4 Comments

  1. Bill Mankin
    December 17, 2018 @ 9:16 am

    One of the biggest steps forward for humanity is, I think, the elimination of legally sanctioned slavery and the widespread opposition to illicit slavery and human trafficking.

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    • Rebekah Simon-Peter
      December 26, 2018 @ 2:20 pm

      Yes, Bill, agreed. That is a sea change for humanity. Our next challenge is to fully address it.

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  2. Peter Sawtell
    December 18, 2018 @ 11:47 am

    This is a thought-provoking article, Rebekah. You won’t be surprised that I’m most provoked by Pinker’s assertion that we’re doing better and better about “safeguarding the environment.” When I look at climate change (which the nations of the world haven’t found the strength to address adequately), species extinction (we’re in the midst of a cataclysmic extinction event), plastic pollution (from drinking straws and plastic bags to huge fishing nets to microfibers), and the depletion of resources (topsoil, aquifers), I see a global society that is spreading disaster, not progress. In 2011, I looked at the wide range of evidence and saw a world that is “damaged, depleted and destabilized.”
    Yes, we have seen remarkable achievements on many fronts, and I do celebrate a lot of them. But Pinker seems to be describing a world that is detached from the larger web of life, and the limits that are implicit in this finite world. He also seems to measure “progress” in a largely materialist way — with wealth, technology, years of life, etc. (Confession: I haven’t read the book, so I’m working from your short description, and a review from The Atlantic.)
    What is the measure of progress for us? Is it bigger houses and more stuff? Or is it progress toward God’s shalom (“thy kingdom come”) which leads us to sufficiency rather than excess (“give us this day our daily bread”)?
    I find Pinker’s optimism unconvincing when I look at the world through an ecological lens. If we continue to shred the web of life, then other forms of progress won’t hold up.

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    • Rebekah Simon-Peter
      December 26, 2018 @ 2:35 pm

      Thanks for your comments, Peter. Pinker does in fact dedicate quite a bit of space to climate change, and to environmental concerns, (most especially chapter 10, pp 121-155.) I found his approach quite interesting. He notes, through detailed analysis, how the world has been decarbonizing over time. And how economic growth and carbon-burning are not synonymous.
      Let me quote you one of his summary paragraphs:
      “As societies have become healthier, wealthier, freer, happier, and better educated, they have set their sights on the most pressing global challenges. They have emitted fewer pollutants, cleared fewer forests, spilled less oil, set aside more preserves, extinguished fewer species, saved the ozone layer, and peaked in their consumption of oil, farmland, timber, paper, cars, coal, and perhaps even carbon. For all their differences, the world’s nations came to a historic agreement on climate change as they did in previous years on nuclear testing, proliferation, security and disarmament. Nuclear weapons, since the extraordinary circumstances of the closing days of World War II, have not been used in the seventy-two years they have existed. Nuclear terrorism, in defiance of forty years of expert predictions, has never happened. The world’s nuclear stockpiles have been reduced by 85 percent, with more reductions to come, and testing has ceased, (except by the tiny rogue regime in Pyongyang) and proliferation has frozen. The world’s two most pressing problems, then though not yet solved, are solvable: practicable long-term agenda have been laid out for eliminating nuclear weapons and for mitigating climate change.” (p. 324)
      Now, how much the Trump administration undoes is yet to be determined. Even so, the fact that many US businesses and other stakeholders have continued to engage the Paris accords is a good sign. Not to mention the international chorus of young adults like Greta Thun.
      I find Pinker’s work to be an important re-framing of potentially paralyzing facts. Fear has the power to numb. Intense fear has the power to paralyze. If we can create space for some good news and a bit of optimism in the global conversation around climate change, it just may give people space to act from empowerment, not hide out in dread.

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