Pinker does automatically love the Patriarchy

Steven Pinker rushed to defend an overpaid Eton school teacher who had been fired for making a video called “The Patriarchy Paradox”. You can watch it if you must, but it’s incredibly bad — he seems obsessed with movie portrayals of men as being an accurate representation of True Masculinity. His first examples are of Marvel superheroes: The Marvel movies showed that in popular culture, masculine archetypes, such as Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man, described by the philosopher Edward Feser as a patriotic soldier, the son of a heavenly father come to Earth, and a strutting capitalist alpha male, retain their appeal. The whole thing sounds like that. He relies mainly on fictional sources, bad statistics, and biased presentation of data to make a case for the intrinsic superiority of men, therefore justifying patriarchy. I mean, really, how can anyone be persuaded by this bullshit?

He then uses a clip from Goodfellas of Henry Hill beating up his neighbour for molesting his girlfriend as evidence that ‘male aggression is a biological fact… whether we like it or not’ (25:42). He also seems to agree with Scarface’s Tony Montana’s observation that ‘first you get the money, then you get the power, then you get the women’ (29:12), as if psychotic, murderous, cokehead gangsters are a valid voice of reason.

It is notable that many of Knowland’s arguments would not look out of place on an incel Reddit forum. Knowland repeatedly says that women use their sexuality to their advantage, stating that they can ‘exploit their power of sexual choice to get males to compete to do things for them’ (22:32). This is classic incel rhetoric: believing that women use their sexual appeal to manipulate and control men, and that if men can’t get sex, it’s because of women withholding it from them. This is a terrible message to teach teenage boys. The problem is not a discussion of such claims, the problem is with Knowland’s presentation; his lack of analysis, his failure to question the assertions made in his video. If this incident raises questions of free debate, then where’s the debate?

If you’re so deluded that you can’t tell that Henry Hill and Tony Montana are psychopathic monsters and the villains of those movies, you aren’t fit to be a teacher.

But, surprise surprise surprise, Steven Pinker was among the very first well-known academics to try and defend this guy and make ludicrous claims of protecting academic freedom, and even bigger surprise, he now admits to never having even seen the video!

Keep this in mind if ever you have to evaluate Pinker’s opinion on anything.

I heard about this case last week as I was deep in the throes of grading, and the first thing I did before judging this Knowland guy was to check out his video, and then I judged the hell out of him.

By the way, that video has 5.7K upvotes and only 524 downvotes. YouTube remains a cesspool of misogyny.


  1. KG says

    It’s interesting that the Freeze Peachers have been very vocal about a single private school telling a single teacher to take down a single video (and sacking him when he refused – but I’m sure he’s now got it made as a fixture on the far right whingeing circuit, at least for the next year or so), but AFAIK have been completely silent about telling teachers in all English state schools that they cannot teach “critical race theory” (without apparently having any idea what the term means), and that they cannot use in teaching materials produced by “extremist” organizations, where “extremism” includes anti-capitalism. (Even if it were not for this partisan aspect, the edict would be absurd: how do you teach about any political or religious ideology effectively if you can’t use materials from organizations that advocate it?)

  2. hemidactylus says

    I can’t get a good background on this as the Telegraph article is paywalled, but isn’t a positive takeaway that Pinker realized he fucked up and withdrew his support? It’s a stretch but maybe Pinker needs to put his gargantuan brain to use evaluating stuff before lending support in the future. At least consider the optics. I wonder how Coyne will spin this. Culture warring is doing Pinker no PR favors. I still listen to his books even if I don’t agree with him on points or condone his controversial stances as they are behemoth comprehensive clearinghouses of other peoples ideas. Eg. in Better Angels he reviews Baumeister’s work on willpower depletion which dovetails with self-control and the free will debate.

    Someone here had posted a video indirectly referencing Sam Harris backpedaling from the IDW, maybe over support for Trump by its members. Not same video someone posted here, but corroborates Harris’ pivot away from IDW:

    Not gonna follow that up by uncanceling Harris from my podcast feed as I still don’t like him and he has moved into paywalling his podcasts behind a subscription model. Good riddance. But his backpedaling is good news no? He never seemed to support Trump but is disagreeable in too many other areas and is plainly an arrogant prick IMO.

  3. KG says

    I missed out the words “the UK government” from #1 – it was of course them telling schoolteachers what they can’t use in their courses.

  4. elfsternberg says

    There is only one depiction of Captain America that shows the full Steve Rogers: Steve Rogers: PR Disaster. Captain America really does believe in “the little guy,” and by that he means everyone. Steve is anti-racist, anti-wealth, and anti-capitalist. Steve is a mensch.

  5. brucegee1962 says

    Captain America: Civil War is the best job I’ve ever seen of political discourse dressed up in superhero tights. Iron Man represents the surrender of the individual to society and government, and Captain America represents the opposite. I wonder if Pinker has even seen it.

  6. PaulBC says

    If we’re going to use movies as justification, I’m partial to Ratso Rizzo’s outlook in Midnight Cowboy: “Well, if it’s free then I ain’t stealing.”

    Ratso is as male a character as any, though far from heroic. Can I justify pilfering and shoplifting because I saw it in a movie?

  7. Ichthyic says

    ‘first you get the money, then you get the power, then you get the women’

    I wonder if Knowland even paid attention to the part that Tony Montana’s sister played in that film?

    or, if like Pinker… he never even really saw the film.

  8. PaulBC says

    While I’m not a fan of mafia movies as a rule, I remember liking Prizzi’s Honor, which I saw long after it’s release. I don’t remember very much except that Angelica Huston’s performance was the most memorable in the entire film. Maybe Pinker should watch. I enjoy MCU movies as much as anyone, but I don’t get the impression that he’s much of a film buff given his examples.

  9. chrislawson says

    Strictly speaking, Henry Hill is not the villain of Goodfellas. (SPOILER ALERT for a 30 year old movie widely regarded as a touchstone of Western cinema). That’s James Conway.

    But, yes, Hill is certainly not heroic. And one movie scene about his life certainly would never be presented as evidence that “male aggression is a biological fact” by anyone with an ounce of intellectual integrity. What next? The Passion of the Christ proves Jesus’s resurrection a biological fact? Into the Spiderverse proves the multiverse interpretation of QM? Videodrome proves that 5G causes COVID?

  10. PaulBC says

    Into the Spiderverse proves the multiverse interpretation of QM?

    How else do you explain the fact that there is always a “goober”?

  11. garysturgess says


    Iron Man represents the surrender of the individual to society and government, and Captain America represents the opposite.

    Yeah, but the problem with that is that it’s still the same Iron Man that refused to let the US military nick his armour designs in IM2, and presumably is still refusing to do so as of Civil War. So the message, at least for Tony, isn’t quite as consistent as all that.

    I’d say the real message of Civil War is that if you find out one of your mate’s assassinated another mate’s parents, you should probably come clean and hope for a rational discussion rather than dig in and fight (but that would, of course, have been a far less entertaining movie).