Tag Archives: progress

Steven Pinker

[T]he 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 needn’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.)

Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress, New York, 2018, ch. 4

Steven Pinker

Science […] 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.

Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress, New York, 2018, p. 386

Alfred Milner

From many points of view we live in a glorious time. I have little sympathy with those who wish they had been born at any, even the most brilliant epoch, in the past of the human race. The Many have now opportunities of study, opportunities of travel, opportunities of healthy enjoyment, which of old were denied to all but the Few. Human activity is expanding in all directions. Life is infinitely fuller, more varied, more interesting than it ever was. But on the other hand it requires more judgment, more balance of mind, more strength of character to make the best of it. Where one can do so many things there is a real danger of trying to do too many, and the end of that is that one does nothing well. Every age has its own special difficulties and dangers. The disease which specially threatens this generation is restlessness, distraction, dissipation of intellectual and moral power. […]

Success will rest with those who can preserve a calm judgement, who will not be bewildered by the multitude of things offered to them, but select with tremendous rigour, and who finally, having selected, will give themselves time to enjoy what they have chosen, and not let themselves be flurried out of the enjoyment and the benefit of it by the thought of all that they have been obliged to pass by.

Alfred Milner, Bustle, Oxford, 1897

Alexander Gray

Economic science […], if it be a science, differs from other sciences in this, that there is no inevitable advance from less to greater certainty; there is no ruthless tracking down of truth which, once unbared, shall be truth to all times to the complete confusion of any contrary doctrine.

Alexander Gray, The Development of Economic Doctrine: An Introductory Survey, London, 1931, p. 12

Lant Pricthett

The typical person in a rich industrial country lives better in material terms than any king or duke or the wealthiest financier in 1820 or even 1870. The suburban chariot—the ubiquitous minivan—provides safer, faster, and more comfortable travel than the grandest carriage ever built. Cellular telephone owners can pull from their pocket a device that can communicate more quickly and reliably with any corner of the globe than anything available to the most powerful world leader in 1900. Nearly every house in the developed world has flush toilets connected to an amazing system of waste treatment and disposal that eliminates the stench and disease that afflicted even the wealthiest in the nineteenth century. In the age of digital recordings, people have access to a wider variety of better-performed music anywhere they travel than the richest of courts could ever provide. Health conditions have improved enormously so that nearly every child in the industrial world is born with a better chance to reach adulthood than the richest could achieve.

Lant Pricthett, Let Their People Come: Breaking the Gridlock on International Labor Mobility, Washington, D. C., 2006, p. 15