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Steven Pinker (born 1954), a Canadian linguist, psychologist, and notable atheist, has written both academic and popular books on his areas of special interest. In 2003 he became Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology at Harvard University. He has become known for his advocacy of evolutionary psychology and of the computational theory of mind.
His book The Language Instinct (1994) popularized Noam Chomsky's theory that language is an innate faculty of mind, and to that he added that this faculty evolved by natural selection, improving human abilities to communicate. The Blank Slate (2002) is a polemic against human exceptionalism, arguing against the "blank slate" hypothesis that the entire human personality is acquired through socialization and environmental conditioning, the "noble savage" belief that all human capacity for vice, violence, and crime is similarly learned from a morally corrupt environment, and that there is a "ghost in the machine", a mind or soul that is separate from the brain. The Better Angels Of Our Nature (2011) makes the case that violence has decreased as humans adopt more complex social organizations, improve communications, and build networks of trade, and that the perception that we live in an unusually violent time rather than a remarkably peaceful one exemplifies confirmation bias.
Political correctness gone mad
Pinker gave a short speech regarding political correctness, and how making inconvenient or uncomfortable facts unsayable can lead some people to be a bit more vulnerable to the alt-right. The alt right seized on a short clip of him saying "the often highly literate, highly intelligent people who gravitate to the alt-right". And with the support of the alt-right, he got the condemnation of the left, due to social media like Twitter being terrible for context. Pinker's book Enlightenment Now, where he claims the left has been captured by "identity politicians, political correctness police, and social justice warriors", was criticized for mischaracterizing left politics.
Pinker has been called by Nathan J. Robinson, "The World's Most Annoying Man." Robinson's criticism is in part that he is a Pollyanna who downplays problems like climate change, white supremacy, or unregulated capitalism, expecting that things will just sort themselves out. He tells people to be content with what they have, and encourages people to be complacent and stop fighting for more change. He has been criticized by Jeremey Lent for his charts, arguing he cherry picks time-frames and charts that will make everything look like things have always been improving while ignoring bad things.
Relationship to Epstein
Pinker has also has been criticized for his relationship to infamous child prostitute pimp Jeffrey Epstein, even flying on his plane and posing in a photograph with him and Lawrence Krauss. When Epstein was indicted for sex crimes in 2006, Pinker testified as a linguist for the defense.
Here are some of his books.
- The Language Instinct (1994) ISBN 978-0-06-097651-4
- How the Mind Works (1997) ISBN 978-0-393-31848-7
- The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature (2002) ISBN 978-0-670-03151-1
- The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature (2004) ISBN 978-0670063277
- The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (2011) ISBN 978-0-670-02295-3
- The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century (2014) ISBN 978-0670025855
- Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress (2018) ISBN 978-0525427575
- Vyvyan Evans (2014). The Language Myth: Why Language Is Not an Instinct. Cambridge University Press.
- Michael Tomasello (1995). Language is Not an Instinct, review of The Language Instinct in Cognitive Development 10, pages 131-156. Elsevier.
- See the Wikipedia article on Computational theory of mind.
- For an opposite view, see Evans' book.
- A short critique of The Language Instinct appears in Tomasello.
- Watch it on YouTube here
- Social media is dumbing us down
- The World's Most Annoying Man, Current Affairs
- "Steven Pinker’s Ideas About Progress Are Fatally Flawed. These Eight Graphs Show Why.", Jeremey Lent, 2018
- "Epstein, Soldier, Spy", Colleen Flaherty
- [Twitter, Nathanoseroff, Apr 10, 2019
- Jeffrey Epstein's First Criminal Case Was Helped By A Famous Harvard Language Expert