Where we’ve gotten in trouble, he notes, is when we “[deny] the existence of human nature, with its messy needs for beauty, nature, tradition and social intimacy” — leading us to believe that we can radically reshape humans through technology and reason alone into a better, more efficient existence.
Political scientist James Scott (the source of Pinker’s comments) calls this movement “High Modernism.” He’s not a fan.
Scott blames the technocratic hubris of High Modernism for some of the great social engineering disasters of the 20th century, from Stalin’s famine-inducing farm collectivization, to our own country’s failed mid-century urban renewal projects, which, to quote Pinker, too often “replaced vibrant neighborhoods with freeways, high-rises, windswept plazas, and brutalist architecture.”
Technology has undoubtedly created massive benefits for humanity. But it can cause problems — shifting into High Modernism territory — when it ignores, or even tries to replace our complex humanity instead of working with it.