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tv   Steven Pinker  CSPAN  November 3, 2018 6:17pm-6:54pm EDT

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okay. thanks all for coming and they'll be heading right back there to sign some books. you're watch booktv on c-span2 with top nonfiction books and authors every weekend booktv television for serious readers. >> good afternoon, the final author event from the recent bostonbook festival steven talks about his book and lightenment now. >> boston book festival, how many of you have spent most of your day here today? all right.
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well i hope you've enjoyed it. weather didn't cooperate but what can you do? so -- the book festival made possible by our donors and sponsors and guess what, you too can become a donor for a sponsor and -- we have handy little envelope in our program guide should you feel so moved as to make a contribution and help us keep this event a free event. there are 110 sessions here today in square and all but one free and open to public so thank you in advance and if you are already a donor or sponsor i thank you from the bottom of my heart. i'm thrilled and honored to have steven pinker here with us today to talk about his book enlightenment now the case for reason, science, humanism and progress. which spent many weeks on new york time best seller list. and mix case for reasoned
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rational optimism and we could really use some of that right now. as a linguist scientist and profess of psychology steven brings wealth of knowledge to his topic. interview with steven today will be robbing young co-host fabulous here an now heard on 450npr stations across country. thank you so much to the presenting sponsor for the boston book festival after a the session today, plb pleased to sign books next door and next turn it over to it robyn. >> well i am going to just introduce steven who needs no introduction so let's get started. god ahead. [applause] thank you robyn.
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many people face the news each morning with trip are prep dation and dread things every day we read of shootings, inequality, policing, dictatorship, war and nuclear weapons. these are some of the reasons that year 2016 was frequently call thed the worst year ever until 2017 claimed that title and i think 2018 is giving it a good run for its money. but is this a sensible way to think of a human condition in the 21st century that we are plagued with -- potentially exposensual problems. franklin peter a.d. dales pointed out nothing is more responsible for the good old days than in bad memory. you could always always free yourself into seeing a decline if you can compare leading headlines of the present with images of the past. what does the trajectory the world look like when we measure
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well being overtime with a constant yard. let's compare the most recent data on the present with the same measures 30 years ago. so in the united states, 30 years ago, americans killed each other the a rate of 5.3 per 100,000. had 7% of -- the population in poverty. admitted 18 million tons of particulate matter and sulfur dioxide and had 12% of its population in poverty and admitted 35 million tons of particulate matter and 20 million tons of sulfur dioxide. what about the world of a whole? well last year, there were 14 ongoing wars 64 -- and 10% of the world population was in extreme poverty, and world had 10,000 new clear weapons. but 30 years ago the world had
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25 wars going on. 85 -- and 37% of the world population lived in extreme poverty. and there were 60,000 nuclear weapons. now, true 2016 was a terrible year for terrorism in western europe with 238 deaths you remember some of the horrific episodes such as the nightclub and so on. but 1988 was everyone worse with 440 deaths some of you may remember the the army the red brigade and other terrorist groups active then which have disappeared since. so what's going on? with 1988 just a particularly bad year or improvements a sign that world and troubles gets better overtime? might we even invoke admittedly old fashion concept of progress?
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to do so is to court a certain amount of diversion because i have found that intellectuals hate progress. and intellectual who is call themselves that hate progress then you have a blind faith and a not religious belief in the false promise of the myth of inevitable progress. you are a cheerleader for vulgar american can doism with the spirit of silicon valley and chamber of commerce. you are a prak in additioner of wig history a polyanaand gloss alluding to the character who declared for best in all possible worlds. well as it happens it was a true
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optimist would believe there can be better worlds than one we find ourselves in today. but all of this is irrelevant because question of whether progress is taken place is not a matter of faith or having optimistic temperament or sunny disposition or seeing the the glass is half full. it is a hypothesis and all of their differences people largely agree on what goes into human well being. such as -- life, health, prosperity, peace, freedom, safety, knowledge, pleasure, happiness. all of these things could be measured if they increase overtime i submit that is progress. let's go to the data. for most of human history life expectancy at best hovered around 30 years of -- life expectancy, today it is 71 worldwide, there is fair amount of diversity in europe and
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americas it is closer to -- it is exceeds 80 years. and even the parts of the world with the greatest poverty are catching up rapidly. from 250 years ago in richest country of the world a third of the children did live to see their 50th birthday. their 5th birthday. before the rick was brought down 100 fold today that is 8 folds before less 6% of chin even in poorest countries the world such as ethiopia childhood rate is 6% much too high but rapidly falling. famine is one of the apocalypse and could bring human devastation to any part of the world. today famine has been banished to most remote and war ravage regions. 200 years ago 90% of the world population consist in the extreme poverty with barely enough income to feed their
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families today it is rate of extreme poverty is fallen to less than 10%. for most of human history, powerful states and empires who are pretty much always at woe with each other and peace with nearly an interlude between wars today they are never at the war. the last great power war fitted united states against china 65 years ago in korea. more recently wars of all kinds have become fewer and less deadly the annual rate of war from -- of death from war fell from more than 22 per 100,000 to 1.2 per 100,000 today. democracy has suffered obvious setbacks in russia, turkey and venezuela and threatened by the rise of authoritarian populism in europe and united states yet world has never been more democracy than in the decade than two-thirds living in
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democracies unless this seem incredible those of us who were students in the 1970s might remember that the world had 31 democracies that half of europe was behind the iron curtain living in totalitarian dictatorship. spain and portugal were fascist and greece ruled by a military hunter most of latin america under control of general and other fascist military governments most of east asia was under control of military governments including taiwan, south korea, philippines indonesia follow democratic today. homicide whenever anarchy are placed by rule of law when europe was brought under control of centralized kingdoms so today a western europe hint has about 135th chance of being murdered compared to his medieval ancestors that happened again in colonial new england in the
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american wild west, and in mexico. indeed we have become safer in just about every way. we are 96% less likely to be about killed in a car accident. 88% less likely to be mowed down on the sidewalk. 99%less likely to die in a plane crash. 95% less likely to be killed on the job. 89% less likely to be kill bid a so-called act of god such as a drought, fire, flood, wildfire, storm, volcano landslide, earthquake, or meteor strike. there's not because god is any less angry at fuss now than he used to be but because of improvements in resilience of our infrastructure and no matter what about had the act of god -- the projectile hurled by zeuss himself? yes, we are 7% less likely to be killed by a bolt of lightning. literacy before the 17th century
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no more than 15% of europeans could read and write. europe achieved universal literacy by the mid-20th century as to united states and the rest of the world is catching up. today more than 90% of the world's population under age of 25 can read and write. in the 19th century western rs worked 60 hours week today they work fewer than 40 hours a week. and thanks to the universal penetration of running water, electricity, washing machines, vacuum cleanerses refrigerator and washers and stove and microwaves amount of our lives that question forfeit to house work has fallen from 60 hour a week to fewer than 15 hours a week. well, about do all of these gains in health, wealth, safety, knowledge, and leisure make us any happier? the answer is, on average yes. in 86% the world countries, happiness is increased in recent
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decades interest imply united states is not one of them. remember, though, a global trend that as income rises, this grass -- shows that happiness as a function of gdp per capita increases on a scale which means that an extra dollar boost happiness of poor people in poor countries far more than it boost happiness of rich people in rich countries but in general as world gets richer then the people of the world are are expected to get happier. well how is all of this progress covered in the news? i hope to have con have i have u that progress is not face or optimism but that it is a fact of human history. indeed, the greatest fact in human history. so how has it been covered in news? well a tabulation of positive and negative emotion words in news stories shown that during the decades in which human has
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gotten healthiest, wealthy wiser, safer and happier, "the new york times" has gotten increasingly more, and world broadcast who have gotten steadily glummer why don't they appreciate progress? part of the answer is from our cognitive psychology. we estimate risk by a mental short cut called the availability -- turn coin by daniel that the easier it is to recall something for memory be more probable we judge it to be. the other part of the explanation comes from nature of journalism capture master's degree this headline from the onion, cnn holds morning meeting to decide whether viewers should panic about for the rest of the day. [laughter] news is the what happens and not from a country that is at peace or a city has not been attacked by terrorists. also, bad things happen quickly.
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but good things aren't in a day something can blow up in a hurry or war declared. a ram phage shooter can kill a bunch of people. but the papers could have run headline 137,000 people escape from extreme poverty yesterday. every day for the last 30 years. but they never read that headline as a result a billion and quarter people escaped from extreme poverty and no one knows about it. journalism also tend to capitalize on our more of an interest in things that can go wrong captured in the programming policy if it bleeds it leaves. if you take our bias combine them with a nature of news you can why the world has been coming to an end for a very long time indeed. all right let me wrap up with some questions about progress. that earlier occurred to many of you. first you might ask isn't it good to be pessimistic to rake the muck, speak to power, well,
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not exactly. it's good to be accurate. of course, we must be aware of suffering and danger and injustice wherever they occur but aware of how they could be reduced because there are dangers to indiscriminate pessimism one of them is fatalism if all of our efforts are improving world have been in vain, well why all good money after bad poor will be with with you because improvements will be futile. also if -- since world will end soon and climate change doesn't do us in then run away artificial intelligence will being rational responses eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we die. other danger of pessimism is radicalism. if all of our institutions are failing, and beyond hope for reform natural response is to smash the machines burn empire to the ground. drain the swamp.
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or entrust are someone who promises only i can fix it. second question, what causes progress? if there is such a thing as progress what causes it? now progress is not some mystical force or dialectic ever upward and notwithstanding the good reverend theodore parker and martin luther king there's no mysterious to justice. progress is as a result of human efforts guided by an idea. an idea that we associate with the 18th century enlightenment, mainly if we apply reason and science, to the goal of enhancing human well being we can gradually succeed. and is progress inevitable and answer is of course not. progress does not mean that everything becomes better for everyone about everywhere all of the time. that wouldn't be progress. that would be a miracle.
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progress is not a miracle. but problem solving -- problem are inevitable and solutions create new problems which must be solved in their turn. and -- the unsolved problems facing worlded today are formidable particularly the risk of climate change and nuclear war. but i argue that we should see these as problems to be solved not as a waiting and we should aggressively pursue solutions to these problems in particular -- decarbonization of the world economy and climate change and global zero the abolition of all nuclear weapons for threat of nuclear war. i have a question -- that i'll raise is enlightenment go against human nature this is acute question for me in particular since i'm a prominent advocate of the existence of human nature with all of its shortcomings. in an earlier book called the blank slate, i argue that the human prospect is more tragic
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than utopian that we are not start or gold and there's the no way we're getting back to garden. [laughter] at the same time, my world view is has lightened up in the 15 years since the blank slate was published, and my acquaintance with statistics of progress starting with violence but now embracing every other aspect of well being has fortified my belief that in understanding our tribulations and woes, human nature is the problem but human nature channeled by enlightenment norm and institutions is also the solution. admittedly it is not easy to replicate my own data driven epiphany with humanity at large and some intellectuals have reacted with fury to enlightenment now saying that if i feel how dare he claim that intek chuls deny progress and second, how dare he claim that there's been progress? with others idea of progress
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leaves them cold saving lives of billions eradicating disease feeding hungry, teaching kids to read, boring. at the same time, the most response i received from readers is gratitude gratitude for changing view of a world from a numb and helpless fatalism to something more constructive maybe even heroic. i believe that the i deals can be cast as a stirring narrative and i hope that people with more artistic flare and power than i can tell it better and spread is further. but here is my best attempt. we are born into a pityless universe against life enabling order and in constant jeopardy of falling apart and shaked by a force ruthlessly competitive and made from crooked vulnerable to illusions, self-centeredness and at times astounding stupidity. yet human nature is blessed bleh
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resources with a redemption. we are endowed with a power to combine ideas for cursively to have thoughts about our thoughts. we have an instinct for language allowing us to share fruits of our ingenuity and experience. we are deep witness stand a capacity for sympathy for pity, imagination, compassion, commiseration. even found a way to magnify their own power the scope of language has been augmented by written, printed and electronic word. our circle of sympathy expand bid history journalism and narrative arts. and our puny rational faculties have been multiplied by norm and faculty of institution and reason and curiosity open debate skepticism of authority and dogma web and a the burden of proof to verify ideas by confronting them against reality. as they gather momentum we eke out victories against the forces
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that grind us down. we penetrate the mysteries of the cosmo including life and mind. we live longer. suffer less, learn more, get smarter. enjoy more small pleasures and rich experiences. fewer of us are assaulted enslaved oppressed or exploited by others. from a few oasis territories with peace and prosperity is growing and could someday encompass the globe. much suffering remains and tremendous peril, but ideas on how to reduce them have been voiced and infinite numbers of others are yet to be conceived we'll never have a perfect world. and it would be dangerous to seek one. but there's no limit to betterment we can attain if we continue to apply knowledge to enhance human flourishing. the story is not just another myth myths are fictions but this one with is true. true to the best of our imagine
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which is the only truth we can have. we believe it because we have reasons to believe it. as we learn more, we can show which parts of the story continue to be true and which ones fall. as any of of them might be and it could become. and the story belongs not to any tribe but to all of humanity any creature with a power of reason and the urge to persist in its being. requires only convictions that life is better than death health is better than sickness, and abundance is better than want. prime minister is better than coercion, happiness is better than suffering, and knowledge is better than superstition and ignorance. thank you 237. [applause] >> thank you. mr. speaker does everybody feel better? maybe not andwet to get it that why don't we when we hear that.
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look i am with you on so much of this i was reading this and by the way, the data in here, i woke up this morning with dry eye it is horrible i swear it is from reading charts and graphs but they are hard to refute. i mean, you believe in science and fact and it is in there. and it is good. but with when we punish people here's a paragraph there's no more amputation disem bowment breaking on wheel burning at the stake and you say research shows that capital punishment is truly almost gone. two days ago washington became the 20th state to abolish capital punishment. so this is it. this is progress. [applause] but as you know and some of you who have been to other sessions here, might know you actually mentioned in another session and forgive me if i'm mispronouncing this -- who in his talk mentioned something that is being called tinkering which is being too optimistic. so -- let's talk a little bit it be
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that. because that's some of the feedback that you're getting in this time that we're in when you feel that may be post inline thenment and counterenlightenment those times in history, people feel as if -- you know we have epa what is rolling back regulations. we have -- a leader who openly mocks the disable is ised and a woman -- saying she was sexually abused back qard so comparing how we feel to your fact. well, it is backward. and again progress doesn't mean that everything always goes forward. there are threats to progress. and -- in general and i would say that administration of donald trump in particular are to push back progress all more reason that we should be aware of the progress so that we can cherish it safeguard it work against roll backs but no no guarantee to continue and they can be and are being threatened. >> in fact, when you see not in
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this book but they thought great because you're taking on far right because enlightenment doesn't belong to far right but there is a tax on both houses here. both are left and right you write, the right have become secular religions. thing i want to say that many on the left encourage identity politicians and social justice warriors who down play individual rights in favor of equalizing the standing of racist, classes and genders. and that's something i feel could couple out of the mouth of a far right politician. and -- you will explain but i can hear people saying what's wrong with equalizing -- when the poll was for so long other way and we were talking about this you point out wives. couldn't get credit cards in their own name just a few decades ago or people were killed in lifetime for being gay for being black matthew shepherd killed 20 years ago so what's wrong with being justice warrior given that? >> well it's --
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it's if you tried to make it depends what you mean by equality because, obviously, equal rights are -- an essential human value and i have whole chapter on equal rights and for pretty much any measure of equal rights that you want despite the tweets coming from oval office, but by my measure how well women and children and gay people are doing how racial minorities including african-americans are doing there's been progress. and -- the problem with social justice warfare and with identity politics is that it denies the, the well being of individuals in favor of the -- of the average results of an entire group and it is individuals who suffer who flourish, with who take advantage of opportunities or don't who are oppressed or who aren't and are energy should be focused not on demonizing say
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whites opposed to blacks or men opposed to women because there's great variation among whites among blacks, among men, among women it should be to maximize well being of women, men, and children individually and problem with identity politics is that it sub emergencies rights of the individual for the interest of an entire group. so just to give a concrete example, i get -- an e-mail from young man in a western state horrible background, methamphetamine drive by shootings gang managed to escape it. he managed to get into a state university on a scholarship and as soon as he opened his mouth, piled on him because he was a white male with conservative opinions. he didn't say so but i say he voted for donald trump he got hauled in front of a university
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committee for -- inappropriate speech because he had disagreed with with the conventional left wing narrative that is common on campus. so to call him privilege because he's white, apply our sense of well being and power and privilege to entire racial groups was this guy by any standard is not a privilege despite fact that he has white skin is how identity politics can provert our debate and indeed lead to one of the most imagine outcome mainly the man in oval office now. because people feel -- look are from here, i'm going to be going to the the reaches of a fantastic group celebrating 15 years of helping women escape domestic violence with shelter and programs there's a celebration and i'll be quoting from your book.
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the incredible statistics on violence against women it is a quarter of what it was -- in the 1990s that's astonish oring and that is progress. and but it doesn't mean that groups like that just say okay -- it means that groups like that have worked. absolutely. >> that is identify domestic violence as a problem as a crime and i figure you have best measures to bring it down. yeah. >> talk a little bit about -- >> by the way, optimism doesn't mean saying -- everything is great let's relax quite the opposite it means let's get a picture of reality. the problems that occur progress that has been made, and the act that we've been able to bring numbers down should embolden efforts to bring them down it and everything is not romantic or not a waste of time somehow acknowledging that looking at facts and acknowledging when there's been improvements somehow says that it attempts to
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improve condition or waste of time is exactly backwards that's exactly why attempts work. >> bring us then to -- the environmental movement because you have very tough on the green movement. you know, starting in the 70s. you say it has indifference to starvation a nazi comparison of human beings to cancer, meaning that humans infected planet i get what you're saying that maybe some people can be too extreme. but you go on to describe something called a blue-green movement which is ecomodern schism that is almost -- they don't want any progress because it will spoil disspoil planet. it is progressive phobia. in that and some of my best friends who are greennies, in the 70s and 80s and if it weren't for them, you know,
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turning itself to math to save whales and you know, this changes starts to treat animals eat less meat. be aware of recycling which -- you know, haven't occurred to anybody. we wouldn't have the progress that we have. so explain those concern you have. >> yeah book argues strongly for environmental protections most dramatically in the case of carbon emissions to prevent catastrophic climate change. and there have been dramatic improvements in environment some due to activism but also due to science and policy and legislation formation of the environmental protection agency. so as americans i have a graph in book from epa since 1970s when epa was formed american population is increased. we've driven more miles gdp increased. but the 5 major air plew tapghts have gone down and factoids to beginning of the stuff to talk.
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so environmental progress is possible an question is how do we -- accomplish it? the problem with that i think a lot of green movement is that it does not acknowledge that energy is good it is good for human life and well being and experience and just about everything that we value including rights of women rights of gay people, democracy, peace, low crime. a country that use lots of energy to become prosperous. so prosperity is a good thing. and you don't get prosperity without energy. the challenge is how do we get energy that we need without -- without extinguishing species. without doing a atmosphere without heeding atmosphere with co2 i think the way to analysis it is not to think of humans as the spoilers as wicked as
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something that we have to reduce their ideas and they have to reduce world populations from 7 billion to one billion -- >> when will you pick? >> which do you pick? we have to undo revolution say good-bye to economic growth that's not just impractical in the west but positively evil rest the world because africa and south asia and east asia, preserve to get wealthy too and can't do it without energy. >> when countries do along the way there's more pollutants but then we have wealth and concern about what they've created to know -- do we have to go? [sirens] tell you -- yes, and country gets better they then have the concern about what they agreed and doing their own test for the environment. >> when countries wealthier they
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can have measures but they value for the country tend to expand into political and moral priority so the -- >> we're seeing that in china. >> people get sick of smog and they don't want to choke on smog so the pathway to dealing with environment and climate change i'll argue is first of all for the the price on carbon so people have to pay for the harm that they do. and develop zero car upon energy technologies. >> this might be metaphor like steven wake up. worse than you think. >> people not wanting to hear the message. >> we are supposed to leave. we have to leave. >> awe -- see if we can come back -- [applause]
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