Pink-er-ology from the left bank of Charles River

Human Nature’s Pathologist
In his latest book, Steven Pinker, a leading advocate of evolutionary psychology, says our brains have produced a far less violent world.


Frank Stanton
Campbell, Ca.

I can live with the idea of the evolution of the brain, and the amount of physical violence may have gone down statistically with time. However, can't one argue that these violent activities have been replaced by predatory practices one sees in downsizing of jobs, exporting jobs to Third World and, in turn, exploiting the poor to a form of near involuntary servitude or even slavery in those countries? In other words, preying upon the weak has changed from cutting off noses to holding people's welfare in one's hands. To some, having one's life destroyed through economic actions, could equate to a long, slow death. In both cases, the perpetrators hold the exploited as having no real value and so act as though the exploited are not even fellow humans. Yes, the mind of some have evolved, but the old cruelties have been replaced by a different kind of cruelty. Of course, by its definition, that is evolution. Maybe the OWS and 99% movement(s) are about an evolved response to the historical cruelties of our time.

Moosehead Lake

What about the violence against animals at factory farms and the violence of humans against nature. Both have become more widespread and efficient.

Kathleen Fisher
Amherst, MA

I am curious how Mr. Pinker describes what has gone on in Iraq and Afghanistan for the last ten years. I wonder what he thinks of the covert operations in Iran and Pakistan are about. What does he think of the details of rendition. How about Bagram? How about Guantanamo?


There should be a rule against writing about someone who has already been the subject of 1001 articles -- most of which say the exact same things. Regardless of the merits of Mr. Pinker's theories, I am thoroughly sick of hearing about him. There's hardly a magazine or newspaper that has not spilled a potful of ink over his new book, and judging from this profile, there is simply nothing new left to say. So many scientific ideas and non-fiction books barely get a glance from the media. It would be wonderful if we could end this myopic focus on just a couple of authors and spread the wealth around a little more. At some point, publicity is self-defeating: I have read so much about Mr. Pinker and his theory of violence that I have absolutely no desire to buy his book. Why bother, when the media has essentially read it, digested it, and repeated it ad nausea for me?

Sequim WA

Hamlet said it best:

Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought;
And enterprises of great pith and moment,
With this regard, their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.

Our natures haven't changed. We're as violent and cruel as we ever were. We're just increasingly hemmed in by our civilizing. Now instead of being overtly beastly, we wallow in bestial entertainments and hoard guns. We suffer the miseries of our stifled anger...and just vote no.

Chicago, IL

"'It’s psychologically astute, given the massive amount of self-serving biases,' he said." And further, "If you want peace, understand psychology."

I wonder if Prof. Pinker would have come to the same conclusions if he had written his book in Kabul or Congo, rather than Cape Cod and Cambridge. Call it the fallacy of "immediacy" or of "near/far" or just "us and them", although as a psychologist Prof. Pinker would be able to provide the proper scientific term for it.

One could equally well argue that the modern state-upon-state violence is far more lethal than older tribe-upon-tribe one, although modern states have mastered the art of lofty justificatory rhetoric to a far greater extent, through great - perhaps evolutionary - refinements in the arts of the technicians of the word such as Prof. Pinker himself. If there is evolution then, it is still in Prof. Pinker's old specialty, language, which can spin its magical web even around most gruesome acts of violence. Prof. Pinker should look further into linguistic bases of civilization. He would then be able to see the primary difference between violence perpetrated by the Congolese and by the Americans, to take just two random examples.

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