The 2013 Dawkins Award goes to … Steven Pinker

Who well deserves it, I think. It’s “presented every year to honor an outstanding atheist whose contributions raise public awareness of the nontheist life stance.” Very laudatory and gratifying press release here.

I just finished reading his Better Angels of Our Nature: Why violence has declined. I thought it a well-reasoned and researched testament to the power of humanism and a excellent resource for rebutting the folks who think the world is worse than it has ever been and people never more wicked. One would think that evidence to the contrary would be welcome … but it’s not. My neo-pagan spiritual friends would have none of it. I hold out even less hope for the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Last year’s recipient was also excellent: Eugenie Scott. Perhaps not quite a ‘mirror’ representative of  “the uncompromising nontheist life stance of Dr. Richard Dawkins” — but quite solid on the raising of the public awareness of science. Pinker, then, is a twofer.

 

He’s also an excellent speaker. I plan on attending the Atheist Alliance of America’s national convention to see him receive the Dawkins. It’s taking place on  Aug 30 – Sept 2 … in Boston. The Alliance’s conventions are imo one of the best. Everyone should go. And now there’s Pinker to tempt you.

(from Sastra)

Comments

  1. says

    Honestly, I haven’t read the book, but even if the premise is correct it says nothing about how just the world is. You can have the a very unjust world and have people simply submit to the corrupt unjust world where people go through even more trauma than they would in a very violent world, because of how society is structured: SHU’s in prison, etc, shunning people, etc, and, on the surface it appears ‘ok’ right? Peaceful, non-violent. But just because people are being exploited and no one has the courage to knock The Man’s teeth down his throat, doesn’t mean it’s a just world. I think people get Just World and Non-Violent world confused. It could well be the most Non-Violent world ever and the most Unjust, exploitative (Rich exploiting the poor in a prison/police state) in the history of humankind.

    Peace is meaningless and a lack of violence is meaningless if they just reenforce exploitative social quos. People have to want to bleed for the ability to inhabit reality in non-exploitative relationships before justice is received. Peace in and of itself can never be praised except by those whose societal role it is to reenforce that very patriarchal status quo….

  2. Ysanne says

    sleepingwytch,
    I guess in today’s privileged Western world, where the cruelty of middle-ages style torture is largely absent and smacking a kid is considered abuse (things I’m quite glad about), it’s very easy to find a decline in violence irrelevant. It’s not.

    I read a bit of the book at some relatives’ place on the Easter weekend and liked it quite a lot. Surprisingly, so did my hosts, who happen to be very Catholic (prayers all the time, cath. school, early morning mass, altar girl stuff, you name it), though to be fair, they hadn’t reached the chapter about religion’s and the church’s role in promoting and justifying horrific violence yet… Then again, maybe they just missed that religion doesn’t exactly come off great in Pinker’s book — these are the same relatives who gave my kids the Brick Bible (a fantastic resource to look at just how absurd and horrible bible stories really are) last year because they thought it must be a cute feel-good Lego storybook.

  3. says

    Awesome. I’ll be close to Boston come this fall. I finally might be able to attend one of these. Is it expensive to get in?

  4. says

    I am reading it now, and have begun to talk about it basically everywhere. What amazes me is how much resistance there is to the idea that we are becoming ever more less violent, notably from both sides of the gun debates. Gun fetishists and at least some gun control advocates seem very vested in the notion that things are getting worse every day. The book seems unending, but I think that is from Pinker anticipating pushback, and he is trying to be as thorough as possible. As an historian, a few bits of it make me cringe, some of his generalizations. But overall, I find it very persuasive — and very much “good news.”

  5. says

    @sleepingwytch – Pinker discusses the idea that violence against persons and violence against human rights, human dignity are deeply related. He is not touting the wonders of the peace of a police state, but instead gives great weight to a humanitarian revolution stemming primarily from the Enlightenment, emphasizing the value of the individual and basic civil liberties. And as for kicking in the teeth of The Man, Pinker locates a lot of the decline in violence in the decline of the arbitrary nature of power and the decline of hierarchy. He is hardly suggesting our world is ideal, but rather that it a dramatic improvement over what came before.

  6. says

    I concur that Better Angels is a tour de force, with the glaring exception of his views on the morality of meat-eating. Pinker concludes, in essence, that vegetarianism is frivolous, weird, and just too darn difficult. The strongest argument he offers, referring to it repeatedly, is the existence of a word for “meat-hunger” in some cultures, which by his account implies that eating meat is normal and inevitable: he doesn’t mention whether the same cultures also have words for “rape” and “murder”.

    The problem, of course, is that Pinker’s own personal morality is behind the curve on this issue. He is in good company, however: Richard Dawkins was embarassed by Peter Singer into an admission that he would like to be vegetarian someday – “Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet.”

  7. poolboy says

    My only views on Pinker are 1. a vague recollection of him siding on a pro-gun stance with Sam Harris because he says gun violence has gone down (percentage wise or total). 2. and an understanding that his research is on ‘total global violence’ – looking at percentages rather than total. That if a million people are casually massacred today in one scenario or another, they mean nothing compared to 7billion.

    Right or wrong, my current views skew towards negative.

  8. Ichthyic says

    Richard Dawkins was embarassed by Peter Singer

    I’ve actually thought that Marian might have had at least some influence on Dawkin’s thinking on these issues when they were married.

    not so sure “embarrassed” would be the term I would use. Richard doesn’t get embarrassed by his own positions that I’ve ever noticed.

    Pinker’s own personal morality is behind the curve on this issue.

    depends on how one defines the curve, as noted by your own inclusion of Dawkins, FWIW.

  9. machintelligence says

    Count me as another big fan of Steve Pinker’s book. It is a weighty tome, although only about two thirds of the book is text, and the rest references.Those of us in the USA have a slightly different view of the decline of violence, having been involved in so many of the wars of the last 60 years, but just look at the casualty counts. Iraq and Afghanistan 12 years — 48,00 killed and wounded vs Korea and Vietnam 13 years — 250,000 killed and wounded. Admittedly small comfort for those who were casualties, but there were far fewer of them, and they were all volunteers.On a much smaller scale, look at the improvements in children’s rights, animal welfare and the anti-bullying movement.I truly think he is on to something and will try to attend the conference.

  10. Eric O says

    I’m on the last chapter of Pinker’s book and I think it’s great. There are a few bits here and there that kind of bug me (he takes a few jabs at straw feminists and occasionally presents some questionable evo-psych) but these generally don’t detract from his main points.

  11. Ichthyic says

    I stick with “embarassed” and add “squirming”:

    ROFLMAO

    uh, you DID know that Dawkins is a supporter of Singer on animal rights issues, yeah?

    so, now, know that, do you want to reinterpret what you saw there?

  12. Ichthyic says

    and FWIW, just so you know, Singer never convinced me with his arguments. Consistency is not equivalent to accuracy, and his understanding of rights is a poor one IMO.

  13. consciousness razor says

    not so sure “embarrassed” would be the term I would use. Richard doesn’t get embarrassed by his own positions that I’ve ever noticed.

    No need to guess. Here’s their interview. See for yourself. It’s 43:16 long, and it’s been a long time since I’ve watched. But “embarrassed” wasn’t the impression I got. It’s obvious he was already more than willing to accept a lot of Singer’s positions, but here and there he wasn’t as prepared as he should’ve been to deal with some of the arguments, which is to be expected since he’s not exactly known for being well-versed in philosophy.

  14. Ichthyic says

    No need to guess. Here’s their interview.

    it was already linked @ 11.

    and again, Dawkins was actually a supporter of Singer long before he did that interview.

    and again, I ask, what does that tell us about what we see there?

    it’s not cognitive dissonance. It was a calculated performance.

  15. consciousness razor says

    it was already linked @ 11.

    Ah, somehow I missed that.

    it’s not cognitive dissonance. It was a calculated performance.

    Yep. Rhetoric. Someone had to be the devil’s advocate saying “well, gee, you’re more moral than I am….” But I do think Dawkins wasn’t very well prepared to deal with it at Singer’s level in some cases. He just doesn’t have the background for it. Whatever dissonance there would be isn’t there because there’s a lot doesn’t understand. You need a firm grasp on the concepts and how they might fit together before there could be any real tension between them.

  16. says

    All this nitpicking is beside my point: Pinker and Dawkins are both admirable people making heroic contributions to the general welfare, however they are also both compromised by their hypocrisy over the issue of eating meat. Dawkins has the grace to acknowledge his flaw; Pinker, so far as I know, does not.

  17. Ichthyic says

    however they are also both compromised by their hypocrisy over the issue of eating meat.

    some view it as a hypocrisy, some, like myself, do not.

    most, likely, don’t care one way or the other.

    it hardly relates to why Pinker got this award, or whether he deserves it.

  18. says

    sleepingwytch,
    I guess in today’s privileged Western world, where the cruelty of middle-ages style torture is largely absent and smacking a kid is considered abuse (things I’m quite glad about), it’s very easy to find a decline in violence irrelevant. It’s not.

    Oh? The brain still interprets hard enough “smackings” as trauma, if the child is young enough, as it doesn’t know the difference. Common knowledge in childcare studies… It’s not a privilege to get smacked around, as this tends to actually kill people if done viciously enough and repeatedly enough at an early enough age: http://abclocal.go.com/wabc/story?section=news/local&id=7588056 Not surprising those children get traumatized, or is it? Speaking of privilege, you sound like you have reams of it, and that’s usually the case for anyone does who belittles child abuse “Dear Muslima” style. You really must have taken a cue from Dear Old Dawkins, hunh? Care to take what you said back? Oh, that’s right, people who get viciously traumatized in early childhood aren’t human if they’re trans, I forgot, nvm. Of course I was “privileged’ to get viciously smacked around in early childhood, right, because that totally doesn’t happen just the same to other transgirls in the third world too.

    I think it’s very easy for people who weren’t “smacked” around in childhood to make such pronouncements though, too easy. And those Dear Muslima pronouncements are pathetically inhumane, hypocritical, and dehumanizing, you should quit while you’re ahead, because, honestly, I think you’re a bullshit artist that doesn’t know what extensive trauma is: another sensationalist shithead that thinks sensationalist trauma is somehow more worthy of mention or more “traumatic” than mundane, everyday, vicious trauma. Way to go there rationalizing violence against people. Not.

    Also, I never said it was irrelevant, I said it’s not as relevant as people are making it out to be. If say, among samples of 1 million people the level of violence is 10 million incidents (all sorts of violence) for the dominant group and 6 million for the non dominant groups, and, historically the total rate of violence per 1 million people, statistically was averaged out to be 13 million for both groups combined throughout history, but, in the “modern era” spanning the last 30 years the “violence rate dropped to 10 million combined, but the caveat is that the dominant group is committing 9 million incidents of violence and the non dominant groups combined are committing 1 million incidents of violence (due to a comprehensive police and prison state), there is still a remarkably unjust society where people are being oppressed and exploited, and the reason it isn’t violent is because the people being oppressed aren’t fighting back hardly.

    Finally, btw to reiterate again, dismissing violence other people have been through (directly or indirectly as in your case), as if it was a privilege, which is what you just did, is actually a form of violence. You’re noted. It’s usually a bad thing if I note you, but you definitely are now. Honestly, anyone who compares one mundane form of trauma that they obviously have no experience with extensively (try hundreds of times in my case getting not just “smacked around” but viciously so) to more sensationalist forms of trauma, is just a genocidal asshole. Hey, at least I don’t claim to be a Humanist while genociding the suffering of others. I may be a genocidal asshole too, but I’m not a hypocrite, a liar, and a bullshit artist that denegrates the very real suffering of others without admitting I’m a genocidal asshole for doing so. You and Dawkins would fit right in, like peas in a pod in that respect I’m sure. Child abuse gives children Complex PTSD and in some cases things like DDNOS (Dissociative Disorder Not Otherwise Specified), but that’s of course totally ok right? Because it’s not sensational stuff like “Middle Ages Torture” that makes privileged assholes like you cringe at the sight on CNN when you see the Taliban doing it?

  19. says

    I guess in today’s privileged Western world, where the cruelty of middle-ages style torture is largely absent and smacking a kid is considered abuse (things I’m quite glad about), it’s very easy to find a decline in violence irrelevant. It’s not.

    Oh wow, look here, Ysanne just dismissed child abuse “things like smacking a kid is considered abuse”, but because I’m trans, no one took her to task for it, of course (who cares). Because being trans means I’m subhuman. You people are fucking bullshit artists, hypocrites, and liars.

    If I had been a cisgendered woman people would have been all over her like white on rice, denouncing child abuse vociferously.

    Hey, I may be a genocidal maniac, but at least I have the honesty to admit it when I genocide the experiences of others who are incapable of doing anything but genociding the experiences of trans people.

  20. says

    I guess in today’s privileged Western world, where the cruelty of middle-ages style torture is largely absent and smacking a kid is considered abuse (things I’m quite glad about), it’s very easy to find a decline in violence irrelevant. It’s not.

    You’re really fucking sick, I hope the first time you viciously lay a hand on a child, your ass gets thrown in jail for child abuse.

  21. says

    @ Sleepingwytch

    You seem to have entirely missed the bit where Ysanne said she was quite glad that smacking a kid was considered abuse, in spite or excerpting it three times.

  22. ChasCPeterson says

    Oh wow, look here, Ysanne just dismissed child abuse “things like smacking a kid is considered abuse”, but because I’m trans, no one took her to task for it, of course (who cares). Because being trans means I’m subhuman. You people are fucking bullshit artists, hypocrites, and liars.

    she…
    you…
    we people…

    wut?

  23. says

    I haven’t read the book, but from what I gather here it goes on my reading list.
    .
    @sleepingwytch
    I understood Ysanne’s comment to mean that if someone is not subject to violence themselves, they might not appreciate how important a decline in violence is.
    .
    I see your point on violence vs. justice. Those who adopt a non-violent stance (as e.g. in non-violent communication) not only oppose physical violence, but oppression or dominance too.
    If we look at how our attitude towards children have changed over the past century, today we not only think smacking children is abuse, while a century ago it was “spare the rod and spoil the child”, we also believe it is important for children to feel secure and express themselves rather than “be seen and not heard” as in earlier times. So this indicates it’s not only the physical violence that is impacted by the change, but the degree to which children are expected to submit to their elders.
    So maybe there is hope we will someday form a society where all people are accepted as equal, regardless of race, gender or other factors.

  24. redpanda says

    I thought about giving Better Angels to my Father-in-law, but I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t make it through the first chapter or two where Pinker drags the Old Testament through the mud. Not that it doesn’t deserve it, but the way it’s written is sure to lose him a lot of readers who might otherwise have found his arguments compelling.

  25. Ally Fogg says

    I’m glad Better Angels… is getting the attention it deserves, here and elsewhere. It’s a very important book.

    I think he does a brilliant job illustrating the long term and short term trends, and I think his description is almost certainly accurate on its own terms.

    Where I’m less convinced is in his devotion to the idea of a Hobbesian Leviathan and state power as the explanation and the solution. Pinker has a painfully culturally-specific, liberal perspective of what violence and oppression actually are and look like. At no point does he properly consider that the exercise of state power could in itself be an omnipresent and powerful form of violence in its own right.

    For example, I could easily imagine that in a century or two’s time, the use of prisons could be seen with the same kind of abhorrence with which we view slavery or torture today. Particularly the judicial policies of the US over the past 25 years, the racism and other prejudice involved, the violence and sexual assault that happens behind bars, the extent to which an entire economy has been underpinned, in some respects, by mass imprisonment of whole generations. All of that is completely absent from Pinker’s calculations and analysis.

  26. Ysanne says

    sleepingwytch,
    please stop the rant, I don’t know you, your gender or your life story, and have no intention of belittling or attacking you in any way.
    You seem to have misunderstood what I wrote: I am very glad that forms of violence like smacking are now seen as abuse and wrong at least in parts of the world, especially since this was very different 20-30 years ago. And just for your info, I don’t smack or otherwise hit people of any age.

    I do stand by what I tried to express in my earlier post: The decline of obvious, direct, blunt violence is a change for the better that is important to acknowledge and analyse. Your first post came across to me as a “who cares about trivialities like less physical violence, when there’s still injustice and oppression” dismissal. I think it’s a good idea to study what forms of violence are/were prevalent throughout history and why and how this changes: Pinker’s book for example does a great job pointing out that it’s not religious morality that brought much of the progress we see, but the classic Enlightenment and humanist ideas of treating fellow humans with empathy, and that we’re all basically equal and deserve rights. This doesn’t mean that everything is perfect, and there’s a lot left to change and improve, but it is a step in a good direction, and understanding it helps with taking the next steps.

  27. Ysanne says

    Ally,
    weird that you should bring up prisons of all things as an example (or am I just misunderstanding you?) — but doesn’t Pinker explicitly discuss prisons and how reasons for imprisonment, the expected and intended outcomes of a prison sentence, ideas of how to run prisons and treat prisoners, and society’s attitude in general to the role of sending someone to prison as a way of getting “justice” (really the whole idea of justice/revenge/punishment) have evolved?
    Not trying to defend him there, just really interested for things to look out for while reading the next time I get my hands on the book.

  28. HappyNat says

    I guess the Richard Dawkins award is a good thing, but from some of his comments recently it makes me thing it should go to clueless rich white dood who is completely unaware of his own privilege.

    Congrats to Pinker. I liked the book and like the premise. It seems I’m surrounded by folks talking about how thing today are so terrible, so it’s good to have some talking points back at them.

  29. Ally Fogg says

    Ysanne (34)

    Yes, it’s a year or so since I read it, so can’t remember the exact details, but ISTR he was full of praise for the humanity of prison as an alternative to the brutal punishments of the past.

    Struck me as a rather blinkered, Panglossian perspective.

  30. Paul K says

    Thanks, SC (Salty Current), OM. Though I think that review has biases of its own, the quotes it references from Better Angels are hard to argue away. I have not read the book, so I won’t bash it, but if I do read it, I’ll keep some skeptical grains of salt handy.

    I am always skeptical of American views on global affairs. We kill so easily, and most of us don’t seem to acknowledge that. Take comment 10 by machintelligence. They use a comparison of Iraq/Afghanistan to Korea/Vietnam to show how casualties have dramatically decreased. But only American casualties are mentioned. This happens all the time. It’s just an unconsidered thing in the media. We used to try to count the casualties of our ‘enemies’ (many of them innocent collateral damage), but now, any figures come from groups outside the military, and these are usually decried as unrealistic, because they are not ‘official’, and because they are so much higher than the casualty numbers of our side. In my memory, whenever someone who is in a position to know (and presumably, to care) about how many people we’ve killed in our recent wars, is asked for a number, the response is usually something along the lines of ‘We don’t have solid numbers, so I’d rather not say.’ I heard a report on NPR years ago where it was said that not having solid numbers was very deliberate.

  31. Ysanne says

    Thanks Ally, definitely a point there. The “it got way better” comparison is what stuck with me, and while I think there was some examination of the status quo in terms of room for improvement, I may be mixing up things from the book with a “prison: really a functioning idea at all?” article I read on the same weekend. Thanks, will re-read.
    Thanks also SC for the link, quite a few interesting criticisms in there.

  32. Beatrice (looking for a happy thought) says

    I haven’t read the book, but I am currently reading SC’s link. I found it very interesting, but…
    This is not factual:

    But Bosnia hardly involved “millions,” and in the most famous episode there, at Srebrenica in July 1995, the Serbs bussed all the women, children and elderly to safety.

    Women and girls in Srebrenica were hardly “safe”.

  33. Uncle Ebeneezer says

    I believe there were also some problems with Pinker’s statistical analyses. Most notably with comparing 5-year events to century-long events and treating that as an apples-to-apples comparison. Otherwise, it looks like an interesting read, and I generally enjoy Pinker’s writing, even if I take his conclusions with alot of salt.

  34. says

    For the critics who haven’t read the book, you can find the basis of it in a talk that Pinker gave…. It is also on YT. Only twenty minutes for those with short attention spans.

    Or for those with long attention spans but difficulty reading long books (or who, like me, just enjoy being read to), it’s available as an unabridged audiobook from Audible.com.

    I heartily recommend it. Nothing about this book, BTW, left me in any way thinking that its author was unconcerned with justice, or with the plight of marginalized people. It’s been some time since I listened to it, but my memory is that it detailed, to borrow from Delft, a decline “not only [in] physical violence, but oppression or dominance too.”

    Since I’m in CT, I may have to make my way to Boston for this. One problem: How do you get an autograph on a downloaded audiobook? ;^)

  35. says

    Since I’m in CT

    Cape Town?

    Is Cape Town close to Boston? You know how bad we ‘Merkins are at geometry… er, I mean geography. ;^)

    Yeah, sorry if that was opaque to the non-USAnian audience; back when I posted here regularly, I think most folks knew I live in Connecticut, the Constitution State.

  36. says

    the decline of hierarchy.

    the what?
    I mean, in localized terms that’s true; but the class-divide between the worlds richest/most powerful and the world’s poorest/least powerful has never been as huge or as thoroughly institutionalized as it is today. :-/

    - – - – - –
    @ sleepingwytch

    Speaking of privilege, you sound like you have reams of it, and that’s usually the case for anyone does who belittles child abuse

    how is saying that it’s a good thing that child beating is considered abuse belitting it? I think there’s some miscommunication going on here.

    Finally, btw to reiterate again, dismissing violence other people have been through (directly or indirectly as in your case), as if it was a privilege

    who did that?

    I guess in today’s privileged Western world, where the cruelty of middle-ages style torture is largely absent and smacking a kid is considered abuse (things I’m quite glad about), it’s very easy to find a decline in violence irrelevant. It’s not.

    Oh wow, look here, Ysanne just dismissed child abuse “things like smacking a kid is considered abuse”, but because I’m trans, no one took her to task for it, of course (who cares). Because being trans means I’m subhuman. You people are fucking bullshit artists, hypocrites, and liars.

    I still don’t understand why saying it’s a good thing that child beatings are considered abuse now is dismissing it. Would you mind explaining?
    Because the reason Ysanne didn’t get called out is because I suspect others have read what Ysanne wrote the same way I did: as supportive of the fact that beating children is considered a bad, abusive thing now.

    @Ally Fogg

    For example, I could easily imagine that in a century or two’s time, the use of prisons could be seen with the same kind of abhorrence with which we view slavery or torture today. Particularly the judicial policies of the US over the past 25 years, the racism and other prejudice involved, the violence and sexual assault that happens behind bars, the extent to which an entire economy has been underpinned, in some respects, by mass imprisonment of whole generations.

    I assure you, plenty of people view the US prison system as a massively violent, toxic, and abusive sort of thing already. Because holy fuck, is it ever.

    he was full of praise for the humanity of prison

    the what now? O.o

  37. says

    Jadehawk:
    I also read Ysanne’s comment as being pretty dismissive of sleepingwytch’s; not necessarily that she was blowing off child abuse itself as nbd, but there was a very strong implication of “Well, that’s easy for you to say; since we’ve got it so good over here,” plus that use of passive voice where she asserted that smacking “is considered” child abuse, apparently generally. While I don’t expect every commenter here to know every other commenter’s backstory, I have seen a bunch of sleepingwytch’s other posts around, and she’s been pretty open about the fact that she grew up in an environment where smacking a kid definitely wasn’t considered child abuse, and also that she’s experienced both straightforward violence and other forms of unjustness. If sleepingwytch thinks that physical violence is overrated compared to other forms of exploitation, that may be an unusual opinion (and I can see how it sounds like one that might be made by someone whose main experience with physical violence is minimal and therefore doesn’t think its that bad), but it isn’t at all an uninformed one.

    Or, in short, I read it kind of the way Delft did:

    I understood Ysanne’s comment to mean that if someone is not subject to violence themselves, they might not appreciate how important a decline in violence is.

    And, since it was in response to another commenter, cringed at the implied assumption that the other commenter hasn’t been subjected to violence, especially since I already know this to be a false assumption.

    Vijen:

    Pinker and Dawkins are both admirable people making heroic contributions to the general welfare, however they are also both compromised by their hypocrisy over the issue of eating meat.

    THAT’s where you think they’re “compromised by their hypocrisy”? This is still Stephen “I don’t know what a construct is, therefore you’re all stupid” Pinker and Richard “Dear Muslima” Dawkins we’re talking about here, right?

    Ibis3

    I saw the first part of the post title and thought, oh? who’s being the sexist douchebag on Twitter now?

    Yeah, that’s what I thought too.

    HappyNat

    I guess the Richard Dawkins award is a good thing, but from some of his comments recently it makes me thing it should go to clueless rich white dood who is completely unaware of his own privilege.

    You mean it isn’t already?

    **
    I haven’t read this book and I honestly have had mixed reactions to the essays I’ve read by Pinker; he seems to be a thorough and honest researcher, but his ability to draw conclusions from the data he presents seems to be compromised by his lack of understanding of many (fairly basic) social science concepts. Then there is weird strawmanning and people talking past each other and it sucks. I’ve never really heard anyone criticizing his data or research as particularly dishonest, though, so it appears at least he’s not Simon Baron-Cohen. And I’m really glad that he’s pushing back about that insufferable Decline of Civilization/The Apocalypse is Imminent narrative that everyone’s been having so much fun peddling since we invented civilization.
    It’s not that things aren’t terrible and violent now–they definitely are–it’s just that most of history was even freaking worse, as even the most cursory study of history that’s not from a fourth-grade textbook shows, and I get tired of clueless people lionizing a past that never existed in order to inexplicably decide that we totally just invented being assholes to each other recently. Get real.

  38. says

    I also read Ysanne’s comment as being pretty dismissive of sleepingwytch’s; not necessarily that she was blowing off child abuse itself as nbd, but there was a very strong implication of “Well, that’s easy for you to say; since we’ve got it so good over here,” plus that use of passive voice where she asserted that smacking “is considered” child abuse, apparently generally. While I don’t expect every commenter here to know every other commenter’s backstory, I have seen a bunch of sleepingwytch’s other posts around, and she’s been pretty open about the fact that she grew up in an environment where smacking a kid definitely wasn’t considered child abuse, and also that she’s experienced both straightforward violence and other forms of unjustness. If sleepingwytch thinks that physical violence is overrated compared to other forms of exploitation, that may be an unusual opinion (and I can see how it sounds like one that might be made by someone whose main experience with physical violence is minimal and therefore doesn’t think its that bad), but it isn’t at all an uninformed one.

    Ok. Yeah, I get now how Ysanne’s comment could be red as dismissive that way.

  39. says

    Ysanna said:

    sleepingwytch,
    please stop the rant, I don’t know you, your gender or your life story, and have no intention of belittling or attacking you in any way.

    Well intention or not your comment did, as cynicalromantic correctly pointed out. So because it wasn’t your intention to be an asshole, but you were, guess what? You were still an asshole. Sometimes, intentions aren’t magic.

    Ysanne again:

    You seem to have misunderstood what I wrote: I am very glad that forms of violence like smacking are now seen as abuse and wrong at least in parts of the world, especially since this was very different 20-30 years ago. And just for your info, I don’t smack or otherwise hit people of any age.

    No I didn’t misunderstand what you wrote in the slightest, and what you wrote was very dismissive. Also, there’s a huge huge difference between “smacking” a child and viciously, ruthlessly, and systematically beating them viciously until blood starts running out of their nose (bleeding) and their inner ear goes off kilter, and they start seeing stars, like my dad did to me, hundreds of times, at that. One causes them to lower their IQ and be skittish and scared, the other (which is what I went through) traumatizes them very badly. You absolutely were dismissive, and being coy about it is not helping your cause. It’s already been pointed out by another person here that you were dismissive.

    I do stand by what I tried to express in my earlier post: The decline of obvious, direct, blunt violence is a change for the better that is important to acknowledge and analyse. Your first post came across to me as a “who cares about trivialities like less physical violence, when there’s still injustice and oppression” dismissal. I think it’s a good idea to study what forms of violence are/were prevalent throughout history and why and how this changes: Pinker’s book for example does a great job pointing out that it’s not religious morality that brought much of the progress we see, but the classic Enlightenment and humanist ideas of treating fellow humans with empathy, and that we’re all basically equal and deserve rights. This doesn’t mean that everything is perfect, and there’s a lot left to change and improve, but it is a step in a good direction, and understanding it helps with taking the next steps.

    Well the 1st point was that my first point addressed your asshole blithe dismissal which even in it’s dismissal showed no refined understanding between simple “smacking” and the Feminine Boy Project, which I was subjected to. Major differences there. Secondly, I never once claimed to imply “less trivialities like physical violence”, my post didn’t trivialize physical violence at all, yours did, which is why you got called out by cynicalromantic for being dismissive, just as I called you out. You’re the one dismissing physical violence the way you inflected your words, not me. I merely pointed out, that to a child’s brain, whether the three year old baby is getting a thumbscrew put in it or pins under it’s nails (both middle ages torture) or it’s been beaten ruthlessly, viciously, systematically, by a belt or the back of a 6 foot tall 230 lb full adult males hand with full force until the infant bleeds through the nose, sees stars, sometimes passes out from the violence, and eventually develops C-PTSD after this happening hundreds of times, the infant’s brain doesn’t tell the difference between hundreds of traumatic events. It just develops C-PTSD as a result of it. Sensationalism of different forms of violence is no substitute for knowing what you’re talking about when it comes to equivalency between different forms of violence. What causes Trauma is the litmus test for equivalency. We don’t cry “Oppression Olympics” when the little kid that skins it’s knee and cries about it gets told to grow the fuck up if it’s caught doing the same thing loudly several years past when it should be (emotional maturity) while it’s sibling is next to it barely making a wimper after losing hir arm in a car accident.

    Also, your sensationalist stuff about “Middle Ages torture” is uninformed when it comes to Actual Torture. It’s widely known by the experts that the simple solitary we give inmates in our prisons, in the SHU’s as well as illegal immigrants that ICE (Immegrations and Customs Enforcement ) put in SHU’s (Solitary for short) is not only a form of torture, but held by experts and POW’s alike to be the worst form of torture. IOW, worst than the sensationalist “Middle Ages torture” which we applied to “enemy combatants” at Gitmo, Bagram the brig at Charleston SC and elsewhere. Middle ages torture, like Waterboarding. According to John McCain and others who were POW, as well as experts on torture, solitary is worse than “Middle Ages tacts” like Waterboarding (straight from the Inquisition).

    http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/03/30/090330fa_fact_gawande

    After reading that article, as I did years earlier, I came to understand sensationalistic opinions like yours were just that: sensationalism. Someone got waterboarded, must be worst oppression ever! Nevermind that domestic violence survivors and POW’s who get waterboarded, and cult hostage survivors, given they’ve each been sufficiently traumatized enough, suffer the same syndrome: DESNOS/Complex PTSD. Imagine that, the exact same mental disorder. And it makes since because trauma is the basic currency, and if it happens hundreds of times to someone, it doesn’t matter how sensationalistic or not it is, people still develop C-PTSD and that still drastically and severely impairs their quality of life.

    There was slavery before the Civil War, and most slaves did as they were told, resulting in the taskmasters belting out little violence at certain points as they refined the oppressive social structures over the years/decades and then rerefined their methods. Should the Civil War not have been fought? It was Evil, sure, I admit it, all War is, but I absolutely wouldn’t agree it shouldn’t have been fought to free the Slaves, even though a massive spike in violence and deaths, statistically occurred.

    Sometimes people shouldn’t submit and should be willing to bleed to the death and give up their lives for a more just world. I take people like Pinker with a grain of salt because they can’t even conceive of that kind of thinking due to their position as public intellectuals reenforcing the status quo- and Richard Lewonton’s Biology as Ideology was an amazing book explaining what Dawkins and Pinker do in this regard, and people like them.

  40. says

    @Ysanne
    Also, another thing, C-PTSD can occur in multiple types of hostage scenarios where there is mostly little physical violence given a large enough time frame: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Complex_post-traumatic_stress_disorder

    You know those stories you hear from time to time about some 16 year old girl or 18 year old girl or 30 year old woman that was held hostage since childhood by some evil abductor, locked away in a concrete cell for years until they were set free.

    Again, what physical violence occurs there? What about a “Room of little Ease” to take a playbook from the Spanish Inquisition (something I’m damn well familiar with) and Queen Elizabeth’s I torture chambers? Room of little ease was a 3 by 3 by 3 foot cell, and the prisoner was shackled in this dark and dank stone cell, with not enough room to move around.

    Having spent years in such a cell, and having suffered little sensationalistic physical violence, according to you what this prisoner suffered wouldn’t be worse than being put on The Rack or Waterboarded, but, according to the New Yorker article, the experts, and interviwed ex-POW’s, the person tortured in the Room of Little Ease would have been put through worse.

    Also, if, as in the case of some of those teenage girls who you hear about on the news who get captured and held for years, if they get held in some psycho serial killer’s concrete room of little ease for years on end before they’re finally allowed to just live in that person’s home after being “broken”, is the relative lack of physical violence suffered during the time spent in such a concrete manifestation of the medeval torture Room of Little Ease, given it’s lack of Sensationalistic Torture Violence, any less than other forms of violence that employ physical means?

    If I live in a violent neighborhood and get mugged sensationalistically, 5 times in a month, due to being trans, am I suffering more than some poor inmate held in an SHU for five years in brutal solitary, day in and day out, because my violence was more sensational? I think not, as the New Yorker article explains quite clearly. The SHU prisoner, if they are more baseline normal, will have multiple anxiety attacks a day, and eventually develop complex PTSD, whereas I will usually just develop PTSD from my 5 brutal muggings. The person in the SHU would, given they are compliant, then be subjected to far less physical violence than me in this hypothetical, yet they would sustain far more trauma.

    Your analysis is juvenile and insulting, it’s unsophisticated.

  41. Owen says

    Pinker’s thesis is more or less that some time ago, people were obliged to be vicious bastards because there was no recourse to solutions involving an out-group other than violence. Over the centuries, centralized political power reduced the incidence of some of these types of violence (by arrogating to itself a monopoly on violent punishment). Later, humanistic values have led to the idea that the individual is worthy or more respect and that violence against them is less and less acceptable, and that as a result we have seen a further decrease.
    Basically, The Man is better than living in a tribal society, but secular humanism is better than either.
    On the other hand, there’s a lot of handwavy evo-psych in the book, and I’m not a historian or statistician either, so although I find his conclusions appealing, I still want to reserve judgment for now.
    What the book is emphatically not, however, is an apologetic for torture, authoritarianism in the service of the state, the status quo or anything along those lines (pace the vegan activists among us), but rather a reminder that there was no golden age of peace and harmony and that we are, as (hopefully) civilized human beings, engaged on a continuing journey towards better treatment of other people, animals and things.

  42. says

    “Pinker’s thesis is more or less that some time ago, people were obliged to be vicious bastards because there was no recourse to solutions involving an out-group other than violence. Over the centuries, centralized political power reduced the incidence of some of these types of violence (by arrogating to itself a monopoly on violent punishment). Later, humanistic values have led to the idea that the individual is worthy or more respect and that violence against them is less and less acceptable, and that as a result we have seen a further decrease.
    Basically, The Man is better than living in a tribal society, but secular humanism is better than either.
    On the other hand, there’s a lot of handwavy evo-psych in the book, and I’m not a historian or statistician either, so although I find his conclusions appealing, I still want to reserve judgment for now.
    What the book is emphatically not, however, is an apologetic for torture, authoritarianism in the service of the state, the status quo or anything along those lines (pace the vegan activists among us), but rather a reminder that there was no golden age of peace and harmony and that we are, as (hopefully) civilized human beings, engaged on a continuing journey towards better treatment of other people, animals and things.”

    And the book may very well not have been overall, I’ve no idea as I’ve not read the book-and I may have seen the talk I vaguely remember following some of Pinker’s TED talks over the last few years, not sure which ones. The thing is others here have said he was doing just that:

    Ally Fog said:


    Yes, it’s a year or so since I read it, so can’t remember the exact details, but ISTR he was full of praise for the humanity of prison as an alternative to the brutal punishments of the past.

    Struck me as a rather blinkered, Panglossian perspective.

    Regardless Dick Lewontin in Biology as Ideology goes into how Dawkins and Pinkers and others who are elevated as public intellectuals, use science to reenforce the social status quo, warping actual science in the process. I’ve long known that social science wisdom concerning these types of public intellectuals, but a Scientist like Richard Lewontin codifying this and challenging the atomist individualistic view of things promoted by such scientists as public intellectuals, while simultaneously criticizing the ‘relational’ view of things promoted by people like Robert Rosen, etc, to be a refreshing analsysis of the function of public intellectuals like Michio Kaku, Pinker, Dawkins, etc. Basically anyone the conventional political establishment allows to have a voice and be influential is having that voice and being that influential because they’re being allowed to by the people with the money and power that run this society, precisely because they reenforce the conventional social norms.

    That being said I think I’ve watched that TED talk but mostly forgot it, I’m going to have to watch it again, the better angels of nature one. I’ve watched some of his stuff before, and he’s very smart in a lot of ways.

    So far Ally is saying Pinker said in the book that the prison system was humane and you’re saying the opposite so I’m going to generally bow out of the conversation now that I’ve addressed sweeping dismissive statements made by someone here that were very rude. I’ve made enough distinctions here given sub-topics talked about in the book, but which I know of from different material and personal experience (Judith Herman’s Trauma and Recovery and Richard Lewontin’s Biology as Ideology) parts of both I’ve read (most of Herman’s book, the first 40 pages of Dick Lewontin’s book).

  43. Owen says

    Can’t comment on his views on prison because I don’t have my copy handy and in any case it’s wtf o’clock in the morning. However, I would expect that his take on it is that whatever the average life is like in prison now, it’s better than being shackled to the wall in your own filth and that of the other 50 of your new best friends and having to beg passers-by for food, which is apparently what some of the prisons were like a few hundred years back.

  44. says

    “Pinker’s thesis is more or less that some time ago, people were obliged to be vicious bastards because there was no recourse to solutions involving an out-group other than violence. Over the centuries, centralized political power reduced the incidence of some of these types of violence (by arrogating to itself a monopoly on violent punishment). Later, humanistic values have led to the idea that the individual is worthy or more respect and that violence against them is less and less acceptable, and that as a result we have seen a further decrease.
    Basically, The Man is better than living in a tribal society, but secular humanism is better than either”.

    I’m just going to take a shot at this statement. Assuming that Pinker actually was arguing this in the book, that’s a very problematic argument. I don’t consider Solitary Confinement over a period of just one week, in it’s worst forms, to be a more Humane punishment than “tribal violence” that leads to execution. Why? Because the Dead Don’t Suffer. If I have to be tortured for months on end or be put to death, and I know I could be put to death anyway after being tortured, given my experiences in life, I’ll choose to be put to death every single time, because it’s far less suffering, and why do I care once I’m dead? I’m dead, I don’t exist, so I can’t suffer.

    I’m going to repeat this because this New Yorker article was so influential in so many ways: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/03/30/090330fa_fact_gawande

    And I’m now going to say something really, very controversial: if and when people on Death Row, who’ve been in solitary for even just weeks, beg to be killed, and keep begging for years, it’s actually humane to grant them that request, the most humane thing to do, of course, to merely remove them from solitary. Because, of the two, continuing to keep them in solitary is going to result in more suffering for them empirically speaking, because, as the New Yorker article showed, solitary is not only a form of torture, it’s widely considered to be the worst form, by far even. This is all counterintuitive stuff right? I mean, how can non-physical violence and non-physical torture like Solitary Confinement, actually be worse than physical torture???? How can it be better, ethically, to grant a Death Row prisoner’s quick execution than continue to torture them in solitary, the Correct Ethical Solution simply being not that false choice but to Remove them from Solitary? It’s simple empirics. Someone who goes through the process of terror and anxiety involved in a quick execution they are given very short notice of, is not going through the same terror produced by weeks or months of solitary, let alone years of the stuff. I know what extreme isolation is like, the cutting, the anxiety attacks, the incredible urges to cave my head in on my radiator, all of it. It’s excruciatingly painful stuff, and the empirical amount of pain I would feel if someone just came and got me half an hour before execution, brought me to the town square in front of a jeering crowd calling me an evil tranny, and hung me, that whole process would yield, empirically, far less trauma than the last few years of living in extreme isolation, spending 23 hours a day in my room for economic and social reasons, going months at a time with no physical contact whatsoever with any human or animal, sometimes 3+ months until my hand bumped up against the cashier’s hand at the grocery store, has produced, having lost my immediate and extended family twice and having not heard from them all those years.

    It’s really cruel what happens to some people, and the idea sensationalistic violence is less humane is very problematic if the person is given a quick death. I don’t agree to the proposition that, say, the years spent in Gitmo for the prisoners was less humane than if they had been quickly brought out to a field given half an hours notice and summarily executed. One is half an hour of trauma, the other is years and years of the stuff. I am in no way going to agree the summary execution is less humane even though that is the popular argument, because, empirically, the argument is utterly groundless.

  45. Owen says

    The book is about the aggregate change in how society works. Nobody is saying that humans are no longer capable of the most appalling treatment of their fellows. The point of the book is that on average, we are doing better.

  46. says

    I didn’t know most of the bloggers in pharyngula can speak so much good about an evolutionary psychologist like Steven Pinker, he who questioned gender feminism’s anti-scientific stance that there are no innate sex differences and general critique of some aspects of the leftist ideology which is rampant in this blog.

  47. says

    Are you making fun of my name or just adressing that you didn’t understand my post ? If it’s the first, then fuck off, if it’s the second, i’ll explain it again: Steven pinker is an evolutionary psychologist. Pharyngula folks don’t think too kindly of evolutionary psychologists. Maybe steven pinker is an exception for them, or they didn’t read his previous books where he spoke firmly against some aspects of feminists theories that pharyngula/atheism+ folk hold dear.

  48. chigau (違う) says

    Osama Elwaffoe
    Here, distortion of a ‘nym is usually about making fun of the content of the comment, not the ‘nym.
    and your #58 in no way clarified your #56.

  49. consciousness razor says

    I didn’t know most of the bloggers in pharyngula can speak so much good

    One blogger isn’t most bloggers. What exactly do you know now that you didn’t before — what’s changed your mind? How much good has been spoken, and how much criticism has there been, in this thread alone?

    about an evolutionary psychologist like Steven Pinker, he who questioned gender feminism’s anti-scientific stance that there are no innate sex differences

    Nobody has that stance.

    and general critique of some aspects of the leftist ideology which is rampant in this blog.

    This is vague. Leftist ideology is generally a good thing, so if it’s “rampant” here, that’s good too. It should also be critiqued. So what?

    If you want to troll us by asserting that we’re a dogmatic anti-scientific hive-mind, just get it over with already. But again, has this thread changed your mind about that, or are you going to decide for whatever reason that it hasn’t changed your mind after all?

  50. consciousness razor says

    Maybe steven pinker is an exception for them, or they didn’t read his previous books where he spoke firmly against some strawmen aspects of feminists theories that pharyngula/atheism+ folk hold dear.

    You are repeating his strawmen, and those of ignorant bigots who never stop whining long enough to listen to what people actually say or “hold dear.” It makes a decent story, but it’s just a story. Don’t be like them.

  51. says

    @consciousness razor: Nobody has that stance.

    http://skepchick.org/2013/05/happy-graduation-men/#comment-169556

    quoting a relevant comment: “”No doubt she’s basing that in the “good evidence” of people like Simon Baron Cohen. But his work has been thoroughly challenged if not roundly debunked. See: “Brain Storm” by Rebecca Jordan-Young and “Delusions of Gender” by Cordelia Fine.

    There is no evidence of the “innateness” of gender differences.””

    The general sentiment is that the idea of innateness of sex differences are out of the question.

    It’s a popular widespread idea within feminism also. So it’s incorrect of you to say that there is no such stance.

  52. consciousness razor says

    You’re not David Jones a.k.a. metaburbia, are you? Because he’s a fucking idiot, and I don’t want to waste any more time with him.

    The general sentiment is that the idea of innateness of sex differences are out of the question.

    It’s a popular widespread idea within feminism also. So it’s incorrect of you to say that there is no such stance.

    However widespread it is, it’s wrong. So? Does that one person’s claim or the allegedly widespread idea constitute what you mean by “gender feminism,” or was it incorrect of you to say that?

    And what would it have to do with FTB, pharyngula, atheism+, feminism or leftist ideology? How many ignorant, sweeping generalizations are you prepared to make?

  53. chigau (違う) says

    The general sentiment is that the idea of innateness of sex differences are out of the question.
    It’s a popular widespread idea within feminism also. So it’s incorrect of you to say that there is no such stance.

    Nope.

  54. says

    “There is no evidence of the “innateness” of gender differences.”

    The general sentiment is that the idea of innateness of sex differences are out of the question.

    fascinating.

    it says:”there is no evidence”
    troll reads: “the idea is out of the question”
    it says: “gender differences”
    troll reads: “sex-differences”

  55. says

    You’re not David Jones a.k.a. metaburbia, are you? Because he’s a fucking idiot, and I don’t want to waste any more time with him.

    if it’s not him, it’s a mind-clone. probably not worth bothering with, either way. dude can’t even read his own supposed citations, ffs.

  56. says

    @consciousness razor:
    I’m not metaburbia, ‘ive read his comments on skepchick and happen to agree with him. You said that there is no such stance, but the reality isthat it’s widespread in feminism (and yes, also in leftist ideology, atheism + etc). That’s not a generalisation at all. It only means that the idea of the non-existence of innate differences are more accepted within those groups than the general population, that’s the only meaning you can give to my earlier statement. I recognise the variability within those groups however.

    Now why am i poitingthis out ? Because Steven pinker is an evolutionary psychologist who went against these ideas within feminism and leftists.

    And I happen to know how evo psycho is ‘hated’ among feminists. (pharyngula/atheism+).

    My question was then: are you guys even aware of this ? Only one poster mentioned she (?) didn’t like his anti feminism and evo psycho, but that was it.

  57. says

    @i am jadehawk: i know there is a difference between sex and gender, but I think the author used them as synonyms. Otherwise it is stupid to ask whether there are innate differences between gender, since the term ‘gender’ was specifically coined to denote differences between the sexes which has a non-innate factor. In that sense, ofcourse there are no innate differences between gender, only sexes have innate differences.

    And i said that the general sentiment was out of the question. I’m referring there to the omments within the feminist community. Lots of wildly know feminisst go against these ideas (chodorow for example or ann oakley) because they don’t like the consequences of such theories. You can find this attitude also in that skephick blog (one person said: are you really spreading that idea within this feminism blog!!???)