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Pinker on Human Nature

February 25, 2013

Steven Pinker‘s The Better Angles of Our Nature, which Cory Johnson mentioned in his Occasional Writing for this week, has generated a lot of controversy because its claim about human nature.

Steven Pinker2

Pinker’s book addresses a concern which is quite central to many science fiction films and, certainly, to The Terminator as well as The Matrix: Is what seems to make us special – what makes us us – also what will destroy us. Or, if you like, is it part of our nature to wipe ourselves out? Think I’m making that up? Tell it to Charlton Heston.


Anyway, you should read Pinker’s book and make up you mind for yourself, but you might also want to read a few reviews and discussions of the book:

Gray’s review is especially aggressive. Here’s a passage:

The vast growth of the American penal state, reaching a size not achieved in any other country, does not immediately present itself as an advance in civilisation. A large part of the rise in the prison population has to do with America’s repressive policies on drugs, which Pinker endorses when he observes: “A regime that trawls for drug users or other petty delinquents will net a certain number of violent people as a by-catch, further thinning the ranks of the violent people who remain on the streets.” While it may be counter-productive in regard to its stated goal of controlling drugs use, it seems America’s prohibitionist regime offers a useful means of banging up troublesome people. The possibility that mass incarceration of young males may be in some way linked with family breakdown is not considered. Highly uneven access to education, disappearing low-skill jobs, cuts in welfare and greatly increased economic inequality are also disregarded, even though these factors go a long way in explaining why there are so many poor blacks and so few affluent whites in prison in America today.

There’s also an interview with Pinker in The Economist that might interest you.

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