Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

October 4, 2011

Steven Pinker = Hobbes + Pangloss

Filed under: evolutionary psychology,war — louisproyect @ 7:54 pm

Steven Pinker: bad hairdo, worse ideas

Whenever a prominent sociobiologist (I prefer this term to the more nebulous “evolutionary psychology”) like E.O. Wilson, Jared Diamond or Steven Pinker comes out with a new book, you can expect it to arrive with a big splash—getting a front-page review in the Sunday Times Book Review, interviews with Charlie Rose, and all the rest. The reception will be overwhelmingly favorable because the message of such thinkers is deeply conservative, namely that biology is destiny. What is the point of struggling for a classless society if greed and aggression are hard-wired in our genes?

Get set for a barrage of fawning reviews of Steven Pinker’s “The Better Angels of Our Nature” that is basically an expansion of the chapter in his “The Blank Slate” that deals with violence. Pinker adheres to a Hobbesian view of society, one in which the state is necessary to curb the kind of wanton violence that apparently was much worse in primitive societies than it is under capitalism.

You don’t have to waste your money on this book in order to get a handle on Pinker’s views. John Brockman (described once by Wired Magazine as a onetime hippie, Warhol groupie, and feminine-hygiene marketing guru) is a literary agent whose clients include some of the most prominent sociobiologists, including Daniel Goleman, Richard Dawkins, and Jared Diamond. He also publishes Edge Magazine, in the latest edition of which you can find a lecture by Steven Pinker that is a short-form version of the new book.

This doctrine, “the idea that humans are peaceable by nature and corrupted by modern institutions—pops up frequently in the writing of public intellectuals like José Ortega y Gasset (“War is not an instinct but an invention”), Stephen Jay Gould (“Homo sapiens is not an evil or destructive species”), and Ashley Montagu (“Biological studies lend support to the ethic of universal brotherhood”),” he writes. “But, now that social scientists have started to count bodies in different historical periods, they have discovered that the romantic theory gets it backward: Far from causing us to become more violent, something in modernity and its cultural institutions has made us nobler.”

Pinker’s lecture begins with a glance at how bad things used to be:

In sixteenth-century Paris, a popular form of entertainment was cat-burning, in which a cat was hoisted in a sling on a stage and slowly lowered into a fire. According to historian Norman Davies, “[T]he spectators, including kings and queens, shrieked with laughter as the animals, howling with pain, were singed, roasted, and finally carbonized.” Today, such sadism would be unthinkable in most of the world.

But after the fashion of Voltaire’s Pangloss, Pinker discovers that we are living in—or rapidly approaching—a time of the best of all possible worlds:

Violence has been in decline over long stretches of history, and today we are probably living in the most peaceful moment of our species’ time on earth.

In the decade of Darfur and Iraq, and shortly after the century of Stalin, Hitler, and Mao, the claim that violence has been diminishing may seem somewhere between hallucinatory and obscene. Yet recent studies that seek to quantify the historical ebb and flow of violence point to exactly that conclusion.

He also takes exception to notions of a “noble savage”:

The doctrine of the noble savage—the idea that humans are peaceable by nature and corrupted by modern institutions—pops up frequently in the writing of public intellectuals like José Ortega y Gasset (“War is not an instinct but an invention”), Stephen Jay Gould (“Homo sapiens is not an evil or destructive species”), and Ashley Montagu (“Biological studies lend support to the ethic of universal brotherhood”). But, now that social scientists have started to count bodies in different historical periods, they have discovered that the romantic theory gets it backward: Far from causing us to become more violent, something in modernity and its cultural institutions has made us nobler.

As opposed to such foolish notions, Pinker asserts that Hobbes got it right:

The first is that Hobbes got it right. Life in a state of nature is nasty, brutish, and short, not because of a primal thirst for blood but because of the inescapable logic of anarchy. Any beings with a modicum of self-interest may be tempted to invade their neighbors to steal their resources. The resulting fear of attack will tempt the neighbors to strike first in preemptive self-defense, which will in turn tempt the first group to strike against them preemptively, and so on. This danger can be defused by a policy of deterrence—don’t strike first, retaliate if struck—but, to guarantee its credibility, parties must avenge all insults and settle all scores, leading to cycles of bloody vendetta. These tragedies can be averted by a state with a monopoly on violence, because it can inflict disinterested penalties that eliminate the incentives for aggression, thereby defusing anxieties about preemptive attack and obviating the need to maintain a hair-trigger propensity for retaliation.

I was first exposed to Pinker’s dubious ideas in The Nation Magazine, of all places. In a November 18, 2002 review of “The Blank Slate”, Steven Johnson takes heart in Pinker’s curious mixture of Hobbes and Pangloss:

Contrary to what its critics say, evolutionary psychology does not threaten our ability to assess and transform our social and cultural landscapes. Quite the opposite–understanding the particular channels that we’re prepared to learn can throw into sharper relief the achievements of culture. Knowing something about our reproductive drives and our tendencies toward violence makes the extraordinary drop in murder and birthrates experienced by many Western countries over the past few centuries all the more impressive.

At the time I questioned the wisdom of such a review:

For all of Pinker’s animosity to radicalism and Marxism in particular, there is very little evidence that he understands how historical materialism deals with the question of human nature. While it is beyond the scope of this article to trace its development through the years, suffice it to say that Marxism views the nature-nurture relationship dialectically.

It does not really challenge the existence of biologically determined traits, but simply places the whole question of equality, justice and freedom in a materialist context. In other words, revolutionary socialism strives to create the conditions in which all human beings can reach their full potential. Within the context of such a challenge, Pinker’s “Blank Slate,” with its discussions about the difference between the appearance of male and female brains (according to Pinker, they are “nearly as distinct as their bodies”) seems little more than “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus” geared to readers of the New York Review of Books.

The next time Pinker showed up on my radar screen was in the course of a commentary on the Yanomami science wars. Like Jared Diamond, who hailed colonialism “pacification” of the Papua New Guineans, and Napoleon Chagnon, the sociobiologist who viewed the Yanomami as “fierce” based on cherry-picked evidence, Pinker was committed to the view that hunting-and-gathering peoples were even more violent than they were depicted in Tarzan movies. About such characters, I had this to say:

Jared Diamond makes an identical argument to Pinker’s in his book “The Third Chimpanzee”, even going as so far as to accuse the chimpanzees studied by Jane Goodall as prototypical Nazis. In the infamous New Yorker article, he states “the actual percentage of the population that died violently was on the average higher in traditional pre-state societies than it was even in Poland during the Second World War or Cambodia under Pol Pot.” So violent were the PNG tribesmen that when the British colonizers arrived, they supposedly were grateful for being delivered finally from bloody Hatfield-McCoy feuding that never came to end. At least that’s Diamond’s argument.

When people like Pinker or Diamond write about the brutal hunting-and-gathering societies, they do so very selectively. Our ancestors came into existence two million years ago. Since the evidence for how early ancestors lived is quite scanty, there is a tendency for sociobiologists to project their own schemas backwards into a period with little regard for archaeological evidence. Trying to explain warfare in terms of Darwinian adaptation (what people like Pinker call environment of evolutionary adaptation or EEA) is very problematic as Gould pointed out in a NY Review article:

But how can we possibly know in detail what small bands of hunter-gatherers did in Africa two million years ago? These ancestors left some tools and bones, and paleoanthropologists can make some ingenious inferences from such evidence. But how can we possibly obtain the key information that would be required to show the validity of adaptive tales about an EEA: relations of kinship, social structures and sizes of groups, different activities of males and females, the roles of religion, symbolizing, storytelling, and a hundred other central aspects of human life that cannot be traced in fossils? We do not even know the original environment of our ancestors—did ancestral humans stay in one region or move about? How did environments vary through years and centuries?

For my money, there is no better antidote to Pinker’s Hobbesian/Panglossian worldview than the articles of Rutgers sociology professor Brian Ferguson, who is one of the leading critics of Napoleon Chagnon. Particularly useful is “The Birth of War” , an article that is clearly informed by a historical materialist viewpoint. He writes:

Over the millennia, tribal warfare became more the rule than the exception. As the preconditions for warfare (permanent settlements, population growth, greater social hierarchy, increased trade, and climatic crises) became more common, more tribal peoples in more areas adopted the practice. That development in itself spread warmaking to other groups. Once ancient states arose, they employed “barbarians” on their peripheries to expand their empires and secure their extensive trade networks. Finally, the European expansion after 1492 set native against native to capture territory and slaves and to fight imperial rivalries. Refugee groups were forced into others’ lands, manufactured goods were introduced and fought over (as with the Yanomami), and the spread of European weapons made fighting ever more lethal.

When I began studying war in the mid-1970s, I was trained in an approach called cultural ecology, which argued along the lines that Steven LeBlanc does today. Population pressure on food resources-land, game, herd animals-was seen as the usual cause of indigenous warfare. In some cases the theory did work. Among the peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast prior to the depopulation of the nineteenth century, groups fought to gain access to prime resource locations, such as estuaries with good salmon streams. But in far more cases around the world, such as that of the Yanomami, warfare could not be linked to food competition.

Today, under the rubric “environmental security,” many nonanthropologists who work on issues of international security embrace that ecological view. Recent outbreaks of violence, they argue, may be rooted in scarcities of subsistence goods, fueled by growing populations and degraded resources (such as too little and eroded cropland). But when you examine the cases for which that interpretation seems superficially plausible-the conflicts of the past several years in Chiapas, Mexico, for instance, or in Rwanda-they fail to confirm the “ecological” theory.

We anthropologists are just beginning to bring our experience to bear in the environmental security debate. What we find is that if a peasant population is suffering for lack of basic resources, the main cause of that scarcity is an unequal distribution of resources within the society, a matter of politics and economics, rather than the twin bugbears of too many people and not enough to go around.

Anthropology can offer an alternative view on such terrible disasters as the Rwandan genocide or the civil wars in the Balkans. case studies of modern-day conflicts show that a broad range of factors may be interacting, including subsistence needs and local ecological relations, but also political struggles over the government, trends in globalization, and culturally specific beliefs and symbols. Moreover, when hard times come, they are experienced differently by different kinds of people. Who you are usually determines how you’re doing and where your interests lie: identity and interest are fused. Once a conflict gets boiling and the killing starts, all middle grounds get swept away, and a person’s fate can depend on such simple labels as ethnic, religious, or tribal identity. The slaughter of Tutsis in the Rwandan genocide of 1994 is only one of the latest examples of that horrific effect. But such differences are not the cause of the conflict.

My view is that in most cases-not every single one-the decision to wage war involves the pursuit of practical self-interest by those who actually make the decision. The struggle can be joined over basic subsistence resources, but it can just as easily erupt over goods available only to elites. The decision involves weighing the costs of war against other potential hazards to life and well-being. And most definitely, it depends on one’s position in the internal political hierarchy: from New Guinean “big men” to kings and presidents, leaders often favor war because war favors leaders.

The question of subsistence resources is key. When primitive people fought each other, it is not because they are aggressive by nature but because of a need to gain access to the means of reproduction like water, food and land. The irony is that while capitalism made such struggles outmoded through its technological breakthroughs, but only raised them to a higher level since a fraction of society—the bourgeoisie—became bellicose in its need to monopolize the very means of production that allowed a peaceful and abundant society to prevail. Instead of fighting over water, food and land (ironically, the environmental crisis placed this on the front burned once again), the fight became one over natural resources need for manufacturing (especially oil) and markets for manufactured products.

Pinker’s belief that peace is becoming universal also does not take into account that violence is only partially a function of what happens on the battlefield. The fact that we have not endured anything like WWI or WWII in the past 65 years or so has to be weighed against the continuing violence of daily life in the Third World, which is not that visited so much by a bayonet but by hunger.

Two years ago U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told those gathered at a three-day summit on world food security: “Today, more than 1 billion people are hungry. Six million children die of hunger every year — 17,000 every day, he said.” (http://edition.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/europe/11/17/italy.food.summit/) Just add up the number of dead children since the end of WWII and you arrive at 390 million casualties of the war on the poor. You might not have trench warfare, but the quiet death of a child in Peru is just as brutal. The guns that prevent Peru from descending into Hobbesian anarchy might be regarded as a necessary evil by Pinker, but to the mothers and fathers of those children that is of little consolation. When the Shining Path, by no means a perfect liberation force, decided to take up arms and challenge a system that condemned so many of its citizens to an early death, the voices of “peace” and “civilization” urged its destruction. Fujimori brought peace but it was the peace of the graveyard.

Like Jared Diamond, Steven Pinker is a public intellectual serving the interests of big capital. His targeted readers are suburbanites and the urban middle class that has somehow avoided the biggest blows of the Great Recession, the PBS contributors whose worldview is shaped by the News Hour and who will probably stick with Obama in 2012.

They like the idea that World History is moving toward a better place despite those evening reports about bad things happening in Zaire or Somalia. They are reassured by knowing that no matter how bad these things are, they were much worse 500 years ago than they are today—at least based on what Pinker reports. Of course, it matters little that others like Basil Davidson found an entirely different continent before colonialism, one that was a lot more livable despite the obvious small-scale battles over land, water and hunting grounds. And if the restive natives ever decide that they can do better by themselves than the enlightened colonist or neo-colonist, there is always the UN Blue Hats to sort things out in Hobbesian fashion.


  1. “The reception will be overwhelmingly favorable because the message of such thinkers is deeply conservative, namely that biology is destiny.”

    What have you read of Diamond’s that would make you say this about him? His big ideas are (1) colonization of the New World happened because of technology imbalance and pestilence, not because the colonized deserved it or were inferior and (2) ignoring environmental factors will lead to societal problems and finally (c) privation, desperation and xenophobia breed violence.

    All of these point to things we can change in our societies if we want better quality of life and more justice.

    Comment by Hazel Stone — October 4, 2011 @ 9:52 pm

  2. What have you read of Diamond’s that would make you say this about him?

    Sixth Chimpanzee and Collapse. Haven’t read “Guns, Germs and Steel” but my old friend the late Jim Blaut wrote this about that book:


    Comment by louisproyect — October 4, 2011 @ 10:14 pm

  3. This sounds like a book I definitely wouldn’t waste my time with.

    Violence on the decline?
    He’s not living in recent historical reality.

    Aggression and greed are wired into our genes? I don’t know how these experts on prehistoric man have so much detail of how they lived and what was in their genes when they weren’t there.

    I’m often asked as an atheist what my opinion is on how life began and my answer is simple, I don’t know I wasn’t there.

    The problem with our modern system in America is not that there isn’t enough to go around and that’s why some struggle.

    It’s that one percent of the people hold most of the nation’s wealth while the rest of us struggle for basic necessities and 46 million at or below the poverty level have little or nothing at all.

    This problem, the class struggle, is caused by the flawed system of capitalism we live under and can’t be blamed on human nature or genes.

    Greed is a choice that people make and is usually made by people who have much more than they need, but still have an insatiable need to acquire more.

    A system that creates conditions where all people are equal and can reach their full potential without class division is a utopian that is within our grasp and achievable.

    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — October 4, 2011 @ 11:01 pm

  4. The reason there hasn’t been a world war in the last 65 years is because of nuclear weapons.

    Comment by purple — October 5, 2011 @ 1:37 am

  5. Purple’s point is excellent. I also had planned to write about nukes but forgot to include it. Coming at it from a slightly different angle, I was going to say that a nuclear world war would invalidate Pinker’s thesis, not that we would want to see it tested.

    Comment by louisproyect — October 5, 2011 @ 1:49 am

  6. I don’t know purple. There’s a world war going on right now against so-called “terrorism” and against “drugs”. There’s been a world war since the late 70’s against the working class & trade unionism.

    Lou (or somebody) in a previous recent article here brought up how close nuclear war was so many times after Hiroshima & Nagasaki but left out one important incident, that is, when Truman was so close to nuking China that his aids practically had to put him in a straight jacket & sedate him.

    This fact was confirmed by none other than the ex-mayor of Tucson, Tom Volgy, a Hungarian born rabid anti-communist liberal poly sci professor who while mayor also taught a political science 201 class at the U of A wherein when I attended around 1990 disclosed that his mentor was the personal aid of Truman’s and that this Truman aid/mentor told Volgy that Truman was seriously nuts, like far crazier than any President in American history.

    So yes purple, you’re right that in the last 65 years nukes are such a nasty prospect that world war has been prevented — but only by sheer luck, not by the rationality of bourgeois statesmen, which have been proven time again to be madmen as demented as Hitler and as ruthless as Stalin.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — October 5, 2011 @ 2:10 am

  7. Karl I agree with your analysis of our bourgeois statesmen but I never knew of that story about Truman.

    Sounds like he seriously needed a Prozac.

    Too bad it wasn’t available back then.

    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — October 5, 2011 @ 3:37 am

  8. But back to Lou’s main thesis here, which is counterposed to what all the so-called socio-biologists conclude is the ugly violence of supposed “human nature” — which I call bullshit. Human violence is a product not of “nature” but of definite material conditions in particular historical conditions. If humans, which today are perfectly capable, were to organize a society in such a fashion as to expropriate the wealth of that 1% that owns & controls 50% of the wealth and equitably redistributed it to the 99% that fights over the other 50% — than you can bank on the fact that the chief causes of human violence would vanish like mist before sunrise.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — October 5, 2011 @ 3:44 am

  9. (long time lurker. Hopefully this is the first of many comments)

    The central problem of humanity is limited empathy. This may be hard-wired: back in the savanna, before surplus and economic distribution, humans were divided into separate bands of at most a couple dozen people each. Their empathy was only limited to that band.

    After human civilization developed, those bands grew into tribes, religions, and nations. However empathy was still limited to within the group.

    With proper education, empathic outreach can expand to include all people. This is not innate to the human mind and must be taught.

    Comment by Kerim Ozdamar — October 5, 2011 @ 5:48 am

  10. I’m curious what you guys think about bar fights that end with one of the combatants dead. Is that “definite material conditions in particular historical conditions”. It happens quite regularly, if you check your Monday newspapers for the events of the weekend.

    Comment by Tony Clifford — October 5, 2011 @ 9:38 am

  11. Fundamental to an understanding of human nature is the fallen nature of man. Every aspiration of unredeemed humanity is crushed by the venality and egoism of the actors. The higher the uplifter aims, the deeper the fall. It is no accident that every effort at a “socialist” revolution has ended in some kind of gulag. So it has always been; so it will always be.

    Both the belief in some idyllic paleolithic hug of good fellowship, and a future free of war, poverty and oppression are romantic illusions. Man has always been and always will be the wolf of man, and the glorious futures to which Marxists believe history is bringing us, will always be versions of Hell.

    Comment by Grumpy Old Man — October 5, 2011 @ 10:11 am

  12. Pinker is wrong on theoretical grounds in his argument about the effects of anarchy (his “Hobbes was right” argument); he conceives the situation between people in anarchy as a n-person prisoners’ dilemma in game theoretic terms, and hence comes to the conclusion that every individual will have an incentive to encroach on others’ territory and steal their resources. The trick here is the breezy allusion to “their resources,” which implies the existence of resources that some people call “theirs,” i.e. property over which individuals have a claim. As political theorists since at least Rousseau have noted, the emergence of so-called private property needs to be explained first; and the latter most certainly cannot be an outcome of a prisoners’ dilemma-like situation; in fact the latter presumes co-ordination among humans (recognition of respective mutual properties). The game is definitely not prisoners’ dilemma (which, for those interested has a dominant strategy of mutual defection, in the jargon of game theory), but one of coordination where the best strategy could be cooperation (again in the jargon of game theory, multiple equilibria are possible). For a nice accessible review of all this, see Russell Hardin’s “All for One.”

    So in its own terms, Pinker’s argument does not even get off the ground. I am surprised the reviewers did not catch this glaring hole in his argument.

    Comment by tveb — October 5, 2011 @ 1:58 pm

  13. Grumpy. The fallen nature of man, eh? Sounds truly biblical. You ought to write a philosophy column in Reader’s Digest. Marx didn’t believe that history would be “bringing” the working class some “glorious future” rather it had to be organized, won & built. But don’t you worry because you’ll die all alone long before we get to divvy up that big wad you’ve been hiding in your mattress all these years.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — October 5, 2011 @ 2:04 pm

  14. Bar fights, eh Tony? Ever consider that perhaps a society that, for the sake of argument, had a 30 hour work week, a $20/hr. minimum wage, and provided a free back massage to every worker before their shift, might wind up with fewer people trying to drown the weight of the world on their shoulders with the liquor that fuels the bar fights?

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — October 5, 2011 @ 2:21 pm

  15. Kerim, I respectfully disagree with your conclusion that proper education of people would make them more empathetic.

    I agree there is a lack of empathy, but I live in an affluent area (Lower Fairfield County, Connecticut USA) where the wealthiest residents are significantly educated but look down at the lower, less privileged segments of society.

    Which is typical and expected behavior from the bourgeoisie.

    Greedy and devoid of empathy and that’s what we call our ruling class in America.

    The only real solution to this is wealth redistribution.

    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — October 5, 2011 @ 2:38 pm

  16. Deboarh Jeffries,

    Wealth redistribution will only shake the bottle. Its liquids will again stratify into differing levels because that is human nature. The “us versus them” mentality goes beyond economics, because it existed even before Homo Sapiens could produce surplus of commodities or food. Humans are inclined to separate into different teams, and view their team as better than any other.

    Through education, people can learn to tolerate other teams and respect their differences. But there still will be teams. It is human nature! To think, means to take sides.

    As for Steven Pinker, he views human behavior as a bag of evolutionary vestiges that must be changed through technology. His goal is to reprogram behavior to 21st century standards, whatever that means. History will remember Steven Pinker as a pioneering saint of trans-humanism. Corporations are already pushing society into this direction: materialization of the soul (assuming it is possible) would be the ultimate triumph of capitalism.

    We must stop trans-humanism at all costs.

    Comment by Kerim — October 5, 2011 @ 3:43 pm

  17. Friedrich–Thanks for proving my point so succinctly. Your world will start with robbery and endless inconclusive meetings, and end in bureaucratic stagnation and tyranny. Michels was right.

    Comment by Grumpy Old Man — October 5, 2011 @ 4:05 pm

  18. Kerim you are correct about teams like in school or work situations, cliques will develop in large groups.

    I don’t think that wealth distribution will solve every social woe, but it will make a more equal playing field.

    The way it is now, so few people (one percent of the population) have such enormous wealth when there are 46 million that are so poor they have next to nothing (hunger, homelessness, extreme poverty).

    Education may enlighten some people but I believe anyone who is enlightened by it, had moral ethics and good character to begin with.

    From my experience living in an affluent region and being among the poorer social class, educated and wealthy people have little sympathy for those who are less fortunate.

    This isn’t my opinion comrade, this is how life is here for the working poor.

    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — October 5, 2011 @ 4:22 pm

  19. Louis wrote:

    “They are reassured by knowing that no matter how bad these things [bad things happening in Zaire or Somalia] are, they were much worse 500 years ago than they are today”

    You were referring _just_ to Zaire and Somalia, right?

    Otherwise, I’d be wondering why a man who welcomes the appearance onto the Libyan scene of bourgeois revolutionaries suddenly seems to be channelling Aaron Aarons.

    Comment by Todd — October 5, 2011 @ 4:45 pm

  20. Grumpy Old Man wrote:

    “Man has always been and always will be the wolf of man”

    Then why bother commenting at all if you have that attitude?

    Comment by Todd — October 5, 2011 @ 4:48 pm

  21. Kerim wrote:

    “With proper education, empathic outreach can expand to include all people.”

    That’s a good thing, but there’s much more than just that to do.

    Comment by Todd — October 5, 2011 @ 4:57 pm

  22. “They are reassured by knowing that no matter how bad these things [bad things happening in Zaire or Somalia] are, they were much worse 500 years ago than they are today”

    You were referring _just_ to Zaire and Somalia, right?

    I am not sure you got my point. I was trying to say that Pinker (and Diamond) regard precolonial Africa, Asia and Latin America as hells on earth that the White Man delivered them from. In my own view, colonialism made these places much worse.

    Comment by louisproyect — October 5, 2011 @ 5:02 pm

  23. Some wolves are more wolfish than others.

    Comment by Grumpy Old Man — October 5, 2011 @ 5:30 pm

  24. Louis wrote:

    “I was trying to say . . . .”

    OK. That’s better: I wasn’t sure how widely you were casting your net.

    “In my own view, colonialism made these places much worse.”

    On balance, yes, I agree.

    Comment by Todd — October 5, 2011 @ 6:27 pm

  25. Grumpy wrote:

    “Some wolves are more wolfish than others.”

    Aaaand this means what in this context?

    Comment by Todd — October 5, 2011 @ 6:29 pm

  26. Grumpy Old Man is in the throes of the psychology of powerlessness. He can’t see himself making a difference. Besides he exemplifies the truth of the self-fulfilling prophecy: believing nothing can be done, nothing will be done. Wake up, GOM. Confront your powerlessness.

    Comment by uh...clem — October 5, 2011 @ 11:57 pm

  27. Sorry Grumpy but my world cannot possibly “start” with robbery since YOUR world already completed the greatest robbery in human history — bar none.

    Now all you have left to cling to is fear & greed — the fear of reprisals & the greed of wishing to hoard ill gotten gains.

    Clem hit the nail on the head. The “psychology of powerlessness” and GOM’s fear of “endless inconclusive meetings that end in bureaucratic stagnation and tyranny” will get a rude awakening when movements like OWS sweep the world insofaras 99% rule only seems like tyranny to the 1%.

    Even if OWS gets smashed tomorrow in a fascist police crackdown in NYC it’s too late for this empire in decline — the genie is out of the bottle.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — October 6, 2011 @ 12:59 am

  28. Karl, good remark about the bar brawl comrade.

    GOM’s comments come from a person who is completely out of his comfort zone in a marxist forum.

    I get that from the atheist forum I blog on from those bible thumpers who want to save me.

    Don’t wanna be saved fellas. Just want revolution.

    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — October 6, 2011 @ 2:10 am

  29. Also Karl, painfully obvious GOM is among the one percent.

    He should be worried because the times they are a changing.

    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — October 6, 2011 @ 2:40 am

  30. Some people, like Dacher Keltner, are trying to argue from the opposite side of the evolutionary coin, namely that we are adapted to be good:

    Born to Be Good

    But I’m sceptic either way; evolutionary sociobiological claptrap seems like a mug’s game to me, basing its psychological conclusions on big leaps in logic and evidence.

    Comment by Nik Barry-Shaw — October 6, 2011 @ 7:52 am

  31. Nik, I totally agree with you. Arguments about the peacefulness of the Bonobo Chimps for example are not what is needed. We are neither genetically disposed to war or peace.

    Comment by louisproyect — October 6, 2011 @ 1:26 pm

  32. If GOM really were in the 1% he wouldn’t be so grumpy. He just thinks like them and gets all his ideas from guys like Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity, both of who recently predicted that the ultimate success of an OWS-like movement would result in tyranny. Meanwhile those two fools mentioned nothing when Bush abolished Habeas Corpus for even US citizens in the Military Commisions Act.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — October 6, 2011 @ 1:44 pm

  33. [We are neither gentically disposed to war or peace.]

    Right, but we probably are genetically disposed to seek justice.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — October 6, 2011 @ 2:15 pm

  34. “When people like Pinker or Diamond write about the brutal hunting-and-gathering societies, they do so very selectively. Our ancestors came into existence two million years ago. Since the evidence for how early ancestors lived is quite scanty, there is a tendency for sociobiologists to project their own schemas backwards into a period with little regard for archaeological evidence.”

    If you’re talking about violence, can’t you just dig up skeletons and look at how many died from being hit with an axe or whatever?

    Comment by fredR — October 6, 2011 @ 2:35 pm

  35. You’re probably right Karl. He sounds like a modern day Archie Bunker. Bunker wasn’t rich, just incredibly ignorant.

    But if GOM follows Glenn Beck, he isn’t just grumpy, he’s plum crazy lol.

    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — October 6, 2011 @ 2:58 pm

  36. fredR wrote:

    “If you’re talking about violence, can’t you just dig up skeletons and look at how many died from being hit with an axe or whatever?”

    Just a guess, but that’ll probably be _really_ expensive and might not be able to tell much of anything if the state of the bones is questionable.

    (We’ll leave aside the whole thing about where you dig to find this stuff.)

    Given enough time, the question might, eventually, be answerable with some concrete evidence, but so what? It’ll tell us pre-historic types had violent encounters with one another, which we know already; it probably won’t say anything about why other than the very basic reasons mentioned above.

    Comment by Todd — October 6, 2011 @ 7:45 pm

  37. What you guys on the revolutionary socialist side of this argument don’t seem to have weighed in the balance (and never do) is the basic question – if humans are so ready to live in the peace and harmony of a classless society, why hasn’t it happened yet? Why the thousands of years of war and unnecessary privation? Why, more recently, the catastrophic failure of the Marxist experiment in the former Soviet Union and its painful transformation into a brutalist capitalism in China? And it’s no good saying these models were subverted or sabotaged by evil capitalists – if the system is apt for human nature then it should have been strong enough to withstand assault from such clearly inferior and historically doomed capitalist models.

    By definition, a materialist philosophy must take account of material conditions; at the basic level that means an honest “what works/what doesn’t work?” approach to human nature and social structure; Lenin saw this when he implemented NEP, the Chinese Communist leadership have seen it since the accession of Deng. Where in the world has wealth re-distribution been most successful? In the capitalist-inflected west. Why? The answers to that are complex and deserving of intelligent study – but you will not find them in the ruins of the last century’s disastrous experiments in Marxist socialism.

    Comment by Richard Morgan — October 9, 2011 @ 10:07 am

  38. Richard: Why don’t you come back and ask the WHY question after you’ve read the novel: “The Iron Heel” by Jack London. Maybe then you won’t sound like such a rube.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — October 9, 2011 @ 2:18 pm

  39. Paraphrase for me; that way you’ll save us both some time and you won’t come across as such a condescending prick.

    (Actually, last time I checked, London died before the Russian revolution began, so anything he has to say about the failures of 20th century Marxism is likely to be ill-informed, to say the least).

    Comment by Richard Morgan — October 9, 2011 @ 2:47 pm

  40. Trotsky died before WWII but that didn’t prevent him from predicting who the fighters would be and the ultimate outcome.

    London himself wrote “The Iron Heel” in 1907 but predicted that international tensions would reach a boil around 1913 leading to world war.

    The point is that London’s novel depicts socialist revolution in the US taking 3 centuries with many “Marxist experiments” crushed by the oligarchy along the way to ultimate victory.

    Moreover, what your blurt fails to grasp is how history intervened in those failed 20th century revolutions. For example, by the end of WWI Germany was in such ruin and the proletarian revolution so close that the outcome was practically 50/50. If the tide had gone completely against the German bourgeoisie then the outcome of the Russian & Chinese revolutions would be completely different.

    It’s that poverty of historical imagination that elicited the condensation.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — October 9, 2011 @ 3:16 pm

  41. Condescension.

    You miss my point entirely, KF. If you’re buying a 4×4, you buy the one that finished Paris-Dakar in good form; not the one whose manufacturers say “ah, yes, well, see, the weather intervened, if it hadn’t been for that dust storm, fifty/fifty you know, if the replacement spark plugs hadn’t got held up at the airport………hadn’t been for that, we would have won.” Marxist systems have not performed well. Western capitalist systems have. Full stop. It ain’t pretty, but it’s an undeniable material fact.

    Comment by Richard Morgan — October 9, 2011 @ 4:30 pm

  42. Western capitalist systems have. Full stop. It ain’t pretty, but it’s an undeniable material fact.

    It is also a material fact that it has hit a brick wall. Today’s NY Times has an article by David Leonhardt arguing that things are more dire today than they were in the 1930s:

    The Depression: If Only Things Were That Good

    David Leonhardt is The New York Times Washington bureau chief.

    UNDERNEATH the misery of the Great Depression, the United States economy was quietly making enormous strides during the 1930s. Television and nylon stockings were invented. Refrigerators and washing machines turned into mass-market products. Railroads became faster and roads smoother and wider. As the economic historian Alexander J. Field has said, the 1930s constituted “the most technologically progressive decade of the century.”

    Economists often distinguish between cyclical trends and secular trends — which is to say, between short-term fluctuations and long-term changes in the basic structure of the economy. No decade points to the difference quite like the 1930s: cyclically, the worst decade of the 20th century, and yet, secularly, one of the best.

    It would clearly be nice if we could take some comfort from this bit of history. If anything, though, the lesson of the 1930s may be the opposite one. The most worrisome aspect about our current slump is that it combines obvious short-term problems — from the financial crisis — with less obvious long-term problems. Those long-term problems include a decade-long slowdown in new-business formation, the stagnation of educational gains and the rapid growth of industries with mixed blessings, including finance and health care.

    Together, these problems raise the possibility that the United States is not merely suffering through a normal, if severe, downturn. Instead, it may have entered a phase in which high unemployment is the norm.

    On Friday, the Labor Department reported that job growth was mediocre in September and that unemployment remained at 9.1 percent. In a recent survey by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, forecasters said the rate was not likely to fall below 7 percent until at least 2015. After that, they predicted, it would rarely fall below 6 percent, even in good times.

    Not so long ago, 6 percent was considered a disappointingly high unemployment rate. From 1995 to 2007, the jobless rate exceeded 6 percent for only a single five-month period in 2003 — and it never topped 7 percent.

    “We’ve got a double-whammy effect,” says John C. Haltiwanger, an economics professor at the University of Maryland. The cyclical crisis has come on top of the secular one, and the two are now feeding off each other.

    In the most likely case, the United States has fallen into a period somewhat similar to the one that Europe has endured for parts of the last generation; it is rich but struggling. A high unemployment rate will feed fears of national decline. The political scene may be tumultuous, as it already is. Many people will find themselves shut out of the work force.

    Almost 6.5 million people have been officially unemployed for at least six months, and another few million have dropped out of the labor force — that is, they are no longer looking for work — since 2008. These hard-core unemployed highlight the nexus between long-term and short-term economic problems. Most lost their jobs because of the recession. But many will remain without work long after the economy begins growing again.

    Indeed, they will themselves become a force weighing on the economy. Fairly or not, employers will be reluctant to hire them. Many with borderline health problems will end up in the federal disability program, which has become a shadow welfare program that most beneficiaries never leave.

    For now, the main cause of the economic funk remains the financial crisis. The bursting of a generation-long, debt-enabled consumer bubble has left households rebuilding their balance sheets and businesses wary of hiring until they are confident that consumer spending will pick up. Even now, sales of many big-ticket items — houses, cars, appliances, many services — remain far below their pre-crisis peaks.

    Although the details of every financial crisis differ, the broad patterns are similar. The typical crisis leads to almost a decade of elevated unemployment, according to oft-cited academic research by Carmen M. Reinhart and Kenneth S. Rogoff. Ms. Reinhart and Mr. Rogoff date the recent crisis from the summer of 2007, which would mean our economy was not even halfway through its decade of high unemployment.

    Of course, making dark forecasts about the American economy, especially after a recession, can be dangerous. In just the last 50 years, doomsayers claimed that the United States was falling behind the Soviet Union, Japan and Germany, only to be proved wrong each time.

    This country continues to have advantages that no other country, including China, does: the world’s best venture-capital network, a well-established rule of law, a culture that celebrates risk taking, an unmatched appeal to immigrants. These strengths often give rise to the next great industry, even when the strengths are less salient than the country’s problems.

    THAT’S part of what happened in the 1930s. It’s also happened in the 1990s, when many people were worrying about a jobless recovery and economic decline. At a 1992 conference Bill Clinton convened shortly after his election to talk about the economy, participants recall, no one mentioned the Internet.

    Still, the reasons for concern today are serious. Even before the financial crisis began, the American economy was not healthy. Job growth was so weak during the economic expansion from 2001 to 2007 that employment failed to keep pace with the growing population, and the share of working adults declined. For the average person with a job, income growth barely exceeded inflation.

    The closest thing to a unified explanation for these problems is a mirror image of what made the 1930s so important. Then, the United States was vastly increasing its productive capacity, as Mr. Field argued in his recent book, “A Great Leap Forward.” Partly because the Depression was eliminating inefficiencies but mostly because of the emergence of new technologies, the economy was adding muscle and shedding fat. Those changes, combined with the vast industrialization for World War II, made possible the postwar boom.

    In recent years, on the other hand, the economy has not done an especially good job of building its productive capacity. Yes, innovations like the iPad and Twitter have altered daily life. And, yes, companies have figured out how to produce just as many goods and services with fewer workers. But the country has not developed any major new industries that employ large and growing numbers of workers.

    There is no contemporary version of the 1870s railroads, the 1920s auto industry or even the 1990s Internet sector. Total economic output over the last decade, as measured by the gross domestic product, has grown more slowly than in any 10-year period during the 1950s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s or ’90s.

    Perhaps the most important reason, beyond the financial crisis, is the overall skill level of the work force. The United States is the only rich country in the world that has not substantially increased the share of young adults with the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree over the past three decades. Some less technical measures of human capital, like the percentage of children living with two parents, have deteriorated. The country has also chosen not to welcome many scientists and entrepreneurs who would like to move here.

    The relationship between skills and economic success is not an exact one, yet it is certainly strong enough to notice, and not just in the reams of peer-reviewed studies on the subject. Australia, New Zealand, Canada and much of Northern Europe have made considerable educational progress since the 1980s, for instance. Their unemployment rates, which were once higher than ours, are now lower. Within this country, the 50 most educated metropolitan areas have an average jobless rate of 7.3 percent, according to Moody’s Analytics; in the 50 least educated, the average rate is 11.4 percent.

    Despite the media’s focus on those college graduates who are struggling, it’s not much of an exaggeration to say that people with a four-year degree — who have an unemployment rate of just 4.3 percent — are barely experiencing an economic downturn.

    Economic downturns do often send people streaming back to school, and this one is no exception. So there is a chance that it will lead to a surge in skill formation. Yet it seems unlikely to do nearly as much on that score as the Great Depression, which helped make high school universal. High school, of course, is free. Today’s educational frontier, college, is not. In fact, it has become more expensive lately, as state cutbacks have led to tuition increases.

    Beyond education, the American economy seems to be suffering from a misallocation of resources. Some of this is beyond our control. China’s artificially low currency has nudged us toward consuming too much and producing too little. But much of the misallocation is homegrown.

    In particular, three giant industries — finance, health care and housing — now include large amounts of unproductive capacity. Housing may have shrunk, but it is still a bigger, more subsidized sector in this country than in many others.

    Health care is far larger, with the United States spending at least 50 percent more per person on medical care than any other country, without getting vastly better results. (Some aspects of our care, like certain cancer treatments, are better, while others, like medical error rates, are worse.) The contrast suggests that a significant portion of medical spending is wasted, be it on approaches that do not make people healthier or on insurance-company bureaucracy.

    In finance, trading volumes have boomed in recent decades, yet it is unclear how much all the activity has lifted living standards. Paul A. Volcker, the former Fed chairman, has mischievously said that the only useful recent financial innovation was the automated teller machine. Critics like Mr. Volcker argue that much of modern finance amounts to arbitrage, in which technology and globalization have allowed traders to profit from being the first to notice small price differences.

    IN the process, Wall Street has captured a growing share of the world’s economic pie — thereby increasing inequality — without doing much to expand the pie. It may even have shrunk the pie, given that a new International Monetary Fund analysis found that higher inequality leads to slower economic growth.

    The common question with these industries is whether they are using resources that could do more economic good elsewhere. “The health care problem is very similar to the finance problem,” says Lawrence F. Katz, a Harvard economist, “in that incredibly talented people are wasting their talent on something that is essentially a zero-sum game.”

    In the short term, finance, health care and housing provide jobs, as their lobbyists are quick to point out. But it is hard to see how the jobs of the future will spring from unnecessary back surgery and garden-variety arbitrage. They differ from the growth engines of the past, which delivered fundamental value — faster transportation or new knowledge — and let other industries then build off those advances.

    The United States has long overcome its less dynamic industries by replacing them with more dynamic ones. The decline of the horse and buggy, difficult as it may have been for people in the business, created no macroeconomic problems. The trouble today is that those new industries don’t seem to be arriving very quickly.

    The rate at which new companies are created has been falling for most of the last decade. So has the pace at which existing companies add positions. “The current problem is not that we have tons of layoffs,” Mr. Katz says. “It’s that we don’t have much hiring.”

    If history repeats itself, this situation will eventually turn around. Maybe some American scientist in a laboratory somewhere is about to make a breakthrough. Maybe an entrepreneur is on the verge of creating a great new product. Maybe the recent health care and financial-regulation laws will squeeze the bloat.

    For now, the evidence for such optimism remains scant. And the economy remains millions of jobs away from being even moderately healthy.

    Comment by louisproyect — October 9, 2011 @ 4:41 pm

  43. “It is also a material fact that it has hit a brick wall.”

    Yes – and is coping. The article is interesting enough, but Leonhardt writes too much like a man who’s never been hungry. I had relatives who lived through the thirties and I talked extensively to them about it; I know which Depression I’d rather be living through.

    Comment by Richard Morgan — October 9, 2011 @ 7:33 pm

  44. […] class war and kleptocracy on a biological/racist basis, but in a pro-capitalist, pro-state way.   The latest, much-hyped installment is Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature. Here the claim is that the level of […]

    Pingback by Corporate Tribalism Part 2: Steven Pinker and Sublimated Violence « Volatility — October 11, 2011 @ 7:23 am

  45. So, this thread sure got off on a tangent. Stephen Pinker still has a dumb heaircut designed to play himself off as the intellectual version of a silverback gorilla, and about all the moral courage of a flea.

    His argument is still arrogant and based on an elitist, condescending ignorance, or worse, a calculated appraisal at what will placate the troubled exurban bohemians who comprise the aging remaining support base for the Establishment that he benefits plenty from. Nothing richard or grumpy old men said changed that.

    The dude who argued he is a ‘transhuman saint’ in the making is the most aware in the room. pay attention, ignore the verbose ramblings of the richards who would distract from the importance of what really happened here by redirecting the conversation and diluting the actual useful information here by sheer volume of words saying essentially nothing.

    Comment by CA Shaga — October 11, 2011 @ 11:42 pm

  46. Ah, yes, I’d forgotten that other great predilection of the radical left – as well as blindness to inconvenient facts, we’re also very fond of broadside ad hominem; Pinker can’t possibly be right – just look at his stupid hair.

    Speaking of saying nothing, Shags, just read back through your post and find me the bit where you present some actual evidence disproving Pinker’s arguments – or mine for that matter.

    If you had (or were willing to apply) a couple of grams of intellectual rigour in place of your schoolyard mouth, you’d see that my post was directly pertinent. If Pinker, Diamond et al are so wrong about the evolved strictures of human nature, then why exactly is it that the kleptocrats and oligarchs continue to do so well. If a building stands for thousands of years, it’s because its foundations are solid. And if you want to build a better house – one, say, with a more equitable distribution of living space for the tenants – then you’re going to need to take account of those same foundations, or it’ll collapse in a killing, maiming mess.

    Comment by Richard Morgan — October 12, 2011 @ 9:19 am

  47. “Ever consider that perhaps a society that, for the sake of argument, had a 30 hour work week, a $20/hr. minimum wage, and provided a free back massage to every worker before their shift, might wind up with fewer people trying to drown the weight of the world on their shoulders with the liquor that fuels the bar fights?”

    Interesting analysis, but wrong. The reason men engage in bar fights is status competition. These would continue even with a reduced work week, higher minimum wage and a free back massage. Fights break up because of women or because some guy disses you. I am sure you know this. of course. But you have to factor it in to your scheme of a socialist society, because it will continue to happen.

    Comment by Tony Clifford — October 17, 2011 @ 9:21 am

  48. @Tony clifford #47

    The reason men engage in bar fights is undoubtedly for a slew of complex personal and social reasons. Classifying it as “status competition” is unhelpful by itself (although no doubt it would often be a factor) and exactly the sort of thing many evolutionary psychologists often try to do – explain complex behaviour with relatively simple causes.

    @louisproyect. Just found your blog from the prospects comments section. Good review of Pinkers book. I would take issue with your statement about studying bonobos not being needed – I think the study of our closest relatives is useful and sheds light on our “innate” tendencies as is the systematic study of human behaviour. The problem as Gould pointed out in The mismeasure of man is science also reflects the prejudices of society and given we live in a mostly bourgeois world even the framing of the questions is going to reflect the political needs of the ruling class. So its not the study of human or aother animal behaviour per se that is the problem but how such studies are conducted. Theres a lot of good science being done though and I think Marxists can leanr form that too, better than anyone in my opinion although maybe thats just my confirmation bias talking 😉

    Are you familiar with the book Sex at dawn by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha and its blog on psychology today?

    They demolish a few of Pinkers arguments on the origins of war from a TED presentation he made in 2007, on which his book is partly based. Their own book, Sex at dawn, itself reads to me like an updating of engels origin of the family private property and the state with an essentially materialist conception of human nature and identifying pribvate property as central, even if some of the evidence they present is pretty shaky, a lot of it is really convincing.

    Comment by kwarive — October 17, 2011 @ 4:09 pm

  49. […] of the few print publications I subscribe to. Fry, like Brian Ferguson whose work I have reviewed here, is a critic of evolutionary psychology’s Hobbesian impulses. He […]

    Pingback by Cave of Forgotten Dreams; Into the Abyss « Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist — November 29, 2011 @ 7:53 pm

  50. This is the dumbest comment thread I’v ever seen, as pointed about by Richard. Pinker presents facts. Refute them, or shut up.

    Comment by simondosovitz — March 25, 2012 @ 12:26 am

  51. Reblogged this on theBabbleofBabel.

    Comment by sara0902 — October 19, 2012 @ 8:36 am

  52. Louis, Gould’s vaunted ‘spandrels’ have had an ignominious death. Your friend Jim also claimed that “poverty causes disease”. To confuse cause and effect in such grand style made me realize that the extreme left is utterly UNSCIENTIFIC, Your ilk are latter-day denialists, and if I was not athiest I’d ask you to “repent for your sins”. Sigh..

    Comment by Roy Coleman — January 6, 2013 @ 2:27 pm

  53. Simondosovitz, yours was by far the dumbest comment in a thread of 50 plus comments, Richard and Old Man included. If you’re not willing to read the article, which clearly presents the inherent issues with PInker’s books and ideas, then save your empty vitriol.

    As for the Richards of the world, socioeconomics is not a car or house. It doesn’t conform to your folksy wisdom. You can’t simply put Capitalism next to (your words) “Marxist Systems”, and claim that one has “performed” better than the other, as both systems would have completely different goals in mind, and therefor different notions of success. and even when this is taken into account, it would still have to be judged with an assumption that both were allowed to function entirely within a vacuum; free to flourish or fail entirely on their own merits, without outside interference, and forced to adhere strictly to their philosophical tenants (the United States, for example, has never been purely capitalist, but Somalia, on the other hand, “enjoys” a freer market than perhaps any other country on earth).

    And Roy, if you can’t imagine a potential cause and effect analysis of the correlation between poverty and potential illness, you have no business even spelling the word “science”. Poor quality of food, poor quality of shelter, poor quality of life…gee, Roy, can we think of any ways in which these things, all sharing the word “poor”in common, might have ramifications for someone’s health? Or are we going to cherry pick? “Sure the raw sewage in his slum gave the boy dysentery, but it was feces that caused it!” Go ahead, give it a shot.

    Comment by Steven Harris — January 2, 2014 @ 3:08 am

  54. wow, Steven – a year late and a few billion neurons short; I barely know where to begin teasing apart the gibberish you’ve laid out there. Systems that “have……goals in mind”, an embargo on comparing anything that doesn’t operate in a pure vacuum (guess that’s anything in this universe ruled out, then), philosophical tenants……… You are, I’m deeply saddened to say, a perfect poster child for dead-end ivory tower doctrinal leftism, and thus emblematic of all that’s wrong with progressive politics as a decent human project.

    Comment by Richard Morgan — January 3, 2014 @ 11:09 am

  55. Prey tell Steven, where are the “slums..raw sewage..dysentery” in the historically poor Inuit, Evenk, Sami..?
    Do you have children? I suggest you advise them to draft excuse notes thus,”Dear Teacher, I was sick today because I wasn’t at school”.

    Comment by Roy Coleman — January 6, 2014 @ 8:57 am

  56. and while we’re on a roll Steven here’s your magazine,
    the relationship between Aboriginal poverty and Plasmodium vivax endemicity in Oz..
    or how South Africa’s aids orphans are a function of its Apartheid infrastructure..
    or even how the most dis-eased population has become the World’s 2nd largest economy..

    Comment by Roy Coleman — January 6, 2014 @ 9:44 am

  57. […] and sloppiness of Pinker’s arguments strike me as overwhelmingly obvious. As Louis Proyect writes, Pinker’s views amount to Thomas Hobbes plus Pangloss. But since the Hughes’s […]

    Pingback by Once More against Pinker: Science and Colonialism | Queering the Singularity — August 30, 2014 @ 6:00 am

  58. […] hunting-and-gathering societies as deeply criminal and homicidal. My own take on Pinker is here: http://louisproyect.org/2011/10/04/steven-pinker-hobbes-pangloss/. And on Jared Diamond here: […]

    Pingback by On John Gray’s critique of Steven Pinker | Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist — March 17, 2015 @ 8:31 pm

  59. Are Jared Diamond and Steven Pinker really ‘sociobiologists’? I thought differently. Let me go look into this.

    Comment by Allise — January 16, 2018 @ 12:53 am

  60. Allise: my understanding is that sociobiology took such a beating from scientists and non-scientists alike that its adherents pulled a bait-and-switch and re-surfaced in the early 1990s as evo. psych. which presumably had a better scientific basis because it rested upon an open embrace of Darwinism (which I call the “opiate of the intellectuals”). I’ll try to find the professor—a leader in the Science for the People movement—who made this claim. I’m thinking of Val Dusek but that may not be right.

    Comment by uh...clem — January 17, 2018 @ 12:36 am

  61. Allise: I was right. Just google his name and look for his articles on Academia.edu I hope this helps.

    Comment by uh...clem — January 17, 2018 @ 1:48 am

  62. […] Source: Steven Pinker = Hobbes + Pangloss | Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist […]

    Pingback by  Critiquing ‘sociobiologists’ isn’t enough: the whole darwinian paradigm is a problem… – Darwiniana — July 11, 2020 @ 10:43 am

  63. Gee Proyect, in 2011 you were much more “civil” and inclined towards rational argument rather than hurling ad hominem invective at everyone who challenges your POV. What happened?

    Comment by Eric Blair — July 20, 2020 @ 2:21 am

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