Moral Progress

The final chapter of Steven Pinker’s Rationality – What It Is, Why It Seems Scarce, Why It Matters (2021) answers the last question in the subtitle.  One might respond – ‘obviously rationality matters!  Why do you need to delve into 4 books to prove it?’  The answer is because rationality is now under attack by progressives who think reality is only oppression – us vs. them – a conflict theory mindset viewing the world simply as a struggle of the downtrodden, forever trying to rise to overcome their oppressors.

Rationality (mistake theory) is incompatible with that cynical conflict worldview.  I’ve covered many books that directly challenge leftist orthodoxy (e.g. The Coddling of the American Mind (2018) and Cynical Theories (2020)).  Now we are turning to books that defend truth and reason on their own terms.  Pinker and others argue that rationality matters because it improves lives and makes the world a better place.  He begins by pointing out how irrationality can kill and hurt people, then how rationality gave humanity extraordinary material progress, and finally how rationality drives moral progress.

Many unjust, cruel practices have declined because of reasoned moral arguments against them (e.g. slavery, religious persecution, torture, subjugation of women and homosexuals, etc.).  Humanity is still getting better morally but identity politics and an institutionalized “us vs. them” mentality is now impeding moral progress.  As we turn the calendar to a new year, it’s a good time to reflect on the big picture of justice, morality and knowledge.  But in order to see things clearly, we need to do the work – hedgehog down into what’s really happening.  Fortunately, there are insightful authors who can help us.  In the new year, we begin a tour of the information battlefields in humanity’s never-ending epistemic war.  Jonathan Rauch will be our first tour guide in 2022.  Happy New Year from the War Chest.

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