With each new dispiriting headline, it’s hard not to feel that the world is sinking deeper into chaos, hatred and irrationality. But is modernity really failing? Or have we failed to appreciate the progress we have made, and the ideals that make it possible?
Acclaimed global thinker Steven Pinker argues that though we continue to face formidable challenges in our world today, we must also recognise and celebrate the remarkable gains that have been made in every measure of human wellbeing. If you follow trendlines rather than headlines, you discover that our lives have become longer, healthier, safer and more prosperous - not just in the West, but worldwide.
This progress is no accident: it's the gift of a value system forged in the Age of Enlightenment - the values of reason, science, humanism and progress.
But now, more than ever, Enlightenment values need a vigorous defence. The Enlightenment project swims against currents of human nature – tribalism, authoritarianism, demonization, magical thinking – that demagogues are all too willing to exploit.
The way to deal with our current challenges, argues Pinker, is not to sink into despair or to try to turn back to a mythical idyllic past; it's to treat them as problems we can solve, as we have solved others in the past. This is the case for an Enlightenment newly recharged for the 21st century.