Members get a snapshot view of new Long Now content with easy access to all their member benefits.
Published monthly, the member newsletter gives in-depth and behind the scenes updates on Long Now's projects.
Special updates on the 10,000 Year Clock project are posted on the members only Clock Blog.
Filmed on Tuesday March 13, 02018
Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker is the author of: Enlightenment Now (02018); The Better Angels of Our Nature (02011); The Blank Slate (02002); How the Mind Works (01997); and The Language Instinct (01994).
The Enlightenment worked, says Steven Pinker. By promoting reason, science, humanism, progress, and peace, the programs set in motion by the 18th-Century intellectual movement became so successful we’ve lost track of what that success came from.
Some even discount the success itself, preferring to ignore or deny how much better off humanity keeps becoming, decade after decade, in terms of health, food, money, safety, education, justice, and opportunity. The temptation is to focus on the daily news, which is often dire, and let it obscure the long term news, which is shockingly good.
This is the 21st Century, not the 18th, with different problems and different tools. What are Enlightenment values and programs for now?
Much of Pinker’s talk was devoted to showing how most of the things than humans care about (except climate) have been getting drastically better over the last few centuries and decades. The roster includes length of life, health, food, prosperity, education, human rights, freedom from violence and accidents, leisure, and happiness—world wide.
That good news is surprising to many and unwelcome to some, who fear it could foster complacent optimism. “While pessimists sound like they’re trying to help you,“ Pinker noted, “optimists sound like they’re trying to sell you something.” So Pinker explored the specific causes of progress in each domain and what it will take to keep the progress going over the coming decades and centuries despite inevitable setbacks and new threats.
The main roots of continual advance Pinker sees as the values pushed by the 18th Century Enlightenment—reason, science, humanism, and progress. Those values can’t be taken for granted because they are far from universal. From the 18th Century to this day, they are opposed and sometimes defeated by authority, tradition, faith, mysticism, intuition, ideology, romanticism, and exclusion.
Human nature doesn’t change much, but progress can proceed anyway thanks to benign institutions such as democracy, markets, a free press, schools and universities, scientific societies, declarations of rights, and global organizations for cooperation. Their job is to apply knowledge and sympathy to enhance human flourishing. It is no accident that “Secular liberal democracies are the happiest and healthiest places on Earth.”
What is the program for continued progress? Don’t treat every problem as a sign that we should burn down our institutions and hope for something better to rise out of the ashes. Nor should we treat progress as a mystical force guaranteed to lift us ever upward. Progress is the result of human effort, guided by an idea: that if we apply reason and science to make a better world, we can gradually succeed. If we continue to embrace that idea, Pinker concluded, it’s reasonable to expect progress to continue. If we don’t, it may not.--Stewart Brand
Condensed ideas about long-term thinking summarized by Stewart Brand
(with Kevin Kelly, Alexander Rose and Paul Saffo) and a foreword by Brian Eno.
We would also like to recognize George Cowan (01920 - 02012) for being the first to sponsor this series.Would you like to be a featured Sponsor?
Seminars About Long-term Thinking is made possible through the generous support of The Long Now Membership and our Seminar Sponsors. We offer $5,000 and $15,000 annual Sponsorships, both of which entitle the sponsor and a guest to reserved seating at all Long Now seminars and special events. In addition, we invite $15,000 Sponsors to attend dinner with the speaker after each Seminar, and $5,000 Sponsors may choose to attend any four dinners during the sponsored year. For more information about donations and Seminar Sponsorship, please contact email@example.com. We are a public 501(c)(3) non-profit, and donations to us are always tax deductible.
The Long Now Foundation • Fostering Long-term Responsibility • est. 01996 Top of Page