The Better Angels of Our Nature

The Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinker is a long, long, book. So, I said it. I read over 50% of it and then listened to the rest as an audiobook. The book is full of great knowledge but also doubles as a reference work where Steven explains every detail until it hurts.

One thing I took away from the book is that the world is better than ever before. There is no need for nostalgia, in every regard possible (and most definitely in aggregate) we have it better than ever before. Fewer people dying from diseases, murder, rape, starvation. More options, more wealth, more rationality.

And no, not everything is going perfect, but we’ve come quite a way.

One point where Steven Pinker disagrees/highlights a different point is his optimism for the world, versus the view of Nassim Taleb (Black Swan). Steven argues that the underlying constructs of society have become better, that those factors contribute to our wealth and health. Whilst Nassim argues that very bad events can still happen and that we may just be riding a positive wave. I tend to agree with Steven and like to also believe (based on the statistics) that we are heading in the right way.

Does that mean that we are without danger? No, of course not. Nuclear weapons, bioterror, AI, there is a lot to be afraid of. Yet at the same time, we have the most resources available to get ourselves going again and the least incentive to do harm.

I haven’t started Enlightenment Now, but I might recommend that over this one if the message is similar and has less focus on the underlying arguments/history.