Steven Pinker

PinkerThe scriptures present a God who delights in genocide, rape, slavery, and the execution of nonconformists, and for millennia those writings were used to rationalize the massacre of infidels, the ownership of women, the beating of children, dominion over animals, and the persecution of heretics and homosexuals. Humanitarian reforms such as the elimination of cruel punishment, the dissemination of empathy-inducing novels, and the abolition of slavery were met with fierce opposition in their time by ecclesiastical authorities and their apologists. The elevation of parochial values to the realm of the sacred is a license to dismiss other people’s interests, and an imperative to reject the possibility of compromise.

3 thoughts on “Steven Pinker

  1. shinichi Post author

    Faced with the ceaseless stream of news about war, crime, and terrorism, one could easily think we live in the most violent age ever seen. Yet as New York Times bestselling author Steven Pinker shows in this startling and engaging new work, just the opposite is true: violence has been diminishing for millennia and we may be living in the most peaceful time in our species’s existence. For most of history, war, slavery, infanticide, child abuse, assassinations, pogroms, gruesome punishments, deadly quarrels, and genocide were ordinary features of life. But today, Pinker shows (with the help of more than a hundred graphs and maps) all these forms of violence have dwindled and are widely condemned. How has this happened?

    This groundbreaking book continues Pinker’s exploration of the essence of human nature, mixing psychology and history to provide a remarkable picture of an increasingly nonviolent world. The key, he explains, is to understand our intrinsic motives- the inner demons that incline us toward violence and the better angels that steer us away-and how changing circumstances have allowed our better angels to prevail. Exploding fatalist myths about humankind’s inherent violence and the curse of modernity, this ambitious and provocative book is sure to be hotly debated in living rooms and the Pentagon alike, and will challenge and change the way we think about our society.

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  2. shinichi Post author

    Steven Pinker: fighting talk from the prophet of peace

    Steven Pinker claims in his new book that far from being the bloodiest era in human history, ours is a time when violence has been in steep decline. Here, he explains how mankind turned its back on brutality

    by John Naughton

    The Guardian

    http://www.theguardian.com/science/2011/oct/15/steven-pinker-better-angels-violence-interview?newsfeed=true

    Steven Pinker: I think that a failure of statistical thinking is the major intellectual shortcoming of our universities, journalism and intellectual culture. Cognitive psychology tells us that the unaided human mind is vulnerable to many fallacies and illusions because of its reliance on its memory for vivid anecdotes rather than systematic statistics. Yet pundits continue to hallucinate trends in freak events, like the Norwegian sniper (who shot all those young people on an island) and make wildly innumerate comparisons, such as between Afghanistan and Vietnam, or between today’s human trafficking and the African slave trade. It’s a holdover of the literary sensibilities of our science-flunking intellectual elite, who would be aghast if someone didn’t know who Milton was, but cheerfully flaunt their ignorance of basic science and mathematics. I lobbied – unsuccessfully – for a course requirement at Harvard in statistical and logical reasoning.

    (I thought that your description of the Bible as “a wiki” is neat and your bleak recounting of the approved levels of violence in the Old Testament was sobering even to this atheist. It reminded me of anthropologist Edmund Leach’s essay where he looked at the Bible through the eyes of a communications engineer and asked: what message are these authors trying to get through to the reader? The answer, Leach thought, was that they were trying to obscure the fact that mankind began through incest (Adam and Eve) and so the strategy was to compile a list of atrocities so heinous that, in the end, the original incest would come to look like a harmless act. I guess your portrayal of the Holy Book will get you into trouble in parts of the US.)

    Steven Pinker: No doubt – though American evangelical Protestants are pretty un-intellectual, and are unlikely to read the book, and the conservative religious brains trust are mainly Catholic thinkers, who are less committed to the literal truth of the Bible. Nonetheless, they will not be happy with my claim that the Enlightenment (of which they are highly suspicious) was a very good thing.

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