The Atlantic

When Truth and Reason Are No Longer Enough

In his new book, Steven Pinker is curiously blind to the power and benefits of small-town values.
Source: Gracìa Lam

I’m a scientist at UC Berkeleya card-carrying true believer in liberal Enlightenment values. Imagine that I meet a bright young woman in a small town in Wisconsin or Alabama, and that I want to persuade her to become a scientist like me. “Listen, science is really great!,” I say. “We scientists care about truth and reason and human flourishing. We include people from every country and culture. And our values have transformed the world. For thousands of years before the Enlightenment, the speed limit was the pace of a fast horse, and children died all the time. Now ideas move at the speed of light, and a child’s death is an unthinkable tragedy. Democracy has eclipsed tyranny, prosperity has outpaced poverty, medicine has routed illness, individual liberation has uprooted social convention. Come join us!”

The young woman replies, “That sounds fantastic! But there’s just one thing. I love this town. I have a boyfriend who also wants to be a scientist, and I’d like to get married and have a bunch of kids here soon. My parents are looking forward

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from The Atlantic

The Atlantic25 min readPolitics
An Abandoned Weapon in the Fight Against Hate Speech
A 1952 Supreme Court ruling gave civil-rights groups a way to combat anti-Semitism and other prejudices—but in the years since, it’s largely gone unused.
The Atlantic5 min read
The Joy of Writing a Book With My Dad
For much of my life, he has told me we should work on a book together. When we finally did, it was more rewarding than I could have imagined.
The Atlantic6 min readPolitics
Tyranny Of The 70-Somethings
The Democratic Party’s gerontocracy is holding back the political causes it claims to want to advance.