In an age of increasingly pessimistic and bleak world views, Steven Pinker’s new book, Enlightenment Now, couldn’t come at a better time. It’s a sort of balm from the recent surge in authoritarian populism and the general hopelessness that stems from it. Through the lens of Pinker’s optimistic philosophy, Enlightenment Now expands on his seminal book, The Better Angels of Our Nature, and creates a cohesive overview of the liberal Enlightenment values that are currently under attack from both extremes of the political spectrum. While he paints a rose-colored picture of humanity right now, he also explains the media biases that cause most people to feel much worse about human progress than they ought to feel.
How much do we really listen when someone voices an opinion that differs from our own? That’s among the matters discussed today as we’re joined by special guest Peter Schuck, the author of “One Nation Undecided,” which takes an honest, thought-provoking look at the state of decision-making, opinion-forming and discourse-sharing in America.
When it comes to the hard issues, such as poverty, immigration and affirmative action, Schuck laments, people hold views that are so polarized that they don’t even want to look at each other, never mind take the time to try and understand what the other side has to say. To improve the state of discourse among Americans, he argues, we need to cultivate a sense of respect for the people that dare disagree with is. In doing so, we learn to listen, to question our own beliefs and, possibly, even take a fresh viewpoint on something we thought we felt strongly about.
These days, there is little that occurs without leaving some type of electronic trail. Cameras appear in buildings and on street corners, catching every move of passersby, and emails, text messages and other forms of electronic communication carry critical messages, and in some cases, details about wrongdoings, threats and crimes.
Most Americans enjoy a sense of safety and privacy when communicating via their home computers and personal cellphones, but what happens when the information contained in such communications has the capacity to cause harm to the general public? Should tech companies have to help law enforcement execute search warrants to access customer data as a matter of public safety and national security, or would doing so infringe upon the very freedoms upon which this nation is based?
In an age of “fake news,” radical opinions and seemingly never-ending controversies, Peter Schuck’s “One Nation Undecided” does what so many have struggled to do as of late – give careful thought and consideration to some of the nation’s most polarizing issues, and respectfully analyze the opinions and arguments of both sides in doing so.
Page by page, Schuck delves into five of today’s most controversial topics, exploring immigration, campaign finance, poverty, affirmative action, and gay marriage and transgender rights while explaining key concepts and providing thoughtful commentary along the way. Rather than take a strong stance on most of these hot-button issues, however, he instead takes an often-unbiased perspective, encouraging readers not so much to take one side over the other, but to think through the arguments of both sides rationally and precisely while abandoning hot tempers and strong emotions in doing so.
Just how strong are our personal convictions, and are we willing to change them, or to at least give genuine, thoughtful consideration to the other side?
New York Times Columnist David Leonhardt sits down with our host John Donvan to discuss this and his recent column, where he challenges members of society to pick a divisive issue, grapple with it, and then consider changing their minds.