May 23, 2018

Critique of Pinker's Enlightenment Now

Here is an interesting critique of Steven Pinker's book Enlightenment Now by Jeremy Lent. Lent writes: "I agree with much of what Pinker has to say" but also "I believe it’s crucially important to take Pinker to task for some dangerously erroneous arguments he makes" and: "It’s precisely because of the validity of much of Pinker’s narrative that the flaws in his argument are so dangerous."

Steven Pinker’s Ideas About Progress Are Fatally Flawed. These Eight Graphs Show Why. 
It’s time to reclaim the mantle of “Progress” for progressives. By falsely tethering the concept of progress to free market economics and centrist values, Steven Pinker has tried to appropriate a great idea for which he has no rightful claim. In Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress, published earlier this year, Steven Pinker argues that the human race has never had it so good as a result of values he attributes to the European Enlightenment of the 18th century. He berates those who focus on what is wrong with the world’s current condition as pessimists who only help to incite regressive reactionaries. Instead, he glorifies the dominant neoliberal, technocratic approach to solving the world’s problems as the only one that has worked in the past and will continue to lead humanity on its current triumphant path.

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February 14, 2018

Progressphobia: what is it and how can it be cured?

In the new book by Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now, I came across a new word: progressphobia. The book is a fervent plea for four central Enlightenment-ideas: reason, science, humanism, and progress. Pinker argues that the combination of these ideas means that humanity, through a greater understanding of reality, due to science, and an increasing circle of sympathy, caused by cosmopolitanism and reason, can make intellectual and moral progress. The aim of Enlightenment-thinkers was not so much to change human nature but to build institutions which would bring out the best sides of human nature. According to Pinker, these ideas need to be defended more than ever.

January 31, 2018

Communicating effectively with people with dementia

Last week, a participant in one of our courses brought in a case for intervision. His case was that he had recently found out that his mother, who lived quite far away from him, had dementia. He wanted to get some tips from the other participants about how he could deal as effectively as possible with this challenging situation. What he hoped to find was a way of dealing with the situation in which he could help his mother as much as possible while also keeping on taking good care of himself. During the exercise he received many compliments and tips. The exercise was both useful to him and to the other participants.

January 30, 2018

Enlightenment Now: is progress caused by Enlightenment values?

I think Steven Pinker's book The Better Angels of our Nature was a fantastic book and I am very curious about his new book Enlightenment now. The book argues that, while many people are pessimistic, the world is actually getting better in countless ways. The book also argues for Enlightenment values such as reason and humanity. While I am all for Enlightenment values, I am curious how convincingly Pinker shows the causal relation between the adoption of Enlightenment values and progress. So far, I have mainly heard him argue that there is much progress. I have not heard him explain clearly that this progress is caused by Enlightenment values. 

Progress-focused intervision: fast and useful

Progress-focused intervision can teams to reflect on a case and to get some good ideas for progress within about 20 minutes. One person presents a case and the rest of the team are in a helping role. The approach has some rules and steps which I will describe below. It usually works best if the rules and steps are followed rather closely and if the process proceeds rather quickly. After all the steps have been taken there is no further discussion of the case.

January 28, 2018

Four principles for having civil and productive conversations with people we strongly disagree with

Nowadays, there is lots of talk about a growing polarization in our societies. It is said that groups oppose each other ever more more hatefully and aggressively. It also appears that we are less and less inclined to talk with people we strongly disagree with. Instead we'd rather search the company of like-minded people. On Facebook and Twitter so-called echo chambers have emerged in which everyone agrees with other members. In an inspiring TED talk, Megan Phelps-Roper tells about how she was raised in a radical church community and how she gradually got into contact with people thought differently. She explains how she freed herself from that community and what she has learned from this experience.

January 18, 2018

Groups can change and improve

Teaching people that groups can change and improve may be a powerful tool to promote peace. Below, two studies are mentioned, one from 2011 and one from 2018.

Halperin et al. (2011)

A study by Halperin et al (2011) showed that teaching people that groups are capable of change and improvement) can lead to short-term improvements in intergroup attitudes and willingness to make concessions in intractable conflicts. Using a nationwide sample (N = 500) of Israeli Jews, their first study showed that a belief that groups were malleable predicted positive attitudes toward Palestinians, which in turn predicted willingness to compromise. In the remaining three studies, experimentally inducing malleable versus fixed beliefs about groups among Israeli Jews (N = 76), Palestinian citizens of Israel (N = 59), and Palestinians in the West Bank (N = 53)--without mentioning the adversary--led to more positive attitudes toward the outgroup and, in turn, increased willingness to compromise for peace.

January 14, 2018

Why I think the blockchain will bring progress

Recently, I have become interested in a new technology which is gaining popularity and which will probably have a great impact on our society: the blockchain. Put simply, blockchain technology is a technological infrastructure underlying cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. Below I will explain a bit the emergence of this new technology, about what it is, and about why it will probably become very important.

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