Monday, October 9

Ripping, just a little, on Steven Pinker. Much of which is kind of reflexive, but there's quite a bit of meat in this:

Jesus wept. To begin with, Virginia Woolf did not write, In or about December 1910, human nature changed. What she wrote was On or about December 1910 human character changed. The sentence appears in an essay called Character in Fiction, which attacks the realist novelists of the time for treating character as entirely a product of outer circumstance of environment and social class. These novelists look at people's clothes, their jobs, their houses, Woolf says, but never . . . at life, never at human nature. Modernist fiction, on the other hand, because it presents character from the inside, shows how persistent personality is, and how impervious to circumstance. Woolf, in short, was a Pinkerite.

I come to this by way of noticing friendly connections between Steve Sailer & Pinker, and wondering to myself just how much of a book (The Blank Slate) I've quoted favorably I ever really thought enough about. Some of what Pinker has to say is, I think, fairly hard to contest: Lots of people have a reflexive horror of understanding human biology as it pertains to human behavior as anything more than a black box. But I think a lot of Pinker's ideological/aesthetic axe grinding is more explicit and suspect than it seemed at the time, and it gets me to wondering about the whole framework. Similar thoughts on, frex, evolutionary psych in general.

Increasingly, I get to realizing that I don't have a grasp on much.

Meanwhile, I'm reading Field Day, by Matt Hern, which so far is a sympathetic and compelling take on radical education. On which topic more later.

Later on Pinker: Also this review, by Simon Blackburn, which is a more impressive critique:

Locke wanted only to deny innate ideas and innate knowledge, not innate powers or tendencies, nor innate limitations, nor innate cognitive and emotional capacities. This may sound like a mere historical quibble, but it arouses a powerful doubt about Pinkers diagnosis of modernity. If Locke did not hold the doctrine of the blank slate, then Leibniz and Hume and Kant, not to mention the massed ranks of churchmen declaiming about human depravity and Freudians declaiming about the nature of men and women, most certainly did not hold it either. And then its status as a central and unsalutary determinant of modern thought looks a little shaky.

A least, it's more impressive until he comes to the well-known meta-study of studies of violence by Haejung Paik and George Comstock, which found in 1994 that media violence affects young peoples chance of being violent about as much as smoking affects the chance of lung cancer., at which I have to take exception because it sounds like such hyperbolic bullshit.

I also suspect, without knowing quite enough to say, that Blackburn falls down on his criticism of the modular mind, and in the bit about desiring to reproduce vs. desiring sexual gratification. There's no need, after all, to assert that people want to fuck because they want to make babies—it's probably only necessary to demonstrate that wanting to fuck tends to make for more babies. is like supposing that even sodomites and foot fetishists are secretly trying to reproduce — well, no it's not.

Anyway it's good from there on out.

I am going to bed.

p1k3 / 2006 / 10 / 9
tags: topics/reading, topics/steven-pinker