Russell Brunelle (russellb) wrote,
Russell Brunelle

Something Bill Gates said yesterday

Bill Gates had this to say in the blog entry he posted yesterday about his summer reading:

One book I read recently that I’m absolutely nuts about is Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of our Nature. This one took more than a day to read because it’s over 700 pages, and it deals with one of the most complex issues in history—the history of violence. Pinker makes the case that over time, humans have become much less violent and more humane. This got me thinking about how we can achieve more positive outcomes in the world today through the work of our foundation.

Reading this quote got me thinking about why it's so easy to find people who will think less of you if you admit you found value in The Better Angels of Our Nature, even if they're not able to refute its statistical claims as to the overall decline of violence. I suspect the main reason is that this book is actually optimistic about humanity's future.

In my experience there's no faster way to get tagged as dim-witted and hopelessly naive than to be optimistic about basically anything. To be fair, in the case of books like this I suspect part of what drives this is the tacet belief that admitting things are getting better is either somehow disrespectful to people who are still in horrible circumstances, or else causes complacency. But I believe this is misguided: to me what is disrespectful is ignoring all the hard work which led to the successes by implicitly denying there were any successes, and I don't believe it's a coincidence that the people I've met who had the greatest positive impact on the world were all optimists.
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