Are we living in the best or the worst of times?
Steven Pinker, a psychology professor at Harvard University, addresses this question in his latest book released in January under the title “Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress.”
Pinker, born in Canada in 1954, is also the author of “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined” (2011).
In that book, as well as in his new one, Pinker writes how in spite of all the “doom and gloom” talk that surrounds us, the world is getting better in almost every way.
“A Perfect Future,” a review of Pinker’s new book, was published in the Feb. 24 issue of The Economist.
It concluded, “Mr Pinker’s broad point is surely right. Things are not falling apart. And barring a cataclysmic asteroid strike or nuclear war, it is likely that they will continue to get better.”
The chances of an asteroid strike are completely unknown, but nuclear warfare is seemingly a distinct possibility in the near future – and that certainly would obliterate Pinker’s rosy picture of the present state of the world.
“Making America Nuclear Again” was the title of the cover story of the Feb. 12 issue of Time magazine.
The lead article, posted online on Feb. 1, is “Donald Trump Is Playing a Dangerous Game of Nuclear Poker.”
Author W.J. Hennigan contends that the Trump administration “is convinced that the best way to limit the spreading nuclear danger is to expand and advertise its ability to annihilate its enemies.”
In addition, President Trump “has signed off on a $1.2 trillion plan to overhaul the entire nuclear-weapons complex.”
Citing the Trump administration’s “Nuclear Posture Review” as one of its reasons, in January the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists announced movement of the Doomsday Clock hands 30 seconds closer to midnight – the closest to “doomsday” it has been since 1953.
Since then, President Putin of Russia claimed that Russia was developing new nuclear weapons that could overcome any U.S. missile defenses.
This article in The Washington Post pictures what clearly seems to be a new nuclear arms race.
Do you remember ICAN? It seems not to be widely known, but it is the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons – and it was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in December 2017.
Perhaps it can be said that ICAN is seeking to use “reason, science, humanism and progress,” which Pinker emphasizes in his new book, to picture a world much different than the one now developing because of the belligerence – and fear – of the political leaders of North Korea, Russia and the United States.
Partly as a result of ICAN’s advocacy, in July 2016 the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) was approved by the United Nations with affirmative votes by 122 (out of 193) member nations (with 71 not voting). The full text of the treaty is available here.
When, or if, the TPNW is ratified by 50 U.N. members, it will become international law – with nuclear weapons being outlawed just as chemical and biological weapons have been in the past.
To date, only five nations (Cuba, Guyana, the Holy See, Mexico and Thailand) have ratified the TPNW, but 56 have signed it.
So, which is it? Is this the best of times or the worst of times?
With ratification of the TPNW, perhaps it could be the former.
Leroy Seat was a missionary to Japan from 1966-2004 and is both professor emeritus of Seinan Gakuin University and pastor emeritus of Fukuoka International Church. A version of this article first appeared on his blog, The View from This Seat, and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @LKSeat.