Pinker and Populism (I)

Pinker and Populism (I)

Written by Alfonso Elizondo


Born in Montreal Canada, Steven Pinker is considered one of the brightest cognitive psychologists in the world today. This Harvard University professor is a staunch advocate of the genetic origin of human behavior. He has recently written an extraordinary book entitled Enlightenment Now where he settles scores with the enemies of progress and with those who think that the world is always going backwards and only they can save it.


At the present time, Donald Trump, Brexit, as well as the tribal and nationalist tendencies are the most visible part of this current global crisis that threatens human society. Coupled with the trade war unleashed by the United States, they are trying to change the present that is not favourable to them for a past almost one hundred years ago when they were the owners of the world after destroying the values ​​of the Enlightenment that the French Revolution had left in the West.


Pinker says that the ideals of reason and science are what have always moved the world and must be defended at all costs. He believes that progress is not something subjective because the vast majority of human beings have the same goals in terms of health, security, knowledge and freedom. All this is what is known as progress and right now it is what the human being has to defend.


According to Pinker, most of today’s intellectuals identify the free market with extreme liberalism, although they are not the same, and that’s how Adam Smith saw it at the start of capitalism. Since the time of the Great Recession in the early twentieth century, much of the Western population has come to the conclusion that capitalism and its institutions have failed and are seen as the losers of globalization.


However, Pinker tells them that neither globalization nor free markets have impoverished them. He points out that extreme poverty has fallen by 75% in the last 30 years and that markets and regulations are not incompatible. He thinks that the Great Recession showed that the chaos of markets without regulation should be avoided.


In his latest book Pinker says that one needs to remember the great power that markets have to improve life. The greatest decline in world poverty in history has occurred in China, and it was not through the massive distribution of global wealth from Western countries, but through the development of market institutions.


Pinker notes that for the last 25 years, 137,000 people have been escaping poverty every day. However, this is never mentioned by the mass media or by transnational organizations. Pinker believes that economic improvement does not give greater individual freedom, but produces other forms of a more pleasant life and when countries abandon the market they regularly sink into poverty, as happened with the Soviet Union, in Mao’s China, in East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall fell and now in Venezuela.


No one knows for sure why populism is rising around the world. Pinker believes that the Great Recession contributed a lot to this, while in Europe there was the nodular factor of the flow of migration from Muslim countries that increased the territory of the jihadist countries and exaggerated their risk. So the fear and moral prejudice felt by many citizens have created that populist reaction since populism has a rural base that spreads through the less educated strata of society because the world is increasingly urban and more educated. Pinker believes that with the disappearance of the Trump generation, millennials, as the natural enemies of populism, will rise to power.


However, the current world is in serious danger of beginning a third world war due to Trump’s impulsive, vengeful and punitive personality, because he has the power to declare a nuclear war. In addition to that, he is opposed to the institutions that have enabled progress. He rejects global trade, international cooperation, the world order, the UN, and so on.


Pinker says that if in these last few decades there have not been world wars it is because we are still a community of nations and decisions are taken jointly. Although Trump is a threat to this world order, his authoritarian instincts are subjecting the entire world and US democracy to a historic test.


Despite Trump, Pinker thinks that institutions will prevail, especially due to the emergence of new and courageous world leaders such as Trudeau and Macron who still uphold the values ​​of the Enlightenment.


Addendum: In Part Two, we will continue with Pinker’s study up to the present time.