
« Reply #2 on: February 27, 2018, 01:25:02 PM »
He should probably stick to psychology and not dabble too much in history.
"The first principle is that you must not fool yourself - and you are the easiest person to fool" --- Richard P. Feynman

Re: The illiberalism of liberalism ...
« Reply #3 on: March 03, 2018, 11:52:52 PM »
I finished Pinker’s book and really enjoyed it. In 550 pages Pinker gives a litany statistics, including approximately seventy graphs, explaining why life for humans is getting better, not worse, and extolling the virtues of progress, reason, science and humanism — humanism defined as “the goal of maximizing human flourishing — life, health, happiness, freedom, knowledge, love, richness of experience.” Progress, reason, science and humanism seems like something everyone could get behind but Pinker acknowledges that currently Enlightenment values, or optimism in general, are not fashionable and need to be defended.

This book isn’t going to sit well with some people. He criticizes both the populist right and postmodernist intellectuals. He is also no fan of Trump and the entire “post-truth” rhetoric. Pinker even surprised me with his assertion that income inequality isn’t a counterexample to human progress, that poverty and unfairness are the actual enemies, and that, although the fortunes of the lower classes in developed countries have not risen, global inequality and global middle class has increased significantly. Pinker writes, "The world’s poor have gotten richer in part at the expense of the American lower middle class... As citizens of the world considering humanity as a whole, we have to say that the trade-off is worth it.” Lower middle-class Americans probably disagree.

I admit I’m a member of the choir that Pinker is preaching to, in fact, I made plans months ago to meet some friends in California to hear him discuss this book. His evidence-based optimism aligns with my personal perception that the world is amazing and these are the best of times for most people on the planet. Currently, more people are safer, healthier, wealthier, better educated, have more liberty and have more access to information than ever before but for many people that doesn't translate to happiness. Pinker doesn’t just paint a rosy picture and expect people to get happy, he explains psychologically and politically why many people disagree with his assessment that the world is improving. He goes through various biases people have and why sometimes beliefs, or dismissal of facts, may initially appear “irrational” but are completely understandable given certain contexts and conditions.

Pinker isn’t a Pollyanna. He distinguishes the “complacent optimism” of a child waiting for presents with the “conditional optimism” of a child who wants a treehouse and gets hold of the wood and nails to make one. He also doesn’t believe in utopias—life will always be challenging, values will always compete, and we should learn from past mistakes and move forward using science and reason. There are things he doesn't get right, he has his own blind spots, but overall I appreciate Pinker's perspective and commitment to supporting his assertions with evidence.
« Last Edit: March 04, 2018, 03:47:16 PM by GSOgymrat »

Online Hydra009

Re: The illiberalism of liberalism ...
« Reply #4 on: March 04, 2018, 12:26:42 AM »
I finished Pinker’s book and really enjoyed it. In 550 pages Pinker gives a litany statistics, including approximately seventy graphs, explaining why life for humans is getting better, not worse, and extolling the virtues of progress, reason, science and humanism — humanism defined as “the goal of maximizing human flourishing — life, health, happiness, freedom, knowledge, love, richness of experience.” Progress, reason, science and humanism seems like something everyone could get behind but Pinker acknowledges that currently Enlightenment values, or optimism in general, are not fashionable and need to be defended.
So, let me get this straight...we can achieve a better world by advancing Enlightenment/humanist ideals and not authoritarianism or theocracy?!

So instead of bashing gays/jews/immigrants*, we could work together to make a world we can all be proud of?  That's crazy talk.

* "Norweigans" excluded *wink wink*

Offline Cavebear

Re: The illiberalism of liberalism ...
« Reply #5 on: March 05, 2018, 03:09:59 AM »
So, let me get this straight...we can achieve a better world by advancing Enlightenment/humanist ideals and not authoritarianism or theocracy?!

So instead of bashing gays/jews/immigrants*, we could work together to make a world we can all be proud of?  That's crazy talk.

* "Norweigans" excluded *wink wink*

Nice snark.  I hope...
Atheist born, atheist bred.  And when I die, atheist dead!

Online Hydra009

Re: The illiberalism of liberalism ...
« Reply #6 on: March 07, 2018, 09:10:02 PM »
Nice snark.  I hope...
Oh, it's definitely snark.  :)

Online Hydra009

Re: The illiberalism of liberalism ...
« Reply #7 on: March 07, 2018, 09:50:57 PM »
This book isn’t going to sit well with some people. He criticizes both the populist right and postmodernist intellectuals. He is also no fan of Trump and the entire “post-truth” rhetoric. Pinker even surprised me with his assertion that income inequality isn’t a counterexample to human progress, that poverty and unfairness are the actual enemies, and that, although the fortunes of the lower classes in developed countries have not risen, global inequality and global middle class has increased significantly. Pinker writes, "The world’s poor have gotten richer in part at the expense of the American lower middle class... As citizens of the world considering humanity as a whole, we have to say that the trade-off is worth it.” Lower middle-class Americans probably disagree.
I have a question about this.  I want to believe Pinker's central theme of progress and hope, but there are several disturbing trends in the world that seem to undercut this thesis.

1) rising financial inequality

"The world’s richest people have seen their share of the globe’s total wealth increase from 42.5% at the height of the 2008 financial crisis to 50.1% in 2017, or $140tn (£106tn), according to Credit Suisse’s global wealth report published on Tuesday." Source

2) Authoritarian gains, weak democracies

"A quarter-century ago, at the end of the Cold War, it appeared that totalitarianism had at last been vanquished and liberal democracy had won the great ideological battle of the 20th century.

Today, it is democracy that finds itself battered and weakened. For the 12th consecutive year, according to Freedom in the World, countries that suffered democratic setbacks outnumbered those that registered gains. States that a decade ago seemed like promising success stories—Turkey and Hungary, for example—are sliding into authoritarian rule." Source



And let me add that the prospect of China's leader becoming President for life does absolutely nothing to allay these fears.

3) The rising threat of climate change.

This problem needs no introduction.  We're looking at a global temperature anomaly that could become as high as 5°C by the turn of the century.

Conclusion

Any of these three problems, left to fester, are either fatal or lead to such a dark fate for humanity that perhaps the first option would be preferable.

What is Pinker's (or anyone who shares his views) response to these problems?  How do you reconcile these negative trends with a positive assessment?
« Last Edit: March 07, 2018, 10:23:23 PM by Hydra009 »

Offline Cavebear

Re: The illiberalism of liberalism ...
« Reply #8 on: March 08, 2018, 12:45:44 AM »
You post title confuses me.  All those issues are liberal ones that conservatives seem to ignore.  Can you explain further, please?
Atheist born, atheist bred.  And when I die, atheist dead!

Re: The illiberalism of liberalism ...
« Reply #9 on: March 08, 2018, 09:30:58 AM »
What is Pinker's (or anyone who shares his views) response to these problems?  How do you reconcile these negative trends with a positive assessment?

I started to write out Pinker's responses to each of your concerns but I was unable to condense his arguments into a manageable length. He has an entire chapter dedicated to each of these topics. Pinker acknowledges these challenges and he unpacks each issue to examine what are the actual problems and what is hyperbole or misunderstanding. I'm sorry I can't provide adequate summaries but Pinker doesn't give simple explanations.
« Last Edit: March 08, 2018, 09:32:33 AM by GSOgymrat »

Offline Cavebear

Re: The illiberalism of liberalism ...
« Reply #10 on: March 08, 2018, 09:39:57 AM »
I started to write out Pinker's responses to each of your concerns but I was unable to condense his arguments into a manageable length. He has an entire chapter dedicated to each of these topics. Pinker acknowledges these challenges and he unpacks each issue to examine what are the actual problems and what is hyperbole or misunderstanding. I'm sorry I can't provide adequate summaries but Pinker doesn't give simple explanations.

Well, if you can't rephrase an argument, then you have to realize that you don't understand it.  And to be honest, that has happened to me too.  No blame, just saying...
Atheist born, atheist bred.  And when I die, atheist dead!

Re: The illiberalism of liberalism ...
« Reply #11 on: March 08, 2018, 10:05:49 AM »
Well, if you can't rephrase an argument, then you have to realize that you don't understand it.  And to be honest, that has happened to me too.  No blame, just saying...

Pinker's ideas are not difficult to understand but he has a lot of them. For example, regarding economic inequality he discusses what about economic inequality is problematic and what is desirable, how economic inequality compares to poverty, its relationship to happiness, the Gini index comparing inequality in various countries,  the results of economic redistribution and social spending, why there is no socialistic or libertarian paradise... it's a lot. He doesn't simply say "This is why inequality is or isn't a problem and this is why." Perhaps someone else can condense it.
« Last Edit: March 08, 2018, 10:14:08 AM by GSOgymrat »

Online Hydra009

Re: The illiberalism of liberalism ...
« Reply #12 on: March 08, 2018, 10:29:35 AM »
Strange.  I found Better Angels fairly easy to summarize.

I'll be reading Enlightenment Now fairly soon.  I guess I'll just have to take notes so I can summarize it later.

Offline Cavebear

Re: The illiberalism of liberalism ...
« Reply #13 on: March 08, 2018, 10:35:34 AM »
Strange.  I found Better Angels fairly easy to summarize.

I'll be reading Enlightenment Now fairly soon.  I guess I'll just have to take notes so I can summarize it later.

Bullet points and a chart, probably, LOL!
Atheist born, atheist bred.  And when I die, atheist dead!

Re: The illiberalism of liberalism ...
« Reply #14 on: March 08, 2018, 11:08:34 AM »
Here is a better summary than I can provide.

https://youtu.be/2JVcyGq7gWc

 

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