Wednesday, February 28, 2018

In case you forgot how much alt-right Claire Lehmann hates feminists...

I assume somebody is paying alt-right Claire Lehmann of alt-right Quillette to be such a hateful misogynist, the way the Koch brothers pay Christina Hoff Sommers. I actually hope so, otherwise there is something horribly wrong with Claire Lehmann that she is so obsessed with hating feminism and spewing bile on a daily basis.

Did a feminist kill alt-right Claire Lehmann's father?

And here's Justin Trudeau's ghostwriter Jonathan Kay re-tweeting an attack on Trudeau. Wow Jonathan Kay is an asshole.

And speaking of Christina Hoff Sommers, she's having a meltdown because - I am not kidding - the Southern Poverty Law Center mentioned her once in passing.  Of course an evo-psycho bro, Ben Winegard, likes it.

This is what they said:
 Prominent MRAs also include anti-feminist female voices, such as popular Canadian YouTube personality Karen Straughan, American psychologist Helen Smith, and the former head of a domestic-violence shelter for women, the British Erin Pizzey. Men’s rights issues also overlap with the rhetoric of equity feminists like Christina Hoff Sommers, who give a mainstream and respectable face to some MRA concerns.

But you know how Koch brothers hacks like to be drama queens.

Apparently it surprises Sommers that in spite of her spending her entire career on wingnut welfare spewing bile against women, she has somehow not become a beloved and respected public intellectual. Poor Christina Hoff Sommers! I'm sure she's crying all the way to the bank.

The Better Angels & Why Nothing Works

Unlike most of the evo-psycho bros discussed in this series, Steven Pinker readily admits to the particular difficulties of black people in the United States. In his Better Angels book he writes:
The decivilizing effects hit African American communities particularly hard. They started out with the historical disadvantages of second-class citizenship, which left many young people teetering between respectable and underclass lifestyles just when the new antiestablishment forces were pushing in the wrong direction. They could count on even less protection from the criminal justice system than white Americans because of the combination of old racism among the police and the new indulgence by the judicial system toward crime, of which they were disproportionately the victims. 126 Mistrust of the criminal justice system turned into cynicism and sometimes paranoia, making self-help justice seem the only alternative. 127 
So far so good. But then he switches to the magic of marriage:
On top of these strikes came a feature of African American family life first pointed out by the sociologist Daniel Patrick Moynihan in his famous 1965 report, The Negro Family: The Case for National Action, for which he was initially vilified but eventually vindicated. 128 A large proportion (today a majority) of black children are born out of wedlock, and many grow up without fathers. This trend, already visible in the early 1960s, may have been multiplied by the sexual revolution and yet again by perverse welfare incentives that encouraged young women to “marry the state” instead of the fathers of their children...  All those young men who aren’t bringing up their children are hanging out with one another competing for dominance instead... the women lacked the bargaining power to force the men into a civilized lifestyle. 
As we've seen, although Pinker points to low rates of marriage as the cause of higher violence he can't point to high rates of marriage as the cause of lower violence because marriage rates were higher during the 1960s and then as marriage rates went down, so did crime rates.

Not every social theorist is as feeble as Steven Pinker, although few are as famous as Steven Pinker. In his book "Why Nothing Works" Marvin Harris also discusses the Moynihan theory:
...Lacking a proper “role model,” black youths drop out of school and follow a career of delinquency and crime. Daniel Moynihan used this line of reasoning to reach his controversial conclusion that the way to solve the problems of the inner cities was to concentrate on building stable home lives for ghetto youngsters... but do blacks have such high unemployment rates because they have so many fatherless families or do they have so many fatherless families because they have such high unemployment rates? 
In my view it is unemployment that causes the fatherless family, not the fatherless family that causes unemployment. Numerous anthropological studies have shown that mother-centered, father-absent families occur wherever men have trouble finding steady jobs and women can earn as much as or more than men.  
If men are frequently out of work, and make too little to support a family when they do work, it does not pay for a woman who has an income of her own to commit herself permanently in marriage to one man. She is better off keeping her options open and accepting male consorts in temporary liaisons, letting them live with her when they can make supplementary contributions to the household, and putting them out of the house when they become a burden. 
 Quoted above, Pinker mentions 'perverse welfare incentives that encouraged young women to “marry the state” instead of the fathers of their children.'

In this Harris agrees, but while Pinker just tosses off a half-sentence, Harris goes on for many pages explaining what those perverse welfare incentives are and exactly how they work. As a result of all that analysis Harris realizes that the fatherless issue was not because women were romantically disadvantaged by the sexual revolution, but rather:
...AFDC with all of its penalties and humiliations looms as the best of a lot of bad bargains. Opting for a career as an AFDC mother provides inner-city women with an income that is at least sufficient for renting an apartment. This not only assures them that they will have a place to live, but it gives them a considerable amount of leverage in interpersonal affairs, especially with inner-city men who often lack a place to sleep.  
Since AFDC women are automatically entitled to medicaid, free medical care is an additional inducement for getting on AFDC (although I would not want to include forgone medical bills in calculating AFDC family income the way some economists do as proof that AFDC benefits are set too high—families cannot eat a paid doctor’s bill). 
In a world without stability and assets, AFDC therefore is a kind of nest egg, a vital resource that puts women and motherhood at the center of things. Inner-city men respect women who have this resource; they vie with each other for their favors. And by having children with them the men establish a claim on the shelter which women control...
In spite of what many American conservatives believe, AFDC is not only for black people. As a struggling young single mother I also once received AFDC, and I am from a working class white family with two parents.

In Better Angels, Pinker dismisses the role of unemployment in 1960s violence:
The rebounding of violence in the 1960s defied every expectation. The decade was a time of unprecedented economic growth, nearly full employment, levels of economic equality for which people today are nostalgic, historic racial progress, and the blossoming of government social programs, not to mention medical advances that made victims more likely to survive being shot or knifed...
But Harris explains that was not the case for blacks concentrated in large cities:
...during and after World War II blacks migrated in unprecedented numbers from farms to cities in search of union-wage factory jobs. 
This was scarcely a voluntary movement since it coincided with the end of the epoch of small farms and with the final stages of the industrialization of agriculture. But it was precisely during this same period that the great shift from goods production to service-and-information production was taking place. 
This resulted in a massive pile-up of unemployed black workers inside the run-down cores of the nation’s largest cities. Why wasn’t this great army of unskilled workers called upon to take part in the explosive expansion of the new information-and-people-processing economy? Because, as we already know, the growth of the service economy coincided with—was predicated upon—the mass conversion of the reserve army of white housewives from baby production and services in the home to the production of services and information away from home...
...Between 1974 and 1977, while the proportion of new jobs acquired by white women in the private sector increased by 72 percent, the proportion acquired by black men decreased by 11 percent. As white women intensify their struggle to achieve parity with males at all levels of the workforce, they are not only dimming the prospects for black males to find dead-end jobs as clerks, secretaries, hot dog vendors, and filling station attendants, but they are rapidly eroding the gains made by black men during the 1960s in good jobs at middle management levels. 
So to sum up Harris's argument:
  1. In the 1940s blacks began to migrate to cities in search of jobs.
  2. They had to compete with white women who had also begun to search for jobs.
  3. Employers preferred the usually better-educated white women to blacks.
  4. Black unemployment lead to a dependence on welfare.
  5. Welfare's "perverse incentives" made two-parent families impossible.
  6. Blacks were less likely to get married.
Unemployment is related to crime. As Harris writes:
I have to take note of a body of scholarly opinion which claims that poverty in general has little to do with the high rate of criminal violence in the United States and therefore that black unemployment and poverty are not sufficient in themselves to account for the extraordinarily high rates of black crime.  
True enough, if one simply compares crime rates by states or cities, those with low per capita incomes do not necessarily have high rates of criminal violence. But the poverty of the black ghetto is different from the poverty of rural whites or of an earlier generation of urban ethnics.  
Unlike the rural poor, inner-city blacks have the opportunity as well as the motive to commit violent crimes. The city is an ideal setting for finding and surprising one’s victims and successfully eluding the police. One can scarcely mug a farmer in a cornfield and expect to get away with it.  
Also, unlike the European immigrants of previous generations, with the passage of time blacks have become more and not less concentrated inside their ghettos. The lesson of the four decades since 1940 is that only a tiny percentage of blacks born in the inner cities will ever earn enough money to participate in the American dream. Under these conditions, the benefits of criminal behavior easily outweigh the risks of getting caught and being sent to jail.  
John Conyers, himself a member of the black congressional caucus, writes: “When survival is at stake, it should not be surprising that criminal activity begins to resemble an opportunity rather than a cost, work rather than deviance, and a possibly profitable undertaking that is superior to a coerced existence directed by welfare bureaucrats.”
For many black youths there is no opposition between crime and a career. Crime is their career. That is the main reason, it seems to me, why 70 percent of blacks who have gone to jail once will go to jail at least once again.
The excellent Rick Burns series on New York explains how blacks became more concentrated inside ghettos, starting with the Depression, then made worse by racist government policies.

From Marvin Harris we get fully-explained, carefully reasoned explanations based on a single coherent research strategy - cultural materialism.

From Steven Pinker we get contradictory tossed-off explanations that use an eclectic mix of cultural materialism, idealism (idealism in the sense that ideas drive culture) and of course sociobiology.

Pinker uses the "young male competition" theory of Daly and Wilson based on work by Napoleon Chagnon, studying the Yanomami - which R. Brian Ferguson demonstrates doesn't even show what Daly and Wilson claims.

Though I am skeptical of theories of parental influence that say that fatherless boys grow up violent because they lack a role model or paternal discipline (Moynihan himself, for example, grew up without a father), widespread fatherlessness can lead to violence for a different reason. 130 All those young men who aren’t bringing up their children are hanging out with one another competing for dominance instead. The mixture was as combustible in the inner city as it had been in the cowboy saloons and mining camps of the Wild West, this time not because there were no women around but because the women lacked the bargaining power to force the men into a civilized lifestyle.
Pinker blames the perverse incentives of the welfare system but then ignores what actually happens in the welfare system and instead falls back on a sociobiology theory about women lacking "bargaining power."

As Harris demonstrated, thanks to the AFDC system it was the women who were reluctant to get married and trade the dependable AFDC income for the undependable income of sometimes unemployed men.

Pinker presents ideas that often don't explain anything and don't fit together as a coherent whole. So eventually he has to give up and fall back on the omnipotence of thought. We'll talk about that next.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The Better Angels: Steven Pinker & Mr. McBobo

So there was lots of social unrest and violence in the 1960s and Steve Pinker focuses on those dirty hippies as a cause while ignoring the impact of the Vietnam war.

And he didn't like post-60s pop music either:
One way in which the 1990s did not overturn the decivilization of the 1960s is in popular culture. Many of the popular musicians in recent genres such as punk, metal, goth, grunge, gangsta, and hip-hop make the Rolling Stones look like the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. Hollywood movies are bloodier than ever, unlimited pornography is a mouse-click away, and an entirely new form of violent entertainment, video games, has become a major pastime. Yet as these signs of decadence proliferated in the culture, violence went down in real life. 
The recivilizing process somehow managed to reverse the tide of social dysfunction without turning the cultural clock back to Ozzie and Harriet.
"Somehow" - Steven Pinker often writes like he has all the answers but he's actually useless at explaining things. He blithely admits that things changed back to "civilization" while the music was even more naughty. As with marriage, Pinker uses pop music to explain violence and then completely contradicts himself.

And he doesn't seem to be aware of the problem.

The insistence on deprecating the efficacy of socialization leads Pinker into absurdities that he handles with a blitheness that would be charming if his self-assurance were not so overdeveloped.
Pinker reminds me of David Brooks, who recently shared his love of Steven Pinker in the New York Times. He's only slightly more worshipful than the Guardian and Jesse Singal:
Pinker is a paragon of exactly the kind of intellectual honesty and courage we need to restore conversation and community, and the students are right to revere him.
David Brooks has long been known as a dumbass, as this Tom Tomorrow cartoon from 2005 illustrates.

Steven Pinker's soulmate

And with his shallow, lazy, traditionalist analysis of modern times, David Brooks is Steven Pinker's soulmate.

Pinker gives Brooks a shout-out in Better Angels:
In his 2000 book Bobos in Paradise, the journalist David Brooks observed that many members of the middle class have become “bourgeois bohemians” who affect the look of people at the fringes of society while living a thoroughly conventional lifestyle. 
Most of what Drew Magary in GQ wrote about Brooks could apply to Pinker in his article Why the Hell Does David Brooks Still Have a Job?:
I am left perpetually and utterly baffled as to how Brooks is allowed to pump out columns as execrable as the one he posted on Russiagate (or as I prefer to call the scandal: Urineburg) today. Please note that Brooks was already on a remarkable take bender this week when he posted this missive about deadbeat dads (some of them care, you guys!). But that wasn’t nearly enough. Now, he had to double down and offer additional proof that his superiors (maybe he doesn’t have any?) definitely don’t read any of the horrible he shit he puts in print. How else to explain this pile of shit?
I was the op-ed editor at The Wall Street Journal at the peak of the Whitewater scandal. We ran a series of investigative pieces “raising serious questions” (as we say in the scandal business) about the nefarious things the Clintons were thought to have done back in Arkansas. 
Now I confess I couldn’t follow all the actual allegations made in those essays. They were six jungles deep in the weeds. But I do remember the intense atmosphere that the scandal created. A series of bombshell revelations came out in the media, which seemed monumental at the time. A special prosecutor was appointed and indictments were expected. Speculation became the national sport. 
In retrospect Whitewater seems overblown. And yet it has to be confessed that, at least so far, the Whitewater scandal was far more substantive than the Russia-collusion scandal now gripping Washington.
I am a truly lazy man. I’m known to openly groan if I sit down only to realize the remote control is out of reach. But even I can’t match the sheer, unbridled, galling laziness of Brooks here, who was apparently too busy to learn the intricacies of a bone-dry real estate investigation his own paper conducted, but has no problem at all declaring that scandal more damning than the current Russia clusterfuck.
It's a safe bet that no matter how clueless, out-of-touch, shallow and just plain wrong their statements continue to be, neither Brooks nor Pinker will ever be out of a job. There will always be people out there, by the thousands, impressed by their bullshit.

And in his hurry to condemn punk and other post-60s forms of pop-music, of course Pinker is blind to anything good about them. As Wiki says about the Clash:
Critic Sean Egan wrote that the Clash were exceptional because:
They were a group whose music was, and is, special to their audience because that music insisted on addressing the conditions of poverty, petty injustice, and mundane life experienced by the people who bought their records. Moreover, although their rebel stances were often no more than posturing, from the Clash's stubborn principles came a fundamental change in the perception of what is possible in the music industry, from subject matter to authenticity to quality control to price ceilings.[4]
My ex-boyfriend the pacifist vegetarian rushed right out to get tickets to see The Clash when they came to Philadelphia.

I don't know what Pinker was listening to post-1960s. Billy Joel maybe?

Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Better Angels: damn you Keith Moon

And here you thought the Beatles
were all about peace & love
The crime wave of the 1960s - it was the hippies' fault.

Or as Steven Pinker says in his Better Angels book:
...I think Wilson was on to something when he linked the 1960s crime boom to a kind of intergenerational decivilizing process. 
He rules out infrastructure determinism:
The backsliding, to be sure, did not originate in the two prime movers of Elias’s Civilizing Process. Government control did not retreat into anarchy, as it had in the American West and in newly independent third-world countries, nor did an economy based on commerce and specialization give way to feudalism and barter. 

because he's going for idealism:
...the psychological change toward greater self-control and interdependence—came under steady assault in the counterculture of the generation that came of age in the 1960s.
and the socio-biological magic of marriage:
Together with self-control and societal connectedness, a third ideal came under attack: marriage and family life, which had done so much to domesticate male violence in the preceding decades. The idea that a man and a woman should devote their energies to a monogamous relationship in which they raise their children in a safe environment became a target of howling ridicule. That life was now the soulless, conformist, consumerist, materialist, tickytacky, plastic, white-bread, Ozzie and Harriet suburban wasteland. I don’t remember anyone in the 1960s blowing his nose into a tablecloth, but popular culture did celebrate the flouting of standards of cleanliness, propriety, and sexual continence. 
Pinker does offer some other ideas, but the most obvious reason for the existence of hippie attitudes in the 1960s - the Vietnam War - is mentioned just in passing:
After having been steadily beaten down by the informalizing process, the elites then suffered a second hit to their legitimacy. The civil rights movement had exposed a moral blot on the American establishment, and as critics shone a light on other parts of society, more stains came into view. Among them were the threat of a nuclear holocaust, the pervasiveness of poverty, the mistreatment of Native Americans, the many illiberal military interventions, particularly the Vietnam War, and later the despoliation of the environment and the oppression of women and homosexuals. The stated enemy of the Western establishment, Marxism, gained prestige as it made inroads in third-world “liberation” movements, and it was increasingly embraced by bohemians and fashionable intellectuals. Surveys of popular opinion from the 1960s through the 1990s showed a plummeting of trust in every social institution. 117
Pinker doesn't consider the Vietnam war, which ended in 1975, as a major driver of young peoples' attitudes. Perhaps because he is Canadian and never in any danger of being drafted.

But he has plenty to say about naughty rock and roll album covers and Keith Moon.
One could trace the reversal of conventions of propriety on album covers alone (figure 3–17). There was The Who Sell Out , with a sauce-dribbling Roger Daltrey immersed in a bath of baked beans; the Beatles’ Yesterday and Today, with the lovable moptops adorned with chunks of raw meat and decapitated dolls (quickly recalled); the Rolling Stones’ Beggars Banquet , with a photo of a filthy public toilet (originally censored); and Who’s Next , in which the four musicians are shown zipping up their flies while walking away from a urinespattered wall. The flouting of propriety extended to famous live performances, as when Jimi Hendrix pretended to copulate with his amplifier at the Monterey Pop Festival. 
Throwing away your wristwatch or bathing in baked beans is, of course, a far cry from committing actual violence. The 1960s were supposed to be the era of peace and love, and so they were in some respects. But the glorification of dissoluteness shaded into an indulgence of violence and then into violence itself. At the end of every concert, The Who famously smashed their instruments to smithereens, which could be dismissed as harmless theater were it not for the fact that drummer Keith Moon also destroyed dozens of hotel rooms, partly deafened Pete Townshend by detonating his drums onstage, beat up his wife, girlfriend, and daughter, paid a thug to break the fingers of a keyboardist of the Faces for dating his ex-wife, and accidentally killed his bodyguard by running over him with his car before dying himself in 1978 of the customary drug overdose.
So where did all this mayhem come from? Apparently it was just a seemingly randomly-timed mass decision:
Many young men decided that they ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more and, instead of pursuing a respectable family life, hung out in all-male packs that spawned the familiar cycle of competition for dominance, insult or minor aggression, and violent retaliation. The sexual revolution, which provided men with plentiful sexual opportunities without the responsibilities of marriage, added to this dubious freedom.
I've already dispensed with the idea that more marriage = less violence. Marriage rates were quite high in the 1960s and marriage and violence rates both dropped together since then. But Pinker thinks marriage is everything, especially for African Americans:
...A large proportion (today a majority) of black children are born out of wedlock, and many grow up without fathers. This trend, already visible in the early 1960s, may have been multiplied by the sexual revolution and yet again by perverse welfare incentives that encouraged young women to “marry the state” instead of the fathers of their children. 
But let's go back to that Beatles album cover that so deeply shocks Steven Pinker. This is from a Rolling Stone article:
Against his better judgment, Livingston ordered the sleeve into production. Three quarters of a million albums were printed, with a reported 60,000 copies sent to media contacts and retailers in advance of the June 15th release date. Predictably, most balked at the gory cover. "Word came back very fast that the dealers would not touch it. They would not put the album in their stores," Livingston said. Lennon, however, remained defiant. "It's as relevant as Vietnam," he said during a press conference at the time. "If the public can accept something as cruel as the war, they can accept this cover."
Notice the reference to Vietnam.

And at the time of the photo shoot in March 1966 three of the four Beatles were married and in three years Paul McCartney would marry the woman who would be his wife for the next twenty-nine years, ending with her death from cancer.

We can see how feeble Pinker's marriage-centric view of male behavior in the 1960s is because when it comes to explaining the lessening of crime, he drops it completely and has to fall back on eclectic incoherence:

First it's infrastructure:
So how can we explain the recent crime decline? Many social scientists have tried, and the best that they can come up with is that the decline had multiple causes, and no one can be certain what they were, because too many things happened at once. 154 Nonetheless, I think two overarching explanations are plausible. The first is that the Leviathan got bigger, smarter, and more effective.
 Then it's just, people got tired of crime.
The second is that the Civilizing Process, which the counterculture had tried to reverse in the 1960s, was restored to its forward direction. Indeed, it seems to have entered a new phase. By the early 1990s, Americans had gotten sick of the muggers, vandals, and drive-by shootings...
Steven Pinker really didn't like 20th century pop culture. He thought modern art was crap and he thought that rock and roll music was grungy and disrespectful and decivilizing.

He claims to be a member of the baby boom generation but he sounds like their grandparents.

And in his hurry to dismiss The Who as a bunch of hooligans, he misses the artistry and the social commentary of their music. One of their most popular songs "Won't Get Fooled Again" was
...originally intended for a rock opera Townshend had been working on, Lifehouse, which was a multi-media exercise based on his followings of the Indian religious avatar Meher Baba, showing how spiritual enlightenment could be obtained via a combination of band and audience.[1] The song was written for the end of the opera, after the main character, Bobby, is killed and the "universal chord" is sounded. 
And an April 2006 editorial for Time magazine, retired United States Marine Corps Lieutenant General Greg Newbold referenced the song, labeling it an "antiwar anthem" that "conveyed a sense of betrayal by the nation's leaders, who had led our country into a costly and unnecessary war in Vietnam.
Seems like everybody but Steven Pinker gets the connection between 1960s pop culture and the Vietnam War.

The lyrics to "Won't Get Fooled Again" are also illuminating:
The change, it had to come
We knew it all along
We were liberated from the fold, that's all
And the world looks just the same
And history ain't changed
'Cause the banners, they are flown in the next war
I'll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I'll get on my knees and pray
We don't get fooled again, no, no

And it made for a hell of a live stage performance.

Unfortunately the video above has been removed from Youtube. Here is another one, which is not quite as good - Pete Townsend is slightly less hyperkinetic in this one and there's no knee-sliding across the stage heading right at the camera. At least there's plenty of Townsend's trademark windmill guitar playing. Although I was disappointed that he refrained from another trademark - often at the end of the line "you know that the hypnotized never lie" he would yell "do yah!" at the audience. Not this time, alas.

Keith Moon died at 35 and John Entwistle died at 57 but Daltry age 73 and Townsend, 72 are both still alive. They certainly got plenty of exercise back in the day.

And here is a performance of "Happy Jack" by the Who with nice footage of a wailing Keith Moon.

Enjoy, evo-psycho buzzkills!

More wisdom from Claire Lehmann

What did Camille Paglia say about civilization and grass huts? This:

"If civilization had been left in female hands, we would still be living in grass huts."

    Steven Pinker identified Camille Paglia as a "feminist" in The Blank Slate proving that evo-psychos only like feminists who hate women.

    I've pointed out before that alt-right Claire Lehmann is suffering from internalized misogyny. What further proof is there needed than this tweet?

    No wonder the evo-psycho bros love her. She's their ideal woman - fully prepared to agree with those who believe women are inferior forms of human beings and that men are the gold standard of humanity

    Ayn Rand & Steven Pinker

    One of those discussing my work re: Steven Pinker over at Steve Sailer's column at Unz, "PhysicistDave" went off-topic to talk about my commentary about Ayn Rand.

    Ms. McLernan has a psychologically interesting (negative) fixation on Ayn Rand, which results in some (unintentionally) funny remarks. E.g., 
    One of the useful aspects of Ayn Rand is that she hid nothing of what she thought – thanks to her own inability to dissemble (which I suspect is the result of her undiagnosed Asperger’s syndrome)…
    Note: McLernan is attacking Rand because of Rand’s supposed inability to lie. Alas, anyone who is aware of the details of the famous Rand/Branden affair (as McLernan is) knows that Rand was capable of lying through her teeth. (I suppose McLernan would claim that Rand was not very good at it!)
    What a bizarre thing to believe - that I attacked Ayn Rand because of her inability to lie. Who would believe that about even their worst enemy? They attack people for their honesty.

    And how do I "attack" her? By suggesting she had Asperger's? 

    Right-wing racists really do think differently from the rest of us.

    One of the useful aspects of Ayn Rand is that she hid nothing of what she thought - thanks to her own inability to dissemble (which I suspect is the result of her undiagnosed Asperger's syndrome) combined with her publisher's disinclination to edit Atlas Shrugged for fear of a Rand tantrum resulting in the loss of income, we get a pure unfiltered hit of the belief that: 
    (quoting Corey Robin here)
    a world thus emancipated will be ugly, brutish, and dull. It will lack the excellence of a world where the better man commands the worse.
    Boy howdy, is that the essence of the Rand world-view. And because she was such a bad novelist, not only is the world of Atlas Shrugged ugly, brutish and dull, as the result of the tyranny of the worser men over the better, but the worser men themselves are ugly, brutish and dull.
    PhysicistDave mentions my play with a Rand character, DARK MARKET. 

    Thanks to the Trump administration I dropped that play, for now anyway. The bad decisions of Alan Greenspan influenced in part by Ayn Rand seemed like a big deal during the Obama administration, but they seem like nothing compared to the treasonous insanity of the Trump administration, so it doesn't seem worth talking about right now. Once the Trump administration is over... hopefully soon...

    Anyway as far as Ayn Rand's inability to lie: she could not dissemble about her "premises." And dissembling is not the precise same thing as lying.

    But also as these statements from September 1968 make clear, Rand had help when lying about her affair with Branden - including from Alan Greenspan. It's my understanding that after this letter she refused to talk about Nathaniel Branden at all. So she'd hardly have an opportunity to lie, alone and off-the-cuff, about the Branden affair.

    I certainly did write a lot about Ayn Rand on this blog for a period of a couple of years, but for the past almost two months my fixation is on Steven Pinker and his connections to the alt-right, which very much includes his connection to Steve Sailer.

    While looking at other comments on Sailer's post, I was amused to see echoes of what others, including me have been saying:
    Yes I agree that Pinker is crafty about where he stops defending honest people by name, and switches to a broad-based blanket-defence, simply arguing for allowing honest discussion of all viewpoints. So for example he was willing to defend Lawrence Summers by name, but only would defend Jason Richwine and James Watson in a general sense. So, yes, he does scamper away when the SJW lynch-parties get truly fierce. Is that smart or cowardly, or a little bit of both?
    I believe the mot juste is "weaselly."

    The most telling aspect of Pinker's denial that he agrees with racialists about black intelligence, I think, is that he never explains why he thinks the racialists are wrong. It's a pretty important issue, you'd think he would address it. Instead he consistently pivots to talking about the meanies who criticize, for instance, The Bell Curve, for its racism.

    But isn't it nice that I can find common ground on at least this one thing with people I agree with about nothing else?

    Saturday, February 24, 2018

    Evo-psychos & SJWs & Brocialists oh my

    Somebody named MEH 0910 is talking about me at UNZ.

    He practically reposts my entire item Steven Pinker and Steve Sailer: remuneration not repudiation in the discussion under Sailer's post indicating he hasn't read Steven Pinker's latest book.

    MEH 0910 follows up his own comment by writing:
    Interestingly, she also has problems with Social Justice Warriors.
    As I discussed in this post, I have problems with plenty of other groups besides evo-psychos/human biodiversity proponents.

    Although brocialists and social justice warriors mostly hate each other, they all generally agree that the real problem in the world isn't the Right, it's liberals and feminists. 

    In this, they agree with the evo-psycho/HBD gang. 

    So, basically, if you routinely attack liberals and feminists I'm not going to like you.

    But here's the thing - no matter how objectionable Robin DiAngelo (SJW) or Doug Henwood (brocialist) is, it still doesn't make human biodiversity or evolutionary psychology correct.

    The Better Angels & the magic of marriage

    Conservatives believe that marriage is the cure for poverty. As Jonathan Chait writes in The Atlantic How Marriage Became the Republican Answer to Inequality:
    ...a Wall Street Journal op-ed by former Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer, headlined, “How to Fight Income Inequality: Get Married,” sanctifying the role of marriage as official Republican party-line response to poverty and inequality... 
    ...One can debate the degree to which the absence of marriage results from a lack of economic opportunities versus the degree to which it causes them. Liberals emphasize one interpretation, conservatives the other. 
    But even if we assume the correlation runs entirely in the direction asserted by conservatives, there is no way to read the data and conclude that marriage amounts to the entire economic gap, or anywhere close. To take one example, an adult mother is more than twice as likely to be poor if she grew up poor but with two parents than if she grew up non-poor with a single parent:

    It seems that growing up in poverty is more likely the cause of impoverished motherhood than growing up with a single mother.

    But as we will see, Steven Pinker, like conservatives, isn't too concerned about demonstrating actual cause and effect when it comes to marriage.

    In the same chapter "The Civilizing Process" where Pinker started out with an infrastructural approach to social changes, he switches back to sociobiology/evolutionary psychology.

    He writes: Daly and Wilson have noted, “any creature that is recognizably on track toward complete reproductive failure must somehow expend effort, often at risk of death, to try to improve its present life trajectory.”  The ecosystem that selects for the “dad” setting is one with an equal number of men and women and monogamous matchups between them. In those circumstances, violent competition offers the men no reproductive advantages, but it does threaten them with a big disadvantage: a man cannot support his children if he is dead... 
    ...The idea that young men are civilized by women and marriage may seem as corny as Kansas in August, but it has become a commonplace of modern criminology. A famous study that tracked a thousand low-income Boston teenagers for forty-five years discovered that two factors predicted whether a delinquent would go on to avoid a life of crime: getting a stable job, and marrying a woman he cared about and supporting her and her children. The effect of marriage was substantial: three-quarters of the bachelors, but only a third of the husbands, went on to commit more crimes. This difference alone cannot tell us whether marriage keeps men away from crime or career criminals are less likely to get married, but the sociologists Robert Sampson, John Laub, and Christopher Wimer have shown that marriage really does seem to be a pacifying cause. 
    Those last two sentences are exactly what Marvin Harris was talking about, quoted in the last post on this subject: "Eclecticism consists of the refusal to state what generally determines what."

    First Pinker says we cannot tell whether marriage keeps men away from crime or if career criminals are less likely to get married. And then says marriage seems to be the cause.

    As Louis Menand in his review said: "Having it both ways is an irritating feature of "The Blank Slate."

    And there he is doing it in "Better Angels." You can't say we don't know if marriage is the cause or effect and then in the very same sentence say it seems to be the cause. If you have decided that something is the cause, you argue for it. What kind of rhetorical bullshit is that, to say "we don't know" and then declare we do know in the same sentence?

    But the notion that marriage civilizes men would appear to be wrong to anybody who gives it two seconds of reflection, and especially in view of Pinker's argument that violence has been declining since the rise of the nation-state and capitalism.

    Throughout most of recorded human history women have been compelled by custom and economics to get married. The prohibitions, especially for women, against sex outside of marriage combined with limited economic options made marriage unavoidable for most women. So most people got married throughout most of human history. It doesn't appear to have had any impact whatsoever on how men have behaved.

    And in fact, as most sentient adults know, marriage rates declined in the latter half of the twentieth century and are at the lowest rate, right now, in the history of the United States. The very time-period that, per Pinker, violence is decreasing.

    In Pinker's "History of Violence Master Class" at Edge in 2011 he offers these charts:

    And provides this chart based on FBI data:

    Pinker doesn't provide any marriage statistics for this time period - they would show immediately that marriage was declining at the same time violence was. It's easy enough to find such charts, like this CDC-sourced chart via the Washington Post.

    I edited  and combined the murder and marriage charts to match up the time-spans and it becomes even clearer.

    This doesn't prove that marriage was the cause of the murder rate, of course, but it damn sure proves marriage was not the cause of the decrease in violence.

    Pinker doesn't seem to have noticed any of this. He writes:
    The women's rights movement has seen an 80 percent reduction in rape since the early '70s when it was put on the agenda as a feminist issue. There has also been a two-thirds decline in domestic violence, spousal abuse, or wife beating, and a 50 percent decline in husband beating. In the most extreme form of domestic violence, namely uxoricide and matricide*, there's been a decline both in the number of wives that are murdered by their husband's and the number of husbands that have been murdered by their wives. In fact, the decrease is much more dramatic for husbands. Feminism has been very good to men, who are now much more likely to survive a marriage without getting murdered by their wives.
    Like alt-right Claire Lehmann, Steven Pinker seems to believe in the mighty power of feminist rhetoric to make vast changes in socioeconomic conditions, so he doesn't bother to look at the connection between marriage rates and violence.

    As a feminist I'd love to believe that what I say is so influential, but the actual change in domestic violence was thanks to the no-fault divorce laws. The first was enacted in 1969, signed into law by Ronald Reagan. Feminist rhetoric was still a subcultural phenomenon, and it's unlikely more than a small percentage of women called themselves feminists in 1969.

    As with women working outside of the home, feminism was the result of no-fault (aka "unilateral") divorce, not the cause.

    It was the change in divorce laws that saved women's lives - not only from their husbands but from themselves, as indicated in this chart from the paper ‘Til Death Do Us Part: Effects of Divorce Laws on Suicide and Intimate Homicide':

    But Steven Pinker, in the eclectic tradition, doesn't seem concerned with whether something is a cause or an effect, which makes his theories useless.

    He's talking a lot but he's not saying anything. That reminds me of a Talking Heads song. Next we'll look at Pinker's view of the influence of rock and roll.

    And remember what he said:
    ...The idea that young men are civilized by women and marriage may seem as corny as Kansas in August, but it has become a commonplace of modern criminology.
    We'll talk about Pinker and modern criminology later.

    *it says "matricide" on the Edge web site but I assume Pinker meant "mariticide."

    Friday, February 23, 2018

    The Better Angels and the three research strategies

    Thanks for adding to my argument about your
    connections to the alt-right Steven Pinker.
    I spoke too soon when I mentioned Steven Pinker hasn't tweeted a recommendation for anything in Quillette since January 31 - he just recommended the article I discussed in my previous Pinker post.

    You can't tell Pinker and his fanboys that evolutionary psychology is not the same as evidence because they are True Believers and it bothers them not at all that their theories based on strict adaptationist speculations are untestable. They just explain their theories about lady brains, declare victory and then try to make social policy based on this assumed victory.

    Speaking of which back to "Better Angels."

    I have limited myself to just a few sections of Better Angels, starting with the preface in which Pinker explains the evolutionary psychology connection to his book:
    ...I first learned of the decline of violence from Martin Daly and Margo Wilson’s classic book in evolutionary psychology, Homicide , in which they examined the high rates of violent death in nonstate societies and the decline in homicide from the Middle Ages to the present.
    In his superb paper, Materialist, cultural and biological theories for why the Yanomami make war by R. Brian Ferguson, which is like a Rosetta Stone of three "research strategies" Ferguson critiques the work of Daly and Wilson:
    Besides Chagnon’s own theory, many other evolutionary biology explanations of war are falsified by Yanomami material. Consider first the pre-eminent evolutionary psychology theorists on homicide, Margo Wilson and Martin Daly, who refer to Chagnon’s work frequently. They argue (Wilson and Daly, 1985; Daly and Wilson, 1988: 168–71) that competition for reproductive success is greatest among young males, and that this has led to an evolved predisposition to use violence. Their primary data set is homicide rates in Detroit and Canada, where the peak of homicide offenders is between the ages of 20 and 29. Of course, they do not claim that homicide confers reproductive success
    today, but rather that this is an expression of a ‘young male syndrome’ that exists because that was the case in the evolutionary history of human violence, a point echoed by Wright (1994: 262). Maschner and Maschner (1998: 22–3) follow Daly and Wilson, and repeatedly cite Chagnon (1988), to claim that all war is driven by reproductively-oriented status striving by ‘males between the ages of approximately 15 and 25–30’. 
    Chagnon’s statistics contradict this idea. A maximum of 6 per cent, and as noted earlier possibly none, of the men in his sample of between 20 and 24 years old had participated in a homicide, and only 12 per cent of the combined categories for 20–30 years old had done so, whereas 62 per cent of the men over 40 were unokai. Chagnon also tells us (1968a: 115, 129–30) that young men are likely to avoid physical confrontations, desert raiding parties, and be reluctant to attack at the last minute. On a raid, young men are kept from the most danger by older men, and are allowed to retreat first. Among the Yanomami, the chosen exemplar of our evolutionary past, killers are (by local standards) middle-aged married men.
    You can read the whole thing for yourself here. It's 17 pages and well worth it.

    I have discovered since my last post that Pinker doesn't only use "idealist" (called "cultural" in the Ferguson paper) and sociobiological ("biological" per Ferguson) research strategies but he also uses cultural materialist ones.

    Pinker adopts "infrastructural determinism" straight out of cultural materialism in order to explain something he calls "the Civilizing Process" except he uses the term "exogenous triggers."

    In the case of lessening European violence he identifies the triggers as "Leviathan" and commerce.
    The Leviathan , a state and judiciary with a monopoly on the legitimate use of force, can defuse the temptation of exploitative attack, inhibit the impulse for revenge, and circumvent the self-serving biases that make all parties believe they are on the side of the angels. 
    Commerce is a positive-sum game in which everybody can win; as technological progress allows the exchange of goods and ideas over longer distances and among larger groups of trading partners, other people become more valuable alive than dead, and they are less likely to become targets of demonization and dehumanization.
    Or as Marvin Harris said in Cultural Materialism: The Struggle for a Science of Culture:
    In Europe, the caste system was swamped by the development of entrepreneurial contracts, the bourgeoisie's challenge to hereditary privileges, and the breakthrough to capitalism.
    Harris then goes on to contrast European feudalism with Indian socioeconomics, which increases the clarity of Harris's explanations of infrastructural determinism.

    But then Harris is a serious scholar.

    The New Yorker review noted Pinker's limitation:
    The scope of Pinker’s attentions is almost entirely confined to Western Europe. There is little discussion in “The Better Angels of Our Nature” about trends in violence in Asia or Africa or South America. Indeed, even the United States poses difficulties for him. 
    Before I get into Pinker's difficulties with the United States I want to share Marvin Harris's thoughts on research strategies.

    First he defines the term:
    By a scientific research strategy I mean an explicit set of guidelines pertaining to the epistemological status of the variables to be studied, the kinds of lawful relationships or principles that such variables probably exhibit, and the growing corpus of interrelated theories to which the strategy has thus far given rise. The aim of scientific research strategies in general is to account for observable entities and events and their relationships by means of powerful, interrelated parsimonious theories subject to correction and improvement through empirical testing…
    The he explains what is wrong with eclecticism:
    Science does not set out from a concern with what sometimes happens; science sets out from a concern with what generally happens. Cultural materialism asserts that infrastructure generally determines structure and superstructure. Eclecticism consists of the refusal to state what generally determines what. Therefore it cannot organize the collection of data around the task of testing what can generally be expected to account for sociocultural difference and similarities…. 
    Then, as if he had Pinker in mind, Harris gives an example of someone who starts out with infrastructural determinism and then switches out.
    From the cultural materialist viewpoint, the chief vice of eclecticism is that it discourages researchers who encounter the least bit of difficulty from persisting in the attempt to identify plausible infrastructural determinants. The most irritating examples of eclectic retreats from materialism are those which follow hard on the heels of partial success with an infrastructural theory. “Yes, this devilish infrastructural theory is a success,” the researcher says. “But fear not, I am no devil worshiper. The fact that an infrastructural component was dominant here, does not mean that infrastructure is dominant everywhere.”
    Which is what Pinker does and we will look at that next.

    Thursday, February 22, 2018

    I made a podcast

    I discuss increasing Canada-America friendships in this podcast.
    Not talking about evo-psychos though, talking about playwriting & other theater topics including my forbidden love for Justin Trudeau.

    It's part of Ken Wolf's Playwriting Podcast series.

    Why Claire Lehmann is a ninny in one paragraph

    When Claire Lehmann isn't writing and editing for her own alt-right-disguised-as-centrist Quillette, she publishes in right-wing media, in this case Commentary.

    And in the evo-psycho tradition, Lehmann throws out all socio-economic and historical realities when approaching any human behavior phenomena.
    The discovery of sex differences in the human brain and nervous system should not be seen as a blow to gender equality. Men are not the “gold standard” version of the human species, and women should not be viewed as a deviation from the norm. In stoking fears about difference, these political activists dressed in scholars’ clothing unwittingly imply that female-typical traits are something to be ashamed of and are by default inferior. Why would the discovery of differences be so ominous if one didn’t secretly harbor the view that female-typical traits were unsatisfactory? Whether such attitudes will ultimately be remembered as sexist or feminist is something only history can decide.
    How can you begin to address such obvious obtuseness?

    When it comes to STEM - or virtually any human endeavor men are the "gold standard" because until very recently not only was male hegemony total, it was virtually unquestioned.

    I recall the controversy over Larry Summers' NBER speech when it was happening - there were debates going on in online discussion boards. One of Summers' defenders pointed to the strong reaction of one of the attendees Nancy Hopkins and suggested that her being "hysterical" only proved that Larry Summers was right about women.*

    But Larry Summers didn't say the reason women didn't have as successful STEM careers as men was because they inclined to over-reaction. He said that the reason was evolved mental (in)aptitude for STEM. But as far as sexists and other defenders of the status quo are concerned women are more emotional than men, and any difference between men and women justifies the status quo.

    In an interview with NPR Katherine Switzer the first woman who (illegally) ran the Boston Marathon  in 1967 talked about the reasons given for why women were forbidden to run:
    SWITZER: In 1967, when I pinned on that bib number, I really wasn't trying to prove anything because a woman had actually run the Boston Marathon the year before by just jumping out of the bushes and running. There was nothing about gender in the rulebook in those days because everybody assumed a woman really couldn't run and didn't want to run, and why even bother with it in the rulebook or on the entry form? 
    And in sports, the longest distance in the Olympic Games, in fact, was just 800 meters. It was feared that anything longer was going to injure women, that they wouldn't be able to have children or they somehow turned into men. That was what was the theory. 
    GARCIA-NAVARRO: Really, that they were going to turn into men or that their uterus would be damaged? 
    SWITZER: Absolutely. You know, it was amazing. You'll never be - ever have children, they said. You're going to get big legs. You're going to grow hair on your chest. It was hilarious, the myths. And, of course, when people hear myths, they believe them because to try otherwise might mean damaging yourself. So people were afraid and they just went about their lives that way and restricted themselves.
    Look at the reasons: "have children" "grown hair on your chest" - the physical differences between men and women - men don't carry children, men have hair on their chest - were used to keep women from running marathons.

    The reasoning is obvious:  
    • Men run the marathon. 
    • There are observable differences between men and women. 
    • Therefore women cannot run the marathon.
    We know these claims weren't based on empiricism since women have been running the Boston Marathon for almost fifty years now without hurting their uteri.

    But I shouldn't have to lay this all out. This should be obvious to any adult, especially one who likes to think of herself as a public intellectual. 

    In fact, it's so bizarre that Lehmann doesn't appear to be aware of any of this that I find it hard to avoid concluding she is being deliberately obtuse in order to further the alt-right/evo-psycho/conservative project of maintaining the traditional status-quo.

    But I always say that when there is a choice between deliberate malice and stupidity, nine times out of ten it's stupidity.

    And so I must conclude: Claire Lehmann is just. that. stupid.

    * and Hopkins was not over-reacting - Summers remarks were a slap in the face to the women attending that conference on STEM careers, as well as the fact that Summers position as president of Harvard meant he had influence over hiring decisions, which was an obvious career concern for women working at Harvard. 

    Wednesday, February 21, 2018

    The New Yorker and The Better Angels

    Although Steve Pinker hasn't retweeted anything from Quillette for 21 days now, I assume it's a  coincidence and not because he knows I'm pointing to his citing Quillette as another example of his alt-right connections.

    But the gang at Quillette sure like to talk about him.  

    As far as the Quillette gang is concerned, evolutionary psychology - which they often conflate with evolutionary biology in order to paint skeptics as anti-science - contains The Absolute Truth about women and about non-whites. And anybody who doesn't go along 100% with the claims of people like Steven Pinker is in denial of human nature and - per Pinker - reality itself.

    Here we see another low-nutritional-value piece of work in Hackette: It’s Time for Evidence-Based Gender Policy written by Teresa Gimenez Barbat.

    She references Pinker indirectly:
    We still don’t have a way to liberate political decision-making from ideologies, interests and emotions. I have been a member of the EU Parliament since November 2015, when I joined a liberal political group with a particular ideological orientation – ALDE – but for now there is no such thing as an autonomous intelligent robot doing the hard job for us. We have a bounded rationality and a political nature. This implies that political reasoning obviously does not operate from a “blank slate”, but in the context of the existing social institutions, constrained by a set of evolved adaptations, biases and inherited orientations that vary individually.
    And she references Pinker directly:
    I am persuaded that the Rights Revolution of the past few decades, including the fight for cultural delegitimization and legal prosecution of violence against women, carried out by the feminist movement, represents a clear example of moral progress. At the same time, I think a new “twist of the screw” is needed to include all the real victims – women, men, and children of both sexes – as Steven Pinker suggests in a chapter of his book The Better Angels of Our Nature

    Kolbert writes:
    Pinker names thinking itself as the ultimate pacifier. “One would expect that as collective rationality is honed over the ages, it will progressively whittle away at the shortsighted and hot-blooded impulses toward violence, and force us to treat a greater number of rational agents as we would have them treat us,” he writes.
    Both evolutionary psychology (aka sociobiology) and the belief that ideas drive behavior - "idealism" are what Marvin Harris called "research strategies" which he contrasted with his own approach to understanding human culture, "cultural materialism."

    Harris criticizes idealism - sometimes called "structuralism" here:
    The intuition that thought determines behavior arises from the limited temporal and cultural perspective of ordinary experience. Conscious thoughts in the form of plans and itineraries certainly help individuals and groups to find a path through the daily complexities of social life. But these plans and itineraries merely chart the selection of preexisting behavioral "mazeways." Even in the most permissive societies and the richest in alternative roles, the planned actions - lunch, a lovers' tryst, an evening at the theater - are never conjured up out of thin air but are drawn from the inventory of recurrent scenes characteristic of that particular culture. 
    The issue of behavioral versus mental determinism is not a matter of whether the mind guides action, but whether the mind determines the selection of the inventory of culturally actionable thoughts. As Schopenhauer said, "We want what we will, but we don't will what we want." Thus the human intuition concerning the priority of thought over behavior is worth just about as much as our human intuition that the earth is flat. 
    To insist on the priority of mind in culture is to align one's understanding of socio-cultural phenomena with the anthropological equivalent of pre-Darwinian biology or pre-Newtonian physics. It is to believe in what Freud called "the omnipotence of thought." Such a belief is a form of intellectual infantilism that dishonors our species-given powers of thought. (Cultural Materialism, pp. 59 - 60)
    Harris criticizes sociobiology (evolutionary psychology's identical twin) here:
    It took billions of years for natural selection to create specialized adaptations for fishing, hunting, agriculture; for aquatic terrestrial and aerial locomotion; and for predatory and defensive weaponry, such as teeth, claws, and armor. Equivalent specialities were developed by cultural evolution in less than ten thousand years. The main focus of human sociobiology ought therefore to be the explanation of why other species have such minuscule and insignificant cultural repertories and why humans alone have such gigantic and important ones. 
    But sociobiologists conceive their task to be something else - namely, the identification of the genetic components in human cultural traits. This represents a fundamental misdirection for human social science and a diversion of resources from the more urgent task of explaining the vast majority of cultural traits that do not have a genetic component. (Cultural Materialism, pp. 125)
    As I demonstrated yesterday, Steven Pinker has no qualms in The Blank Slate about claiming any cultural phenomenon, even artistic fashions can be explained through evolutionary psychology. 

    But he seems to have given up using that as the only explanation in Better Angels. But Pinker is still a sociobiologist at heart. So he uses both sociobiology and idealism and switches up whenever he wants.

    Using more than one research strategy is what Marvin Harris calls "eclecticism":

    I generally like the work of Marvin Harris because he advances clear and testable explanations, and I cite him favorably in several places in How the Mind Works. But his view of human nature is too narrow — everything boils down to calories. People have to eat, but they have to do other things as well, such as winning sexual and parenting partners, and that doesn’t fit into his one-dimensional, quasi-Marxist-materialist view of human nature. If he acknowledged that man does not live by bread alone, he would have contributed even more to anthropology.
    Which reveals that Pinker understands fuck-all about cultural materialism. Which does not surprise me. Although at least he acknowledges Harris's clear and testable explanations, something you sure can't say about Better Angels. Kolbert writes:
    Those developments which might seem to fit into his schema—a steady rise in the percentage of Britons who identify themselves as vegetarians, for instance—are treated in detail. Yet other episodes that one would think are more relevant to a history of violence are simply glossed over. Pinker is virtually silent about Europe’s bloody colonial adventures. (There’s not even an entry for “colonialism” in the book’s enormous index.) 
    This is a pretty serious omission, both because of the scale of the slaughter and because of the way it troubles the distinction between savage and civilized. What does it reveal about the impulse control of the Spanish that, even as they were learning how to dispose of their body fluids more discreetly, they were systematically butchering the natives on two continents? Or about the humanitarianism of the British that, as they were turning away from such practices as drawing and quartering, they were shipping slaves across the Atlantic? And what does it say about the French that they liked to refer to their colonial project as la mission civilisatrice?
    This demonstrates how Pinker fails to have any kind of intelligible organizing principle - he just bops around talking about whatever he feels like talking about, so if he finds vegetarianism in Great Britain more interesting than how the Spanish treated indigenous Americans, well that's what he's going to talk about, regardless of the relative significance of each phenomenon to the history of violence.

    The result is that for all his words, Pinker provides no useful explanation for anything. We'll look at that in greater detail next.

    Tuesday, February 20, 2018

    Steven Pinker, art critic

    "The Gates" - Christo and Jeanne-Claude 2005
    No fun in Pinkerland
    As New Yorker reviewer Louis Menand notes, in Steven Pinker's chapter (yes a whole chapter) on the Arts in "The Blank Slate" he misunderstands something Virginia Woolf said:
    "The giveaway may be found," Pinker advises, "in a famous statement from Virginia Woolf: 'In or about December 1910, human nature changed.' " She was referring, he says, to "the new philosophy of modernism that would dominate the elite arts and criticism for much of the twentieth century, and whose denial of human nature was carried over with a vengeance to postmodernism," which is "more Marxist and far more paranoid," and which gave us "Andres Serrano's Piss Christ (a crucifix in a jar of the artist's urine), Chris Ofili's painting of the Virgin Mary smeared in elephant dung," and similar outré fare. But "Woolf was wrong," he tells us. "Human nature did not change in 1910, or in any year thereafter."...

    ...Jesus wept. To begin with, Virginia Woolf did not write, "In or about December 1910, human nature changed." What she wrote was "On or about December 1910 human character changed." The sentence appears in an essay called "Character in Fiction," which attacks the realist novelists of the time for treating character as entirely a product of outer circumstance—of environment and social class. These novelists look at people's clothes, their jobs, their houses, Woolf says, "but never . . . at life, never at human nature." Modernist fiction, on the other hand, because it presents character from the inside, shows how persistent personality is, and how impervious to circumstance. Woolf, in short, was a Pinkerite.
    It seems that Steven Pinker really doesn't like modern and postmodern art:
    Once we recognize what modernism and postmodernism have done to the elite arts and humanities, the reason for their decline and fall become all too obvious. The movements are based on a false theory of human psychology, The Blank Slate. They fail to apply their most vaunted ability - stripping away pretense - to themselves. And they take all the fun out of art!
    Pinker reminds me of Ayn Rand who hated all forms of modern and postmodern art except modern architecture. She wrote:
    the non-objective artists have not achieved a free, joyous, triumphant sense of life, but a sense of doom… read the stories of O. Henry or listen to the music of Viennese operettas and remember that these were the products of the spirit of the “cold, dissecting” hand of reason. And then ask yourself which psycho-epistomology is appropriate to man, which is consonant with the facts of reality and with man’s nature? 
    … Modern art is the most eloquent demonstration of the cultural bankruptcy of our age.
    For Pinker it's The Blank Slate vs human nature for Rand it's irrationality vs man's nature.

    We've seen how essentially authoritarian Steven Pinker is - if you don't agree with him that race is  more than a social construction you are denying reality itself. And now we see him declaring that modern/postmodern art has taken all the fun out of art.

    I don't know how Pinker defines "fun" but although my preference tends towards pre-20th century art, there's lots of modern and postmodern art that I think is lots of fun.

    Granted "The Gates" were not installed in Central Park until 2005 a few years after The Blank Slate was published, but I know people loved it - and not just arty people. And Spiral Jetty has been around since 1970. I think that's plenty fun.

    Spiral Jetty, Robert Smithson

    Pinker seems to especially hate Andres Serrano's "Piss Christ" which pissed off the Catholic Church, which I thought was a ton of fun.

    Does Pinker know any artists? I went to art school and I can promise him that nobody was looking to deny "human nature" - they don't think like that. But Pinker has decided that evolutionary psychology - the antidote to The Blank Slate  - is the answer to everything and so it can even explain why he doesn't like modern/postmodern art. He says:
    The dominant theories of elite art and criticism in the twentieth century grew out of a militant denial of human nature. One legacy is ugly, baffling and insulting art. The other is pretentious and unintelligible scholarship. And they're surprised that people are staying away in droves.
    Pinker's prescription to fixing the world of art is like that of any reactionary's - go back to the good old days.

    But the art world seems to be doing just fine by ignoring Pinker's advice since 2002. The work of Cindy Sherman, she of the "photographs of grotesquely assembled bi-gendered mannequins" mentioned on page 411 sells for tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars per photographic print according to the Christie's catalogue. Who does Pinker think is bidding on all these high-priced objets d'art? A bunch of human nature-denying feminists, Marxists and left-leaning academics?

    But far from denying human nature, consciously or unconsciously, the world of art, including modern and postmodern, actually embodies something that Pinker himself discussed in the same chapter. He writes: art - especially elite art - is a textbook example of conspicuous consumption. 

    What could signal "I am rich" more effectively than buying a $100K print by Cindy Sherman?

    As to why modern and postmodern art took a turn away from the figurative, that's pretty damn easy to understand - by the early 1900s photography was everywhere and the movie industry was getting started. A big part of the reason why figurative art was all the rage pre-20th century was because there were no alternatives to having an image of something you loved to look at whether it was your mistress or the English countryside. And once the hoi-polloi could afford photographs and movies, the ability to own something that really looked like something lost its cachet . And then there was the influence of technology and science on the status-signaling of art itself. I wrote up a whole theory about that four years ago.

    But since Pinker thinks that everything is an evolved trait, of course he's going claim that some styles of art - those he likes - present an embrace of human natures and those he doesn't like, a denial of human nature. Menand drolly notes:
    Many impulses are channelled or suppressed, and many talents and feelings are acquired, and have no specific genetic basis or evolutionary logic at all. Music appreciation, for instance, seems to be wired in at about the level of "Hot Cross Buns." But people learn to enjoy Wagner. They even learn to sing Wagner. One suspects that enjoying Wagner, singing Wagner, anything to do with Wagner, is in gross excess of the requirements of natural selection. To say that music is the product of a gene for "art-making," naturally selected to impress potential mates—which is one of the things Pinker believes—is to say absolutely nothing about what makes any particular piece of music significant to human beings. No doubt Wagner wished to impress potential mates; who does not? It is a long way from there to "Parsifal."
    I've already shared that passage in this evo-psycho bro series but that crack about Parsifal is so good I had to share again.

    But even more important is the part about "no evolutionary logic." Pinker's rigid belief in the all-consuming explanatory power of evo-psycho leads him down ridiculous paths. Just like his fanboys who, instead of focusing on the conspicuous consumption aspect of the arts and humanities since the ancient Greeks, are so mesmerized by "evolutionary logic" it doesn't occur to them that it's silly to use childless Immanuel Kant to illustrate strict adaptationism.

    The last book published by anthropologist Marvin Harris was Theories of Culture in Postmodern Times. Harris was very much opposed to postmodernism as an approach to scientific study. But he also had problems with rigid sociobiology explanations for human culture. He wrote:
    The overwhelming majority of cultural innovations, however, do not get selected for or against as a result of their contribution to the reproductive success of the individuals who adopt the innovation. Edison's electric light bulbs did not spread around the world in twenty years because Edison or his relatives were reproductively more successful than people who used gaslight or kerosene lanterns. Indeed, electric lights spread laterally within a single generation among childless couples as rapidly as among couples who had children by the dozen. 
    This capacity for the lateral transmission of socially learned behaviors and thoughts is a distinctive attribute of cultural phenomena not found among nonhuman species, except in the most rudimentary form. True, sexually reproducing organisms exchange genes, but not genes for thoughts and behaviors acquired socially during an individual's lifetime. Many generations are required for genetically controlled innovative behaviors and thoughts to spread throughout a population and become part of the genome. New species (even under punctuated equilibrium scenarios) take on the order of hundreds of thousands or more years to evolve, whereas new societies and cultures appear and disappear on the order of, at most, a few thousand years.
    It turns out that Steven Pinker has something to say about Marvin Harris in his book "The Better Angels of Our Nature." I'll talk about that next.