From Jerry Coyne at Washington Post:
Here Wolfe’s victims are two renowned scholars, Charles Darwin and Noam Chomsky, whom he considers the most vocal exponents of the “hardwired” school of language. But Wolfe’s argument ultimately backfires, for the book grossly distorts the theory of evolution, the claims of linguistics and the controversies about their connection. Finally, after misleading the reader for nearly 200 pages, Wolfe proposes his own theory of how language began — a theory far less plausible than the ones he mocks.
Using the surgical kit of New Journalism, Wolfe flays Darwin and Chomsky as imperious, self-aggrandizing snobs, each humiliated by a lower-class “clueless outsider who crashes the party of the big thinkers.” In Darwin’s case it was the naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, who not only hit on the idea of natural selection at roughly the same time as Darwin, but then argued that it couldn’t explain important aspects of humanity.More.
And it hasn’t explained them. Even great physicists would probably agree with that, re consciousness. Most theories are not so much wrong but ridiculous.
Anyone who exposes Darwinism is “misleading,” of course. The story just changes. It doesn’t matter what the critics have to say or where they’re coming from or what evidence they have. Darwinism is much, much bigger than science.
Darwin was and Chomsky is an “imperious, self-aggrandizing snob.” That doesn’t make either wrong but it does make both mockable.
The new atheist Darwin cult is bound to resent having its icon subjected to the same treatment meted out to, say, society hostesses who entertain felons (“radical chic,” in Wolfe’s words.)
Suggestion: Get used to it.
See also: This time, Jerry Coyne is mad at NPR: Weren’t hard enough on Tom Wolfe, author of The Kingdom of Speech
NPR’s interview with Tom Wolfe on his new book: It’s hardly surprising that Wolfe was attracted to this topic because his specialty is debunking pretensions, and Darwinism is ripe for debunking. Efforts to pretend that orangutans sort of speak are ridiculous but people are forced to take them seriously, or anyway, pretend to.
New York Times on “What a tease!” Wolfe’s Kingdom of Speech
No one familiar with the scene thinks this honeymoon with Wolfe will last. It’s more like this: The intelligentsia may even realize that Wolfe means to put Darwin alongside Andy Warhol as a cultural artifact (and isn’t just having a lark). But if they savaged him just now, directly over this book, they would only be attracting attention to its thesis and demonstrating fear. No, later they’ll turn on him like a rattlesnake grabbed by the tail. Chances are, on a pretext of something else.
Chronicle Higher Ed review of Wolfe’s Kingdom of Speech
Prediction: Wolfe has damaged his reputation by blaspheming secular icons that are beyond reproach (Darwin, Chomsky) and thus will be remembered only among those who love facts and ideas.
Linguist Noel Rude on Wolfe’s Kingdom of Speech: Human language is the clearest window into the human soul.
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