Pinker on the decline of violence

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3 thoughts on “Pinker on the decline of violence

  1. Oh Pinker, please stick to what you are good at – linguistics! First he decides he has the authority to write about the human mind (entering the domain of neuroscience without feeling much need to understand or explain it in any depth), now he wants to be a psychological historian, telling us about our lengthy history of violence and aggression. I cannot help but notice that he seems to focus his interests in areas outside of his own specific scope of training and in areas that are mostly open to speculation. That way, he can use his superior linguistic abilities to create whatever truth he thinks people will buy. He is a snake oil salesman selling stories of our human nature/nurture; the non-academic layperson is guilty of buying this garbage and the academics are guilty of not critiquing him more often.

    I am glad you included John Gray’s critique… I find him to be extremely pessimistic (even for my tastes), but the man is just brilliant. Straw Dogs was one of my favorite books.

    • Although Pinker does go for the rhetorical flourish too often, and — like Dawkins — likes to shoot down straw men, I think that at least some of his criticisms of theory-driven social science are justified. Please note that I am not strongly defending here his ideas about consciousness and such, just agreeing with his claim, in The Blank Slate and elsewhere, that some objections to the apparent results of brain science are ideological rather than scientific. (We can leave for another day the discussion about the extent to which those two descriptors overlap.)

      I’ve given my view on the dogmatism of the relativist left in several old postings, especially in “Dogmatism: Left, Right and Wrong.” Considerable time has passed since then, and I have perhaps softened my stance a bit, but in general I continue to believe that many of my political colleagues are closed to any evidence that threatens their assumptions about the evils of rationalism and empirical science.

  2. Scientists are having to respond to the criticism that their work lacks value by going beyond the boundaries of what is to enter the areas that they are asking religion to vacate, despite the injunction that an “ought” can’t come from an “is”. Kudos to Pinker for trying.

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