Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Splendid Sentences, Part 3: Steven Pinker on Human Progress

Steven Pinker, award-winning Harvard professor and author of Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress, among many other outstanding books, wrote this sentence in his article "Follow the Trendlines", appearing in The Economist special issue The World in 2019:
Since the 18th-century Enlightenment, life expectancy across the world has increased from 30 to 71 years, extreme poverty has fallen from 90% to 10 %, literacy has risen from 12% to 83%, and the share of people living in democracies has leapt from 1% to two-thirds.
The obvious optimism of this 45-word sentence is refreshing, but what impresses me more is how Pinker hits these high notes after rendering a realistic picture of how we get news about our world. Reporting failure, he writes, is the job of journalism while reporting success seems like public relations. He uses statistics to make his indisputable case that humanity has continually progressed for the better over the centuries. Numbers are rarely sexy, but they are here.