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?