Here are my thoughts on Steven Pinker’s The Enlightenment Now. I’d read this sometime in 2018, probably in March, shortly after the book came out. I took some notes while reading the book, and for whatever reason, I chose to take the following quotes from the book:

On being wary of sensationalism and keeping perspective.

Remember your math: an anecdote is not a trend. Remember your history: the fact that something is bad today doesn’t mean it was better in the past. Remember your philosophy: one cannot reason that there’s no such thing as reason, or that something is true or good because God said it is. And remember your psychology: much of what we know isn’t so, especially when our comrades know it too.

Keep some perspective. Not every problem is a Crisis, Plague, Epidemic, or Existential Threat, and not every change is the End of This, the Death of That, or the Dawn of a Post-Something Era. Don’t confuse pessimism with profundity: problems are inevitable, but problems are solvable, and diagnosing every setback as a symptom of a sick society is a cheap grab for gravitas. Finally, drop the Nietzsche. His ideas may seem edgy, authentic, bad, while humanism seems sappy, unhip, uncool But what’s so funny about peace, love, and understanding? – Steven Pinker

On democracy

Democracy’s strength stems from the freedom to complain. – Steven Pinker

Democracy, he suggests, is essentially based on giving people the freedom to complain: “It comes about when the people effectively agree not to use violence to replace the leadership, and the leadership leaves them free to try to dislodge it by any other means. – Steven Pinker

On the availability heuristic1 and availability cascade2

The political scientist Kathryn Sikkink calls this the information paradox: as human rights watchdogs admirably look harder for abuse, look in more places for abuse, and classify more acts as abuse, they find more of it – but if we don’t compensate for their keener powers of detection, we can be misled into thinking that there is more abuse to detect. – Steven Pinker

  1. The availability heuristic is a cognitive bias where we overestimate the likelihood of certain events that have greater “availability” in our minds. 

  2. Repeat something long enough and it will become “true”.