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September 28, 2021

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i liked The Language Instinct, in the mid-90s, when it first came out and i was on a pop-sci reading bender. a few years later, i started hearing about this contrarian d-bag also named Stephen Pinker and was shocked when i figure out it's the same guy.

i've never gone back to the book to see if there were warning signs.

(change the book title to "The Red Queen" and the name to "Matt Ridley" and every word of that is just as true. )

For many reasons I'll never be invited to anything like Davos or Bohemian Grove, but I come in contact with people who are in that world. The folks I know are privileged white males who benefit from the current system even though they identify as liberal or even progressive.

My sense is that Pinker is a secular version of Joel Osteen preaching prosperity gospel. "It's God's will that pious Christians receive material gain" is the mirror image of "the system that benefits you to a grossly disproportionate level is good for everyone".

Pinker may have ideas that are interesting and deserving of discussion, but justifying the current system with all of its inequities is what gets him those phat speaking engagement fees.

"Pinker may have ideas that are interesting and deserving of discussion, but justifying the current system with all of its inequities is what gets him those phat speaking engagement fees."

And I'm sure there are MANY other people with ideas that are even MORE interesting and worthy of discussion, that don't get the speaking engagements at all, let alone the phat fees.

But "no one" has heard of them.

Cleek, if you go back to the book, I think you'll find it sedulous in applying frames that automatically dismiss rather than engage, assembling straw men surreptitiously and then gawping in amazement when they burst into flames. I think that he got his straw man chops in writing the Language Instinct, and went whole hog with The Better Angels.

https://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/magazine/john-gray-steven-pinker-violence-review

Like most people, I have no time for rationality. I can't see any value in it. Right, everyone?

oy, that article.

i didn't realize how low Pinker had gone. Steve Sailer, FFS?

...the high rate of black children born out of wedlock and what Pinker sees as the resulting potential for violence in families (black or white) that lack the civilising influence of women.

I don't follow. Aren't children born out of wedlock usually brought up by their mothers?

A deeper problem, critics say, is Pinker’s faith in data to reveal the truth. Yes, it would be great to just rely on the data, they argue, but data is interpretive all the way down, shaped by what is collected, how it’s collected and for what purpose. That’s a problem Pinker acknowledges in Enlightenment Now, but never fully reckons with. “When you really dig not only into the facts but into his own sources, it’s fully ideological,” Guilhot, the intellectual historian, told me. [...] Many point out that, whatever the data may show, the really important question is not how much better the world has become, but how much better it could still be.

This.

I've spent a good portion of my working life having to contend with quantitative assessment that is initiated by bosses looking to promote their leadership to the people in charge of the budget, and carried out by ethically challenged careerists hoping to join their ranks.

Their key skill is to find an upward trend line and then fashion a narrative that allows them all to take credit for it, hopefully nailing down a few measurables that can be used in place of an actual explanation for why the thing they are promoting doesn't actually work for big portions of the people involved. If you can make the measurables clear enough, the other things can be written off as too uncertain and fuzzy to be deliverables.

He's undoubtedly a smart dude. He's also, by all appearances, a vainglorious asshole in the nerd enfant terrible mode, which appears to be catnip for Tech Bros.

the high rate of black children born out of wedlock and what Pinker sees as the resulting potential for violence in families (black or white) that lack the civilising influence of women. While “massive imprisonment” has not reversed this trend, it “removes the most crime-prone individuals from the streets, incapacitating them.” America’s experiment in mass incarceration is, apparently, an integral part of the recivilising process.

Whereas it seems apparent the the high incarceration rate is the cause of the large number of children born out of wedlock (or, more accurately, without a male in the home). Which lack results in the "resulting potential for violence in families." Whatever the civilizing influence of women, I submit that a civilized male role model is at least as important in establishing a non-violent approach to problem resolution in young males.

I've spent a good portion of my working life having to contend with quantitative assessment that is initiated by bosses looking to promote their leadership to the people in charge of the budget, and carried out by ethically challenged careerists hoping to join their ranks.

The problem isn't really quantitative assessment, it's its misuse. Quantitative assessment give a clue to where to look. At which point, you need to look both at the process which could account for the correlation (correlation is not identical to causation) and at what might be "the cause of the cause."**

And then you should do another quantitative assessment on that, test your new hypothesis.

** "causa causae est causa causati" for all you lawyers out there.

Whatever the civilizing influence of women, I submit that a civilized male role model is at least as important in establishing a non-violent approach to problem resolution in young males.

Even among elephants.

"When Gus Van Dyk was an ecologist at Pilanesberg National Park, South Africa, he was worried by a series of attacks on the park’s rhino.

As described in the BBC Earth Podcast, badly mutilated rhino carcasses were discovered, over 50 in all, with wounds to the top of the shoulders and neck, which suggested, worryingly, elephants. Elephant attacks on rhinos are not unknown, and jostles at watering holes are fairly common, but this volume of attacks was unusual. Further investigation by Van Dyk revealed that the suspects were a group of adolescent male elephants (their teenage years are the same as ours – between 12 and 20 years old) who were clearly experiencing heightened aggression."
Teenage elephants need a father figure: The swaggering, the aggression, the attitude…headstrong teenagers can be scary. Even more so when they’re eight feet tall and weigh six tonnes.

Okay, so I read the Van Dyk paper and I am baffled at the BBCs characterization of the teenage elephants as needing a father figure.

The paper's main claim is that the adolescent male elephants were going into musth earlier than was normal and remaining there for longer than was normal.

Introducing mature bull elephants seemed to have stopped that trend.

Getting from there to the need for a "father figure" takes some serious anthropomorphizing and values biases.

It reads to me like a Just So Story.

Given how mean fully grown elephant bulls can get, I'd rather say that young ones are simply too afraid of the old than that he is a model to imitate, i.e. more of an alpha male suppressing the sexual activities of the inferior males in some species.
On the other hand there can be no doubt that older female elephants have a huge influence on the members of their group (and not by means of violence).

more of an alpha male suppressing the sexual activities of the inferior males in some species.

As anyone who has been through Marine Corps boot camp can attest, it can even suppress sexual arousal. When I was in, in an effort to explain away the lack thereof, there were rumors that saltpeter was being put in the food.

Before we get too far down this rabbit hole and into Jordan Peterson territory, there’s growing pushback amongst animal behaviorists over the sloppy use of the concept of the alpha male. It’s been overapplied in inappropriate and distorting ways to all sorts of animal social dynamics, so the current moment is a walking back of that thinking to a more careful and nuanced understanding of the social dynamics of hierarchy.

there’s growing pushback amongst animal behaviorists over the sloppy use of the concept of the alpha male.

I suspect that the concept persists because
a) it is really simple and easy to understand, and
b) it plays into the fantasies of some would-be alpha males.

Otherwise, it seems to me that it is not generally, certainly not universally, applicable to human society. There are definitely some people who want/need a strong leader to make all their decisions for them. But, I think, far more who will accept tyrrany out of fear (or ambition), rather than out of psychological need. The Congressional GOP seems to have a lot of those.

As anyone who has been through Marine Corps boot camp can attest, it can even suppress sexual arousal.

This assumes that a state of constant sexual arousal is the standard and that all males have it all the time. I can see how one could think that is true because it may certainly function that way in many individuals and also taking into account the way society leverages that desire/arousal, but surely you can see how constant complaints about sexual arousal might function as some sort of group bonding behavior and don't necessarily need to be the case. Application of this to other potentially sociapathic conditions is left to the reader.

This assumes that a state of constant sexual arousal is the standard and that all males have it all the time.

But no arousal for weeks?

And it all could just be due to a, sometimes overwhelming, sense of vulnerability and stress.

I realize it is hard to imagine but yes.

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/327272

Needless to say, if I were in a Marine boot camp, I wouldn't advertise that I'm asexual.

He's undoubtedly a smart dude. He's also, by all appearances, a vainglorious asshole in the nerd enfant terrible mode, which appears to be catnip for Tech Bros...

The borderline between contrarian public intellectual and well remunerated apologist for the very wealthy is not a hard one to stray across, apparently.

Saltpeter.

Yes, there were similar rumors at the military academy at which I spent three summers at the height of puberty, many erections ago.

I'm trying to imagine a Marine infantryman being counseled by his platoon leader to get out there and fuck the enemy, and the foot soldier answering, "But, Sarge, I just consumed the charcuterie platter back at the base. How bout instead we just sweet talk them into laying down their weapons, because I'm not quite feeling up to a pitched gun battle."

Republicans, especially the Christians among them, are highly concerned with erection integrity of late, feeling a little limp in the nether regions.

Getting older as I am is a continual battle with a kind of forced asexuality, given the dearth of physical opportunities, but I still look forward to breaking the rules.

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