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It’s hard to understand why anyone takes Steven Pinker seriously.

Stalin's boots/Lastno Delo

Explaining why he thinks violence is declining in the world, he writes

Self-interest and sociality combine with reason to lay out a morality in which non-violence is a goal. If one agent says, “It’s bad for you to hurt me”, he has also committed to “It’s bad for me to hurt you”, because logic cannot tell the difference between ‘me’ and ‘you’. Therefore as soon as you try to persuade someone to avoid harming you by appealing to reasons why he shouldn’t, you’re sucked into a commitment to the avoidance of harm as a general goal.”

To which David Tyler replies ,

This argument is one that has eluded me. I can tell the difference between ‘me’ and ‘you’ because we are two distinct individuals and not clones of each other. I can envisage a situation where I could gain an advantage from hurting my benefactor, and logic would not be able to prevent me taking that advantage. I am not the only one who thinks Pinker is out of his depth on the grounds for morality.

Actually, it’s not beyond the reach of anyone who can understand the difference between, “I called you” and “You called me.”

Also: Why does anyone think that, in general, violence in the world is decreasing? What about the twentieth century would lead an alert observer to think so? David Tyler also rightly points out that many forms of violence are simply not classified as such, even if they are experienced that way – slavery and forced labour come quickly to mind, as does servitude of women under threat of violence.

There are large areas of the world where organized public violence is uncommon, notably Europe and North America, and a reasonable account of this fact would have been interesting. But you won’t be hearing it from Pinker, who prattles about “ a range of ideas that flourished in that [20th] century, including science, reason, secularism, Darwinism and the ideal of progress,” not about

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

or “Canada is founded on the supremacy of God and the rule of law.”


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