“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . . .” So began Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities (1859), the historical novel set in London and Paris before and during the French Revolution. That was then, but what about now?
Pinker’s Rosy Picture
Steven Pinker is a psychology professor at Harvard University. His latest book was released last month 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.
Picturing a Nuclear Arms Race
“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, DJT “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. (See this article.)
Since then, just last Thursday President Putin of Russia claimed that Russia was developing new nuclear weapons that could overcome any U.S. missile defenses. This Washington Post article pictures what clearly seems to be a new nuclear arms race.
Picturing a Nuclear Free World
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). (Here is a link to the treaty’s full text.)
When, or if, the TPNW is ratified by fifty UN 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.