Selected passages from Pinker’s Enlightenment Now

What follows are the passages I highlighted in my copy of Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress (New York, 2018).

Chapter 1: Dare to understand!

«This book is my attempt to restate the ideals of the Enlightenment in the language and concepts of the 21st century.» (5)

Chapter 2: Entro, evo, info

«Of course it’s natural to thin twice about whether your cell phone truly “knows” a favorite number, your GPS is really “figuring out” the best route home, and your Roomba is genuinely “trying” to clean the floor. But as information-processing systems become more sophisticated—as their representations of the world become richer, their goals are arranged into hierarchies of subgoals within subgoals, and their actions for attaining the goals become more diverse and less predictable—it starts to look like hominid chauvinism to insist that they don’t.» (22)

«It was not an aura of spirituality that descended on the planet but something more prosaic: energy capture. The Axial Age was when agricultural and economic advances provided a burst of energy: upwards of 20,000 calories per person per day in food, fodder, fuel, and  raw materials. This surge allowed the civilizations to afford larger cities, a scholarly and priestly class, and a reorientation of their priorities from short-term survival to long-term harmony.» (23)

«People are by nature illiterate and innumerate, quantifying the world by “one, two, many” and by rough guesstimates. They understand physical things as having hidden essences that obey the laws of sympathetic magic or voodoo rather than physics and biology: objects can reach across time and space to affect things that resemble them or that had been in contact with them in the past (remember the beliefs of pre-Scientific Revolution Englishmen). They think that words and thoughts can impinge on the physical world in prayers and curses. They underestimate the prevalence of coincidence. They generalize from paltry samples, namely their own experience, and they reason by stereotype, projecting the typical traits of a group onto any individual that belongs to it. They infer causation from correlation. They think holistically, in black and white, and physically, treating abstract networks as concrete stuff. They are not so much intuitive scientists as intuitive lawyers and politicians, marshaling evidence that confirms their convictions while dismissing evidence that contradicts them. They overestimate their own knowledge, understanding, rectitude, competence, and luck.» (26)

«But we’re not all bad. Human cognition comes with two features that give it the means to transcend its limitations. The first is abstraction…The second… is its combinatorial, recursive power.» (26-27)

«If my starting offer is “I get to rob, beat, enslave, and kill you and your kind, but you don’t get to rob, beat, enslave, or kill me or my kind,” I can’t expect you to agree to the deal or third parties to ratify it, because there’s no good reason that I should get privileges just because I’m me and you’re not. Nor are we likely to agree to the deal “I get to rob, beat, enslave, and ill you and your kind, and you get to rob, beat, enslave, and kill me and my kind,” despite its symmetry, because the advantages either of us might get in harming the other are massively outweighed by the disadvantages we would suffer in being harmed.» (28)

«So for all the flaws in human nature, it contains the seeds of its won improvement, as long as it comes up with norms and institutions that channel parochial interests into universal benefits. Among those norms are free speech, nonviolence, cooperation, cosmopolitanism, human rights, and an acknowledgment of human fallibility, and among the institutions are science, education, media, democratic government, international organizations, and markets. Not coincidentally, these were the major brainchildren of the Enlightenment.» (28)

Chapter 3: Counter-enlightenments

«Since the 1960s, trust in the institutions of modernity has sunk, and the second decade of the 21st century saw the rise of populist movements that blatantly repudiate the ideals of the Enlightenment. They are tribalist rather than cosmopolitan, authoritarian rather than democratic, contemptuous of experts rather than respectful of knowledge, and nostalgic for an idyllic past rather than hopeful for a better future.» (29)

«Out greatest enemies are ultimately not our political adversaries but entropy, evolution (in the form of pestilence and the flaws in human nature), and most of all ignorance—a shortfall of knowledge of how best to solve our problems.» (32)

«Many intellectuals and critics express a disdain for science as anything but a fix for mundane problems. They write as if the consumption of elite art is the ultimate moral good. Their methodology for seeking the truth consists not in framing hypotheses and citing evidence but in issuing pronouncements that draw on their breadth of erudition and lifetime habits of reading.» (34)

Chapter 4: Progressophobia

«Intellectuals hate progress. Intellectuals who call themselves “progressive” really hate progress. It’s not that they hate the fruits of progress, mind you: most pundits, critics, and their bien-pensant readers use computers rather than quills and inkwells, and they prefer to have their surgery with anesthesia rather than without it. It’s the idea of progress that rankles the chattering class—the Enlightenment belief that by understanding the world we can improve the human condition.» (39)

«Opinion researchers call it the Optimism Gap. For more than two decades, through good times and bad, when Europeans were asked by pollsters whether their own economic situation would get better or worse in the coming year, more of them said it would get better, but when they were asked about their country’s economic situation, more of them said it would get worse.» (40)

«The peace researcher John Galtung pointed out that if a newspaper came out once every fifty years, it would not report half a century of celebrity gossip and political scandals. It would report momentous global changes such as the increase in life expectancy.» (41)

«It’s easy to see how the Availability heuristic, stoked by the news policy “If it bleeds, it leads,” could induce a sense of gloom about the state of the world.» (42)

«A quantitative mindset, despite its nerdy aura, is in fact the morally enlightened one, because it treats every human life as having equal value rather than privileging the people who are closest to us or most photogenic. And it holds out the hope that we might identify the causes of suffering and thereby know which measures are most likely to reduce it.» (43)

«a positive trend suggests (but does not prove) that we have been doing something right, and that we should seek to identify what it is and do more of it.» (46)

«the psychological roots of progressophobia run deeper. The deepest is a bias that has been summarized in the slogan “Bad is stronger than good.” The idea can be captured in a set of thought experiments suggested by Tversky. How much better can you imagine yourself feeling than you are feeling right now? How much worse can you imagine yourself feeling? In answering the first hypothetical, most of us can imagine a bit more of a spring in our step or a twinkle in our eye, but the answer to the second one is: it’s bottomless. This asymmetry in mood can be explained by an asymmetry in life (a corollary of the Law of Entropy). How many things could happen to you today that would leave you much better off? How many things could happen that would leave you much worse off? Once again, to answer the first question, we can all come up with the odd windfall or stroke of good luck, but the answer to the second one is: it’s endless. But we need’t rely on our imaginations. The psychological literature confirms that people dread losses more than they look forward to gains, that they dwell on setbacks more than they savor good fortune, and that they are more stung by criticism than they are heartened by praise. (As a psycholinguist I am compelled to add that the English language has far more words for negative emotions than for positive ones.)» (47-48)

«Whenever someone offers a solution to a problem, critics will be quick to point out that it is not a panacea, a silver bullet, a magic bullet, or a one-size-fits-all solution; it’s just a Band-Air or a quick technological fix that fails to get at the root causes and will blow back with side effects and unintended consequences. Of course, since nothing is a panacea and everything has side effects (you can’t do just one thing), these common tropes are little more than a refusal to entertain the possibility that anything can ever be improved.» (49)

«As Thomas Hobbes noted in 1651, “Competition of praise inclineth to a reverence of antiquity. For men contend with the living, not with the dead.”» (49)

«And here is a shocker: The world has made spectacular progress in every single measure of human well-being. Here is a second shocker: Almost no one knows about it.» (52)

Chapter 5: Life

«“Life expectancy in Kenya increased by almost ten years between 2003 and 2013,” Norberg writes. “After having lived, loved and struggled for a whole decade, the average person in Kenya had not lost a single year of their remaining lifetime. Everyone got ten years older, yet death had not come.a step closer.”» (54-55)

«The economist Steven Radelet has pointed out that “the improvements in health among the global poor in the last few decades are so large and widespread that they rank among the greatest achievements in human history. Rarely has the basic well-being of so many people around the world improved so substantially, so quickly. Yet few people are even aware that it is happening.» (59)

Chapter 6: Health

«“It is knowledge that is the key,” [Angus] Deaton argues. “Income—although important both in and of itself and as a component of wellbeing…—is not the ultimate cause of wellbeing.”» (67)

Chapter 7: Sustenance

«The environmental scientist Jesse Ausubel has estimated that the world has reached Peak Farmland: we may never again need as much as we used today.» (76)

«The beauty of scientific progress is that it never locks us into a technology but can develop new ones with fewer problems than the old ones.» (77)

«As [Stewart] Brand put it, “I daresay the environmental movement has done more harm with its opposition to genetic engineering than with another thing we’ve been wrong about. We’ve starved people, hindered science, hurt the natural environment, and denied our own practitioners a crucial tool.”» (77)

«Of the seventy million people who died in major 20th-century famines, 80 percent were victims of Communist regimes’ forced collectivization, punitive confiscation, and totalitarian central planning.» (78)

Chapter 8: Wealth

«History is written not so much by the victors as by the affluent, the sliver of humanity with the leisure and education to write about it.» (79)

«Economists speak of a “lump fallacy” or “physical fallacy” in which a finite amount of wealth has existed since the beginning of time, like a lode of gold, and people have been fighting over how to divide it up ever since.» (80)

«The story of the growth of prosperity in human history depicted in figure 8-1 is close to: nothing… nothing… nothing… *(repeat for a few thousand years)… boom!» (80)

«What launched the Great Escape? The most obvious cause was the application of science to the improvement of material life, leading to what the economic historian Joel Mokyr calls “the enlightened economy.” The machines and factories of the Industrial Revolution, the productive farms of the Agricultural Revolution, and the water pipes of the Public Health Revolution could deliver more clothes, tools, vehicles, books, furniture, calories, clean water, and other things that people want than the craftsmen and farmers of a century before.» (82-83)

«The non-British curves in figure 8-2 tell of a second astonishing chapter in the story of prosperity: starting in the late 20th century, poor countries have been escaping from poverty in their turn. The Great Escape is becoming the Great Convergence. Countries that until recently were miserably poor have become comfortably rich, such as South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore.» (85)

«Every additional long-lived, healthy, well-fed, well-off person is a sentient being capable of happiness, and the world is a better place for having more of them.» (88)

«Max Roser points out that if news outlets truly reported the changing state of the world, they could have run the headline NUMBER OF PEOPLE IN EXTREME POVERTY FELL BY 137,000 SINCE YESTERDAY every day for the last twenty-five years.» (88-89)

«The economist Robert Lucas… said, “The consequences of human welfare involved [in understanding rapid economic development] are simply staggering: once one starts to thin about them, it is hard to think about anything else.» (89)

«The point of calling attention to progress is not self-congratulation but identifying the causes so we can do more of what works.» (89)

«“In 1976,” Radelet writes, “Mao single-handedly and dramatically changed the direction of global poverty with one simple act: he died.”» (90)

«The death of Mao Zedong is emblematic of three of the major causes of the Great Convergence. The first is the decline of communism… A satellite photograph of Korea showing the capitalist South aglo in light and the Communist North a pit of darkness vividly illustrates the contrast in the wealth-generating capability between the two economic systems, holding geography, history, and culture constant… Radelet’s second explanation of the Great Convergence is leadership. Mao imposed more than communism on China. He was a mercurial megalomaniac who foisted crackbrained schemes on the country, such as the Great Leap Forward *with its gargantuan communes, useless backyard smelters, and screwball agronomic practices) and the Cultural Revolution (which turned the younger generation into gangs of thugs who terrorized teachers, managers, and descendants of “rich peasants”)… A third cause was the end of the Cold War. It not only pulled the rug out from under a number of tinpot dictators but snuffed out many of the civil wars that had racked developing countries since they attained independence in the 1960s… A fourth cause is globalization, in particular the explosion in trade made possible by container ships and jet airplanes and by the liberalization of tariffs and other barriers to investment and trade.» (90-92)

«Progress consists not in accepting every change as part of an indivisible package—as if we had to make a yes-or-no decision on whether the Industrial Revolution, or globalization, is a good thing or a bad thing, exactly as each has unfolded in every detail. Progress consists of unbundling the features of a social process as much as we can to maximize the human benefits while minimizing the harms.» (94)

«Though it’s easy to sneer at national income as a shallow and materialistic measure, it correlates with every indicator of human flourishing, as we will repeatedly see in the chapters to come. Most obviously, GDP per capita correlates with longevity, health, and nutrition. Less obviously, it correlates with higher ethical values like peace, freedom, human rights, and tolerance.» (96)

Chapter 9: Inequality

«There’s no question that some of the phenomena falling under the inequality rubric (there are many) are serious and must be addressed, if only to defuse the destructive agendas they have incited, such as abandoning market economies, technological progress, and foreign trade.» (98)

«[Harry] Frankfurt writes, “From the point of view of morality, it is not important everyone should have the same. What is morally important is that each should have enough.”» (99)

«The confusion of inequality with poverty comes straight out of the lump fallacy—the mindset in which wealth is a finite resource, like an antelope carcass, which has to be divvied up in zero-sum fashion, so that if some people end up with more, others must have less.» (99)

«A more damaging consequence of the lump fallacy is the belief that if some people get richer, they must have stolen more than their share from everyone else.» (99)

«Narratives about the causes of inequality loom larger in people’s minds than the existence of inequality. That creates an opening for politicians to rouse the rabble by singling out cheaters who take more than their fair share: welfare queens, immigrants, foreign countries, bankers, or the rich, sometimes identified with ethnic minorities.» (102)

«Economic inequality, then, is not itself a dimension of human wellbeing, and it should not be confused with unfairness or with poverty.» (102)

«The international and global Gini curves show that despite the anxiety about rising inequality within Western countries, inequality in the world is declining.» (105)

«The historian Walter Scheidel identifies “Four Horsemen of Leveling”: mass-mobilization warfare, transformative revolution, state collapse, and lethal pandemics. In addition to obliterating wealth (and, in the communist revolutions, the people who owned it), the four horsemen reduce inequality by killing large numbers of workers, driving up the wages of those who survive.» (107)

«Those who condemn modern capitalist societies for callousness toward the poor are probably unaware of how little the pre-capitalist societies of the past spent on poor relief. It’s not just that they had less to spend in absolute terms; they spent a smaller proportion of their wealth. A much smaller proportion: from the Renaissance through the early 20th century, European countries spent an average of 1.5 percent of their GDP on poor relief, education, and other social transfers. In many countries and periods, they spent nothing at all.» (107)

«Whether or not the social spending is designed to reduce inequality, that is one of its effects, and the rise in social expenditures from the 1930s through the 1970s explains part of the decline in the Gini.» (109)

«Readers commit the same fallacy when they read that “the top one percent in 2008” had incomes that were 50 percent higher than “the top one percent in 1988” and conclude that a bunch of rich people got half again richer. People move in and out of income brackets, shuffling the order, so we’re not necessarily talking about the same individuals. The same is true for “the bottom fifth” and every other statistical bin.» (112)

«it’s true that the world’s poor have gotten richer in part at the expense of the American lower middle class, and if I were an American politician I would not publicly say that the tradeoff was worth it. But as citizens of the world considering humanity as a whole, we have to say that the tradeoff was worth it.» (113)

«A recent study using longitudinal data showed that half of Americans will find themselves among the top tenth of income earners for at least one year of their working lives, and that one in nine will find themselves in the top one percent (though most don’t stay there for long).» (115)

«When poverty is defined in terms of what people consume rather than what they earn, we find that the American poverty rate has declined by ninety percent since 1960, from 30 percent of the population to just 3 percent.» (117)

«A dollar today, no matter how heroically adjusted for inflation, buys far more betterment of life than a dollar yesterday. It buys things that didn’t exist, like refrigeration, electricity, toilets, vaccinations, telephones, contraception, and air travel, and it transforms things that do exist, such as party like patched by a switchboard operator to a smartphone with unlimited talk time.» (117)

«Perhaps most damaging, the impression that the modern economy has left most people behind encourages Luddite and beggar-thy-neighbor policies that would make everyone worse off.» (118)

«Rather than tilting at inequality per se it may be more constructive to target the specific problems lumped with it.» (119)

Chapter 10: The environment

«Ecomodernism begins with the realization that some degree of pollution is an inescapable consequence of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. When people use energy to create a zone of structure in their bodies and homes, they must increase entropy elsewhere in the environment in the form of waste, pollution, and other forms of disorder.» (123)

«A second realization of the ecomodernist movement is that industrialization has been good for humanity. It has fed billions, doubled life spans, slashed extreme poverty, and, by replacing muscle with machinery, made it easier to end slavery, emancipate women, and educate children.» (123-124)

«The third premise is that the tradeoff that pits human well-being against environmental damage can be renegotiated by technology… If people can afford electricity only at the cost of some smog, they’ll live with the smog, but when they can afford both electricity and clean air, they’ll spring for the clean air. This can happen all the faster as technology makes cars and factories and power plants cleaner and thus makes clean air more affordable.» (124)

«a naïve faith in stasis has repeatedly led to prophecies of environmental doomsdays that never happened. The first is the “population bomb,” which defused itself… birth rates peak and then decline, for at least two reasons. Parents no longer breed large broods as insurance against some of their children dying, and women, when they become better educated, marry later and delay having children… The other scare from the 1970s was that the world would run out of resources. But resources just refuse to run out.» (125-126)

«When predictions of apocalyptic resource shortages repeatedly fail to come true, one has to conclude either than humanity has miraculously escaped from certain death again and again like a Hollywood action hero or that there is a flaw in the thinking that predicts apocalyptic resource shortages.» (127)

«The world’s progress can be tracked in a report card called the Environmental Performance Index, a composite of indicators of the quality of air, water, forests, fisheries, farms, and natural habitats. Out of 180 countries that have been tracked for a decade or more, all but two show an improvement. The wealthier the country, on average, the cleaner its environment: the Nordic countries were cleanest; Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and several sub0Saharan African countries, the most compromised.» (130)

«The digital revolution, by replacing atoms with bits, is dematerializing the world in front of our eyes.» (135)

«Something in the nature of technology, particularly information technology, works to decouple human flourishing from the exploitation of physical stuff.» (136)

«A recent survey found that exactly four out of 69,406 authors of peer-reviewed articles in the scientific literature rejected the hypothesis of anthropogenic global warming, and that “the peer-reviewed literature contains no convincing evidence against [the hypothesis]”.» (137-138)

«It’s precisely because of challenges like this that scholars in all fields have a duty to secure the credibility of the academy by not enforcing political orthodoxies.» (138)

«If the status quo presents, say, an even chance that the world will get significantly worse, and a 5 percent chance that it will pass a tipping point and face a catastrophe, it would be prudent to take preventive action even if the catastrophic outcome is not certain, just as we buy fire extinguishers and insurance for our houses and don’t keep open cans of gasoline in our garages.» (138)

«my correspondent suggested forgoing jewelry and pottery not because of the effect but because of the sacrifice» (140)

«The other impediment is moralistic. As I mentioned in chapter 2, the human moral sense is not particularly moral; it encourages dehumanization (“politicians are pigs”) and punitive aggression (“make the polluters pay”). Also, by conflating profligacy with evil and asceticism with virtue, the moral sense can sanctify pointless displays of sacrifice.» (140)

«Even in modern societies…people esteem others according to how much time or money they forfeit in their altruistic acts rather than by how much good they accomplish.» (140)

«It begins with carbon pricing: charging people and companies for the damage they do when they dump their carbon into the atmosphere, either as a tax on carbon or as a national cap with tradeable credits.» (145)

«Nordhaus and Shellenberger summarize the calculations of an increasing number of climate scientists: “There is no credible path to reducing global carbon emissions without an enormous expansion o nuclear power. It is the only low carbon technology we have today with the demonstrated capability to generate large quantities of centrally generated electric power.”» (147)

«As Ivan Selin, former commissioner of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, put it, “The French have two kinds of reactors and hundreds of kinds of cheese, whereas in the United States the figures are reversed.» (148)

«The team that brings clean and abundant energy to the world will benefit humanity more than all of history’s saints, heroes, prophets, martyrs, and laureates combined.» (149)

«The economics Paul Romer distinguishes between complacent optimism, the feeling of a child waiting for presents on Christmas morning, and conditional optimism, the feeling of a child who wants a treehouse and realizes that if he gets some wood and nails and persuades other kids to help him, he can build one.» (154)

Chapter 11: Peace

«For most of human history, war was the natural pastime of governments, peace a mere respite between wars.» (157)

«The jagged decline of great power war conceals two trends that until recently went in opposite directions. For 450 years, wars involving a great power became shorter and less frequent. But as their armies became better manned, trained, and armed, the wars that did take place became more lethal, culminating in the brief but stunningly destructive world wars.» (157)

«This doesn’t, of course, mean that escalation to major war is impossible, just that it is considered extraordinary, something that nations try to avoid at (almost) all costs.» (158)

«The prevalence of conscription, the size of armed forces, and the level of global military spending as a percentage of GDP have all decreased in recent decades. Most important, there have been changes in the minds of men (and women).» (162)

«Romantic militarism sometimes merged with romantic nationalism, which exalted the language, culture, homeland, and racial makeup of an ethnic group—the ethos of blood and soil—and held that a nation could fulfill its destiny only as an ethnically cleansed sovereign state. It drew strength from the muzzy notion that violent struggle is the life force of nature (“red in tooth and claw”) and the engine of human progress. (This can be distinguished from the Enlightenment idea that the engine of human progress is problem-sovling.)» (165)

«After a second and even more horrific [cataclysm], the romance had finally been drained from war, and peace became the stated goal of every Western and international institution. Human life has become more precious, while glory, honor, preeminence, manliness, heroism, and other symptoms of excess testosterone have been downgraded.» (166)

Chapter 12: Safety

«The norms for everyday conduct shifted from a macho culture of honor, in which affronts had to be answered with violence, to a gentlemanly culture of dignity, in which status was won by displays of propriety and self-control.» (169)

«Whenever a government brings a frontier region under the rule of law and its people become integrated into a commercial society, rates of violence fall.» (169)

«This version of historical pessimism may be called root-causism: the pseudo-profound idea that every social ill is a symptom of some deep moral sickness and can never be mitigated by simplistic treatments which fail to cure the gangrene at the core. The problem with root-causism is not that real-world problems are simple but the opposite: they are more complex than a typical root-cause theory allows, especially when the theory is based on moralizing rather than data. So complex, in fact, that treating the symptoms may be the best way of dealing with the problem, because it does not require omniscience about the intricate tissue of actual causes. Indeed, by seeing what really does reduce the symptoms, one can test hypotheses about the causes, rather than just assuming them to be true.» (169-170)

«The moral value of quantification is that it treats all lives as equally valuable, so actions that bring down the highest numbers of homicides prevent the greatest amount of human tragedy.» (173)

«As Thomas Hobbes argued during the Age of Reason, zones of anarchy are always violent. It’s not because everyone wants to prey on everyone else, but because in the absence of a government the threat of violence can be self-inflating.» (173)

«Here is Eisner’s one-sentence summary of how to halve the homicide rate within three decades: “An effective rule of law, based on legitimate law enforcement, victim protection, swift and fair adjudication, moderate punishment, and humane prisons is critical to sustainable reductions in lethal violence.”» (174)

«While the threat of ever-harsher punishments is both cheap and emotionally satisfying, it’s not particularly effective, because scofflaws just treat them like rare accidents—horrible, yes, but a risk that comes with the job. Punishments that are predictable, even if less draconian, are likelier to be factored into day-to-day choices.» (174)

«When cars are harder to steal, houses are harder to burgle, goods are harder to pilfer and fence, pedestrians carry more credit cards than cash, and dark alleys are lit and video-monitored, would-be criminals don’t seek another outlet for their larcenous urges.» (175)

«Conspicuous by their absence from the list of what works are bold initiatives like slum clearance, gun buybacks, zero-tolerance policing, wilderness ordeals, three-strikes-and-you’re-out mandatory sentencing, police-led drug awareness classes, and “Scared straight” programs in which at-risk youths are exposed to squalid prisons and badass convicts.» (176)

«With the shift from a manufacturing to a service economy, many social critics have expressed nostalgia for the era fo factories, mines, and mills, probably because they never worked in one.» (185)

Chapter 13: Terrorism

«It’s not just the salience of a horrific event that stokes the terror. Our emotions are far more engaged when the cause of a tragedy is malevolent intent rather than accidental misfortune.» (195)

Chapter 14: Democracy

«As always, the only way to know which way the world is going is to quantify.» (201)

«Many political scientists have concluded that most people correctly recognize that their votes are astronomically unlikely to affect the outcome of an election, and so they prioritize work, family, and leisure over educating themselves about politicas and calibrating their votes. They use the franchise as a form of self-expression: they vote for candidates who they think are like them and stand for their kind of people.» (204-205)

«The incumbents use the formidable resources of the state to harass the opposition, set up fake opposition parties, use state-controlled media to spread congenial narratives, manipulate electoral rules, tilt voter registration, and jigger the elections themselves.» (205)

«The contrast between the messy reality o f democracy and the civics-class ideal leads to perennial disillusionment.» (206)

«In this minimalist conception, democracy is not a particularly abstruse or demanding form of government. Its main prerequisite is that a government be competent enough to protect people from anarchic violence so they don’t fall prey to, or even welcome, the first strongman who promises he can do the job. (Chaos is deadlier than tyranny.)» (206)

«The UN Special Rapporteur on executions, Christopher Heyns, points out that if the current rate of abolition continues (not that he’s prophesying it will), capital punishment will vanish from the face of the earth by 2026.» (209)

«As in other areas of human flourishing (such as crime, war, health, longevity, accidents, and education), the United States is a laggard among wealthy democracies.» (210)

«It was only with the Enlightenment that forceful arguments against the death penalty began to appear. One argument was that the state’s mandate to exercise violence may not breach the sacred zone of human life. Another was that the deterrent effect of capital punishment can be achieved with surer and less brutal penalties.» (210)

«The abolitionist elites in Europe got their way over the misgivings of the common man because European democracies did not convert the opinions of the common man into policy.» (210)

Chapter 15: Equal rights

«A spate of news about rape cannot tell us whether there is now more violence against women, a bad thing, or whether we now care more about violence againast women, a good thing.» (216)

«people tend to carry their values with them as they age, so the Millennials (those born after 1970) who are even less prejudiced than the national average, tell us which way the country is going.» (217)

«Trump’s success, like that of right-wing populists in other Western countries, is better understood as the mobilization of an aggrieved and shrinking demographic in a polarized political landscape than as the sudden reversal of a century-long movement toward equal rights.» (219)

«Too many of these crimes still take place, but we should be encouraged by the fact that a heightened concern about violence against women is not futile moralizing but has brought measurable progress—which means that continuing this concern can lead to greater progress still.» (220)

«People begin to prioritize freedom over security, diversity over uniformity, autonomy over authority, creativity over discipline, and individuality over conformity. Emancipative values may also be called liberal values, in the classical sense related to “liberty” and “liberation” (rather than the sense of political leftism).» (224)

«Welzel derived a way to capture a commitment to emancipative values in a single number, based on his discovery that the answers to a cluster of survey items tend to correlate across people, countries, and regions of the world with a common history and culture. The items embrace gender equality *(whether people feel that women should have an equal right to jobs, political leadership, and a university education), personal choice (whether they feel that divorce, homosexuality, and abortion may be justified), political voice *whether they believe that people should be guaranteed freedom of speech and a say in government, communities, and the workplace), and childrearing philosophy (whether they feel that children should be encouraged to be obedient or independent and imaginative). The correlations among these items are far from perfect—abortion, in particular, divides people who agree on much else—but they tend to go together and collectively predict many things about a country.» (224)

«for all the talk about right-wing backlashes and angry white men, the values of Western countries have been getting steadily more liberal (which, as we will see, is one of the reasons those men are so angry).» (225)

«The single best predictor of emancipative values is the World Bank’s Knowledge Index, which combines per capita measures of education (adult literacy and enrollment in high schools and colleges), information access (telephones, computers, and Internet users), scientific and technological productivity (researchers, patents, and journal articles) and institutional integrity (rule of law, regulatory quality, and open economies). Welzel found that the Knowledge Index accounts for seventy percent of the variation in emancipative values across countries, making it a far better predictor than GDP. The statistical result vindicates a key insight of the Enlightenment: knowledge and sound institutions lead to moral progress.» (228)

«In the decades around the turn of the 20th century, childhood was “sacralized,” as the economist Viviana Zelizer has put it, and children achieved their current status as ‘economically worthless, emotionally priceless.”» (230)

Chapter 16: Knowledge

«Homo sapiens, “knowing man,” is the species that uses information to resist the rot of entropy and the burdens of evolution.» (233)

«As with every question in social science, correlation is not causation. Do better-educated countries get richer, or can richer countries afford more education? One way to cut the know is to take advantage of the fact that a cause must precede its effect. Studies that assess education at Time 1 and wealth at Time 2, holding all else constant, suggest that investing in education really does make countries richer. At least it does if the education is secular and rationalistic.» (234)

«Wile overall IiQ has risen, and scores on each intelligence subtest have risen, some subtest scores have risen more rapidly than others in a pattern different from the pattern linked to the genes. That’s another reason the Flynn effect does not cast doubt on the high heritability of IQ.» (242)

«We don’t know whether these bonuses come from g alone or also from the Flynn component of intelligence, but the answer is probably both.» (243)

«Policies that hurry the Flynn effect along, namely investments in health, nutrition, and education, could make a country richer, better governed, and happier down the road.» (245)

«The very fact that so many dimensions of well-being are correlated across countries and decades suggests there may be a coherent phenomenon lurking beneath them—what statisticians call a general factor, a principal component, or a hidden, latent, or intervening variable.» (245)

Chapter 17: Quality of life

«There can be no question of which was the greatest era for culture; the answer has to be today, until it is superseded by tomorrow. The answer does not depend on invidious comparisons of the quality of the works of today and those of the past (which we are in no position to make, just as many of the great works of the past were not appreciated in their time). It follows from our ceaseless creativity and our fantastically cumulative cultural memory. We have, at our fingertips, virtually all the works of genius prior to our time, together with those of our own time, whereas the people who lived before our time had neither.» (261)

Chapter 18: Happiness

«Happy people live in the present; those with meaningful lives have a narrative about their past and a plan for the future. Those with happy but meaningless lives are takers and beneficiaries; those with meaningful but unhappy lives are givers and benefactors.» (267)

«Thoreau was a victim of the Optimism Gap (the “I’m OK, They’re Not” illusion), which for happiness is more like a canyon. People in every country underestimate the proportion of their compatriots who say they are happy, by an average of 42 percentage points.» (268)

«a raise for an individual relative to that person’s compatriots adds as much to his or her happiness as the same increase for their country across the board. This casts doubt on the idea that people are happy or unhappy only in comparison to the Joneses. Absolute income, not relative income, is what matters most for happiness.» (270)

«Two intensive, long0term studies in rural counties (one in Sweden, one in Canada) signed up people born between the 1870s and the 1990s and tracked them from the middle to the late 20th century, embracing staggered lives that spanned more than a century. Neither found signs of a long-term rise in depression.» (282)

«Though people today are happier, they are not as happy as one might expect, perhaps because they have an adult’s appreciation of life, with all its worry and all its excitement. The original definition of Enlightenment, after all, was “humankind’s emergence from its self-incurred immaturity.» (289)

Chapter 19: Existential threats

«apocalyptic thinking has serious downsides. One is that false alarms to catastrophic risks can themselves be catastrophic.» (291)

«According to this narrative, technology allows people to accomplish more and more with less and less, so given enough time, it will allow one individual to do anything—and given human nature, than means destroy everything.» (301)

«The real danger depends on the numbers: the proportion of people who want to cause mayhem or mass murder, the proportion of that genocidal sliver with the competence to concoct an effective cyber or biological weapon, the sliver of that sliver whose schemes will actually succeed, and the sliver of the sliver of the sliver that accomplishes a civilization-ending cataclysm rather than a nuisance, a blow, or even a disaster, after which life goes on.» (302)

«The researcher Gwern Branwen has calculated that a disciplined sniper or serial killer could murder hundreds of people without getting caught… Such attacks could take place in every city in the world many times a day, but in fact take place somewhere or other every few years.» (303)

«Though a probabilistic prediction of an event that fails to occur can never be gainsaid, the sheer number of false predictions (Mueller has more than seventy in his collection, with deadlines staggered over several decades) suggests that prognosticators are biased toward scaring people.» (311)

Chapter 20: The future of progress

«We began the book with a non-mystical, non-Whiggish, non-Panglossian explanation for why progress is possible, namely that the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment set in motion the process of using knowledge to improve the human condition.» (326)

«Populism calls for the direct sovereignty of a country’s “people” (usually an ethnic group, sometimes a class), embodied in a strong leader who directly channels their authentic virtue and experience. Authoritarian populism can be seen as a pushback of elements of human nature—tribalism, authoritarianism, demonization, zero-sum thinking—against the Enlightenment institutions that were designed to circumvent them.» (333)

«Populism comes in left-wing and right-wing varieties, which share a folk theory of economics as zero-sum competition: between economic classes in the case of the left, between nations or ethnic groups in the case of the right.» (334)

«As for the battle against truth and fact, over the long run they have a built-in advantage: when you stop believing in them, they don’t go away.» (338)

«the political scientists Ronald Inglehart and Pippa Norris spotted similar patterns in their analysis of 268 political parties in thirty-one European countries. Economic issues, they found, have been playing a smaller role in party manifestoes for decades, and non-economic issues a larger role. The same was true of the distribution of voters. Support for populist parties is strongest not from manual workers but from the “petty bourgeoisie” (self-employed tradesmen and the owners of small businesses), followed by foremen and technicians. Populist voters are older, more religious, more rural, less educated, and more likely to be male and members of the ethnic majority… Inglehart and Norris concluded that supporters of authoritarian populism are the losers not so much of economic competition as cultural competition. Voters who are male, religious, less educated, and in the ethnic majority “feel that they have become strangers from the predominant values in their own country, left behind by progressive tides of cultural change that they do not share… The silent revolution launched in the 1970s seems to have spawned a resentful counter-revolutionary backlash today.» (340)

«Radical regimes from Nazi Germany and Maoist China to contemporary Venezuela and Turkey show that people have a tremendous amount to lose when charismatic authoritarians responding to a “crisis” trample over democratic norms and institutions and command their countries by the force of their personalities.» (343)

Chapter 21: Reason

«In a revolutionary analysis of reason in the public sphere, the legal scholar Dan Kahan has argued that certain beliefs become symbols of cultural allegiance. People affirm or deny these beliefs to express not what they know but who they are. We all identify with particular tribes or subcultures, each of which embraces a creed on what makes for a good life and how society should run its affairs. These creeds tend to vary along two dimensions. One contrasts a right-wing comfort with natural hierarchy with a left-wing preference for forced egalitarianism (measured by agreement with statements like “We need to dramatically reduce inequalities between the rich and the poor, whites and people of color, and men and women”). The other is a libertarian affinity to individualism versus a communitarian or authoritarian affinity to solidarity (measured by agreement with statements like “Government should put limits on the choices individuals can make so they don’t get in the way of what’s good for society”).» (357)

«Kahan concludes that we are all actors in a Tragedy of the Belief Commons: what’s rational for every individual to believe (based on esteem) can be irrational for the society as a whole to act upon (based on reality).» (358)

«The facts of human progress strike me as having been as unkind to right-wing libertarianism as to right-wing conservatism and left-wing Marxism. The totalitarian governments of the 20th century did not emerge from democratic welfare states sliding down a slippery slope, but were imposed by fanatical ideologues and gangs of thugs. And countries that combine free markets with more taxation, social spending, and regulation than the United States (such as Canada, New Zealand, and Western Europe) turn out to be not grim dystopias but rather pleasant places to live, and they trounce the United States in every measure of human flourishing, including crime, life expectancy, infant mortality, education, and happiness. As we saw, no developed country runs on right-wing libertarian principles, nor has any realistic vision of such a country ever been laid out.

«It should not be surprising that the facts of human progress confound the major -isms. The ideologies are more than two centuries old and are based on mile-high visions such as whether humans are tragically flawed or infinitely malleable, and whether society is an organic whole or a collection of individuals. A real society comprises hundreds of millions of social beings, each with a trillion-synapse brain, who pursue their well-being while affecting the well-being of others in complex networks with massive positive and negative externalities, many of them historically unprecedented. It is bound to defy any simple narrative of what will happen under a given set of rules. A more rational approach to politics is to treat societies as ongoing experiments and open-mindedly learn the best practices, whichever part of the spectrum they come from.» (365)

«Reason tells us that political deliberation would be most fruitful if it treated governance more like scientific experimentation and less like an extreme-sports competition.» (366)

«Though some ideological differences come from clashing values and may be irreconcilable, many hinge on different means to agreed-upon ends and should be decidable.» (366)

«Experts are ingenious at wordsmithing their predictions to protect them from falsification, using weasely modal auxiliaries (could, might), adjectives (fair chance, serious possibility), and temporal modifiers (very soon, in the not-too-distant future).» (367)

«the chimplike success of brand0name ideologues does not mean that “Experts” are worthless and we should distrust elites. It’s that we need to revise our concept of an expert.» (368)

«Successful prediction is the revenge of the nerds. Superforecasters are intelligent but not necessarily brilliant, falling just in the top fifth of the population. They are highly numerate, not in the sense of being math whizzes but in the sense of comfortably thinking in guesstimates. They have personality traits that psychologists call “openness to experience” (intellectual curiosity and a taste for variety), “need for cognition” (pleasure taken in intellectual activity), and “integrative complexity” (appreciating uncertainty and seeing multiple sides). They are anti-impulsive, distrusting their first gut feeling. They are neither left-wing nor right-wing. They aren’t necessarily humble about their abilities, but they are humble about particular beliefs, treating them as “hypothesis to be tested, not treasures to be guarded.” They constantly ask themselves, “Are there holes in this reasoning? Should I be looking for something else to fill this in? Would I be convinced by this if I were somebody else?” They are aware of cognitive blind spots like the Availability and confirmation biases, and they discipline themselves to avoid them. They display what the psychologist Jonathan Baron calls “active open-mindedness, with opinions such as these:

  • People should take into consideration evidence that goes against their beliefs. [Agree]
  • It is more useful to pay attention to those who disagree with you than to pay attention to those who agree. [Agree]
  • Changing your mind is a sign of weakness. [Disagree]
  • Intuition is the best guide in making decisions. [Disagree]
  • It is important to persevere in your beliefs even when evidence is brought to bear against them. [Disagree]

Even more important than their temperament is their manner of reasoning. Superforecasters are Bayesian, tacitly using the rule from the eponymous Reverend Bayes on how to update one’s degree of credence in a proposition in light of new evidence.» (369-370)

«Universities ought to be the arena in which political prejudice is set aside and open-minded investigation reveals the way the world works. But just when we need this disinterested forum the most, academia has become more politicized as well—not more polarized, but more left-wing.» (372)

«Of the two forms of politicization that are subverting reason today, the political is far more dangerous than the academic, for an obvious reason. It’s often quipped (no one knows who said it first) that academic debates are vicious because the stakes are so small. But in political debates the sakes are unlimited, including the future of the planet.» (374)

«Intellectual and political polarization feed each other. It’s harder to be a conservative intellectual when American conservative politics has become steadily more know-nothing, from Ronald Reagan to Dan Quayle to George W. Bush to Sarah Palin to Donald Trump. On the other side, the capture of the left by identity politicians, political correctness police, and social justice warriors creates an opening for loudmouths who brag of “telling it like it is.” A challenge of our era is how to foster an intellectual and political culture that is driven by reason rather than tribalism and mutual reaction.» (374-375)

«The human brain is capable of reason, given the right circumstances; the problem is to identify those circumstances and put them more firmly in place.» (375)

«Feeling their identity threatened, belief holders double down and muster more ammunition to fend off the challenge. But since another part of the human mind keeps a person in touch with reality, as the counterevidence piles up the dissonance can mount until it becomes too much to bear and the opinion topples over, a phenomenon called the affective tipping point. The tipping point depends on the balance between how badly the opinion holder’s reputation would be damaged by relinquishing the opinion and whether the counterevidence is so blatant and public as to be common knowledge: a naked emperor, an elephant in the room. As we saw in chapter 10, that is starting to happen with public opinion on climate change. And entire populations can shift when a critical nucleus of persuadable influencers changes its mind and everyone else follows along, or when one generation is replaced by another that doesn’t cling to the same dogmas (progress, funeral by funeral).» (377)

«The beauty of reason is that it can always be applied to understand failures of reason.» (378)

«People understand concepts only when they are forced to think them through, to discuss them with others, and to use them to solve problems.» (378)

«Tetlock has compiled the practices of successful forecasters into a set of guidelines for good judgment (for example, start with the base rate; seek out evidence and don’t overreact or underreact to it; don’t try to explain away your own errors but instead use them as a source of calibration).» (378-379)

«Many psychologists have called on their field to “give debiasing away’ as one of its greatest potential contributions to human welfare.» (379)

«Experiments have shown that the right rules can avert the Tragedy of the Belief Commons and force people to dissociate their reasoning from their identities.» (379)

«Many of us are deluded about our degree of understanding of the world, a bias called the Illusion of Explanatory Depth.» (379-380)

«Some are products of the misconception that the benefits of democracy come from elections, whereas they depend more on having a government that is constrained in its powers, responsite to its citizens, and attentive to the results of its policies.» (381)

«To make public discourse more rational, issues should be depolitiziced as much as possible.» (382)

«Several climate activists have lamented that by writing and starring in the documentary An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore may have done the movement more harm than good, because as former Democratic vice-president and presidential nominee he stamped climate change with a left-wing seal. […] Recruiting conservative and libertarian commentators who have been convinced by the evidence and are willing to share their concern would be more effective than recruiting more scientists to speak more slowly and more loudly.» (382)

«Can we imagine a day in which the most famous columnists and talking heads have no predictable political orientation but try to work out defensible conclusions on an issue-by-issue basis? A day in which “You’re just repeating the left-wing [or right-wing] position” is considered a devastating gotcha? In which people (especially academics) will answer a question like “Does gun control reduce crime? ” or “Does a minimum wage increase unemployment?” with “Wait, let me look up the latest meta-analysis” rather than with a patellar reflex predictable from their politics?» (383)

«The discovery that political tribalism is the most insidious form of irrationality today is still fresh and mostly unknown.» (383)

Chapter 22: Science

«And science, of course, has granted us the gifts of life, health, wealth, knowledge, and freedom documented in the chapters on progress. To take just one example from chapter 6, scientific knowledge eradicated smallpox, a painful and disfiguring disease which killed 300 million people in the 20th century alone. In case anyone has skimmed over this feat of moral greatness, let me say it again: scientific knowledge eradicated smallpox, a painful and disfiguring disease which killed 300 million people in the 20th century alone.» (386)

«Republican politicians have engaged in spectables of inanity, such as when Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee, brought a snowball onto the Senate floor in 2015 to dispute the fact of global warming.» (387)

«Research on intelligence, sexuality, violence, parenting, and prejudice have been distorted by tactics ranging from the choice of items in questionnaires to the intimidation of researchers who fail to ratify the politically correct orthodoxy.» (388)

«The term “cultures,” in the anthropologists’ sense, explains the puzzle of why science should draw flak not just from fossil-fuel-funded politicians but from some of the most erudite members of the clerisy.» (389)

«Though the scientific facts do not by themselves dictate values, they certainly hem in the possibilities. By stripping ecclesiastical authority of its credibilityon factual matters, they cast doubt on its claims to certitude in matters of morality.» (394)

«many historians of science consider it naïve to treat science as the pursuit of true explanations of the world. The result is like a report of a basketball game by a dance critic who is not allowed to say that the players are trying to throw the ball through the hoop.» (396)

«More insidious than the ferreting out of ever more cryptic forms of racism and sexism is a demonization campaign that impugns science (together with reason and other Enlightenment values, for crimes that are as old as civilization, including racism, slavery, conquest, and genocide. This was a major theme of the influential Critical Theory of the Frankfurt School, the quasi-Marxist movement originated by Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, who proclaimed that “the fully enlightened earth radiates disaster triumphant.” It also figures in the works of postmodernist theorists such as Michel Foucault, who argued that the Holocaust was the inevitable culmination of a “bio-politics” that began with the Enlightenment, when science and rational governance exerted increasing power over people’s lives… So is the Nazis’ rabidly counter-Enlightenment ideology, which despised the degenerate liberal bourgeois worship of reason and progress and embraced an organic, pagan vitality which drove the struggle between races.» (397)

«More to the point, the intellectualized racism that infected the West in the 19th century was the brainchild not of science but of the humanities: history, philology, classics, and mythology.» (398)

«Because those ideas had a right-wing flavor, left-wing writers misapplied the term social Darwinism to other ideas with a right-wing flavor, such as imperialism and eugenics, even though Spencer was dead-set against such government activism.» (399)

«Eugenics is another movement that has been used as an ideological blunderbuss. Francis Galton, a Victorian polymath, first suggested that the genetic stock of humankind could be improved by offering incentives for talented people to marry each other and have more children (positive eugenics), though when the idea caught on it was extended to discouraging reproduction among the “unfit” (negative eugenics).» (399)

«When Harvard reformed its general education requirement in 2006-7, the preliminary task force report introduced the teaching of science without any mention of its place in human knowledge: “Science and technology directly affect our students in many ways, both positive and negative: they have led to life-saving medicines, the internet, more efficient energy storage, and digital entertainment; they also have shepherded nuclear weapons, biological warfare agents, electronic eavesdropping, and damage to the environment.” Well, yes, and I suppose one could say that architecture has produced both museums and gas chambers, that classical music both stimulates economic activity and inspired the Nazis, and so on.» (400)

«My colleague’s comparison assumed that the Tuskegee study was an unavoidable part of scientific practice as opposed to a universally deplored brach, and it equated a one-time failure to prevent harm to a few dozen people with the prevention of hundreds of millions of deaths per century in perpetuity.» (401)

«Movements that aim to spread a scientific sophistication such as data journalism, Bayesian forecasting, evidence-based medicine and policy, real-time violence monitoring, and effective altruism have a vast potential to enhance human welfare. But an appreciation of their value has been slow to penetrate the culture.» (403)

«The political scientists Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan assembled a dataset of political resistance movements across the world between 1900 and 2006 and discovered that three-quarters of the nonviolent resistance movements succeeded, compared with only a third of the violent ones.» (405)

«What would happen over the long run if a standard college curriculum devoted less attention to the writings of Karl Marx and Frantz Fanon and more to quantitative analyses of political violence?» (405)

«Several university presidents and provosts have lamented to me that when a scientist comes into their office, it’s to announce some exciting new research opportunity and demand the resources to pursue it. When a humanities scholar drops by, it’s to plead for respect for the way things have always been done.» (406)

«Where does this paranoia and territoriality lead? In a major essay in the New York Times Book Review, Wieseltier called for a worldview that is pre-Darwinian—”the irreducibility of the human difference to any aspect of our animality”—indeed, pre-Copernican—”the centrality of humankind to the universe.”» (409)

Chapter 23: Humanism

«The other reason that humanism needn’t be embarrassed by its overlap with utilitarianism is that this approach to ethics has an impressive track record of improving human welfare. The classical utilitarians—Cesare Beccaria, Jeremy Bentham, and John Stuart Mill—laid out arguments against slavery, sadistic punishment, cruelty to animals, the criminalization of homosexuality, and the subordination of women which carried the day.» (417)

«The philosopher and cognitive neuroscientist Joshua Greene has argued that many deontological convictions are rooted in primitive intuitions of tribalism, purity, revulsion, and social norms, whereas utilitarian conclusions emerge from rational cogitation… Greene also argues that when people from diverse cultural backgrounds have to agree upon a moral code, they tend to do utilitarian. That explains why certain reform movements, such as legal equality for women and gay marriage, overturned centuries of precedent astonishingly quickly: with nothing but custom and intuition behind it, the status quo crumbled in the face of utilitarian arguments.» (417-418)

«The idea that morality consists in the maximization of human flourishing clashes with two perennially seductive alternatives. The first is theistic morality: the idea that morality consists in obeying the dictates of a deity, which are enforced by supernatural reward and punishment in this world or in an afterlife. The second is romantic heroism: the idea that morality consists in the purity, authenticity, and greatness of an individual or a nation.» (419)

«Our universe can be specified by a few numbers, including the strengths of the forces of nature (gravity, electromagnetism, and the nuclear forces), the number of macroscopic dimensions of space-time (four), and the density of dark energy (the source of the acceleration of the expansion of the universe).» (423)

«An ironic inspiration for faitheism is research on the psychological origins of supernatural belief, including the cognitive habits of overattributing design and agency to natural phenomena, and emotional feelings of solidarity within communities of faith. The most natural interpretation of these findings is that they undermine religious beliefs by showing how they are figments of our neurobiological makeup. But the research has also been interpreted as showing that human nature requires religion in the same way that it requires food, sex, and companionship, so it’s futile to imagine no religion.» (431)

«According to WIN-Gallup International’s Global Index of Religiosity and Atheism, a survey of fifty thousand people in fifty-seven countries, 13 percent of the world’s population identified themselves as a “convinced atheist” in 2012, up from around 10 percent in 2005. It would not be fanciful to say that over the course of the 20th century the global rate of atheism increased by a factor of 500, and that it has doubled again so far in the 21st. An additional 23 percent of the world’s population identify themselves as “not a religious person,” leaving 50 percent of the world as “religious,” down from close to 100 percent a century before.» (435)

«In 2012 religiously unaffiliated Americans made up 20 percent of the populace but 12 percent of the voters. Organized religions, by definition, are organized, and they have been putting that organization to work in getting out the vote and directing in their way. In 2012 white Evangelical Protestants also made up 20 percent of the adult population, but they made up 26 percent of the voters, more than double the proportion of the irreligious.» (438)

«American exceptionalism is instructive: The United States is more religious than its Western peers but underperforms them in happiness and well-being, with higher rates of homicide, incarceration, abortion, sexually transmitted disease, child mortality, obesity, educational mediocrity, and premature death.» (439)

«But part of the resistance to the tide of progress can be attributed to religious belief. The problem begins with the fact that many of the precepts of Islamic doctrine, taken literally, are floridly antihumanistic. The Quran contains scores of passages that express hatred of infidels, the reality of martyrdom, and the sacredness of armed jihad. Also endorsed are lashing for alcohol consumption, stoning for adultery and homosexuality, crucifixion for enemies of Islam, sexual slavery for pagans, and forced marriage for nine-year-old girls.» (440)

«Examining big data on religious affiliation from the World Values Survey, the political scientists Amy Alexander and Christian Welzel observe that “self-identifying Muslims stick out as the denomination with by far the largest percentage of strongly religious people: 82%. Even more astounding, fully 92% of all self-identifying Muslims place themselves at the two highest scores of the ten-point religiosity scale [compared with less than half of Jews, Catholics, and Evangelicals]. Self-identifying as a Muslim, regardless of the particular branch of Islam, seems to be almost synonymous with being strongly religious.”» (440)

«Correlation is not causation, but if you combine the fact that much of Islamic doctrine is antihumanistic with the fact that many Muslims believe that Islamic doctrine is inerrant—and throw in the fact that the Muslims who carry out illiberal policies and violent acts say they are doing it because they are following these doctrines—then it becomes a stretch to say that the inhumane practices have nothing to do with religious devotion and that the real cause is oil, colonialism, Islamophobia, Orientalism, or Zionism.» (440)

«The overwhelming majority of victims of Islamic violence and repression are other Muslims. Islam is not a race, and as the ex-Muslim activist Sarah Haider has put it, “Religions are just ideas and don’t have rights.”» (442)

«It’s particularly wrongheaded for the reactionary right to use frantic warnings about an Islamist “war” against the West (with a death toll in the hundreds) as a reason to return to an international order in which the West repeatedly fought wars against itself (with death tolls in the tens of millions).» (451)