Thursday, June 09, 2016

Blank Slating

I'm slogging through Stephen Pinker's The Blank Slate, and it is a bit of a slog - a couple of my relatives have pronounced it long-winded. This book is now about 13 years old, and I'm not sure how much the present is like the situation back then, but he is fighting what he believes is a deeply misguided attack on Sociobiology and Evolutionary Psychology, mainly (but not only) from the academic left.

So far, his heaviest fire is aimed at scientists who really should know better: Richard Lewontin, Steven Rose, Stephen Jay Gould, and Leon Kamin. Lewontin and Rose, in particular, are doctrinaire Marxists and derive their opposition from Marxian pipe dreams of human perfectability. The core of their opposition is derived from the belief that a genetic human nature can be used to justify racism, sexism, genocide and other evils. Pinker's response has three points: the facts show that there is a genetic human nature, that doesn't justify any of the aforementioned evils, and finally, that most of the greatest crimes against humanity have been committed in the name of Marxist and other totalitarian efforts to force humans into one Procrustean bed or another.

I remember reading Gould and Rose on the subject many years ago, and recall thinking that their arguments fell well short of logical rigor, but Pinker is a detailed and devastating critic.