Steven Pinker, Purveyor of Humanist Humbug

Steven Pinker receiving the Richard Dawkins Award:


Well, I managed to watch the first 35 minutes of the whole 58 minute dreary video, dreary not due to the statistics presented, but due to the insufferable conviction of Pinker, a much spoiled man who is isolated from the world and its real problems, that humanity is so much better off now that it has ever been, and that, O, we are so much more enlightened than our predecessors. What insufferable cheek.

His biggest error in logic (and he claims to be a man of reason!) is his constant use of percentages in an invalid manner, which leads him to false conclusions. If you look at a graph of world population historically, the world population is almost always rising, but the rise in population starting early in the 20th century has been exponential. Therefore, when he compares a percentage statistic of violence in an earlier era to a percentage statistic in the 20th or 21st century, he is talking about a vastly smaller number of persons killed, murdered, or maimed in the earlier era compared to the vast amounts of persons killed, murdered, or maimed in the 20th and 21st centuries. The unmistakable, unavoidable conclusion to this is that Pinker values a human life in any bygone era far above that of a human life in the modern era. By Pinker’s own logic, he doesn’t value contemporary lives as being of much worth at all, despite his claims to value human life. In reality, a human life has value regardless of what era a person lived in. Pinker can afford to sit in his comfortable armchair surrounded by like-minded (deluded) liberal friends who have gentlemanly and ladylike manners, enjoying an expensive glass of wine, and ignore such a consideration, which if he had a grain of honesty, he would have acknowledged to himself long before.

Pinker’s conclusion that we live in a less violent world than the peoples of past eras is totally false, and the only possible conclusion is that he is living in cloud-cuckoo-land.

His claim about the elimination of slavery would be laughable if it weren’t so tragically false. He said slavery is no longer legal anywhere. It’s legal in Qatar under the guise of sponsorship laws. It’s virtually legal in Uzbekistan, due to the government’s organization of forced labor in the cotton industry. There may be other countries where slavery is legal. It is also widely practiced in India. He gives no mention of the prevalence of child slavery, legal or not, in countries across the globe. And he gives no mention of sex slavery, which is on a sharp rise in “civilized” countries in Europe and in the USA. He also gives no mention of the virtual slavery endured by millions due to the global capitalists who have created the conditions whereby a wage slave will accept almost any horrific conditions due to the reason that otherwise he and his family will starve to death.

He talks about the abolition of torture. But he does not mention the resumption of the use of torture by the government of the United States, and the cast of grossly immoral and (literally) criminal lawyers who provided the pseudo-legal-justification to adopt cruel methods of torture not only at the prison in Guantanamo but also at a host of known “black sites” in Afghanistan (Salt Pit, AKA Cobalt, Code Black), Lithuania (Antaviliai, Code Violet), Romania (Bright Light, Code Black), Poland (Quartz, Code Blue), Thailand (Cat’s Eye, Code Green) and a secret site on the Guantanamo Naval Base, known as Strawberry Fields (Forever). This information was freely available to Pinker, if he had cared to look for it. He didn’t. Since he is a citizen of the United States, he really should have looked.

He also does not mention any of the times that the rulers of the world in the 20th century came ever so close to blowing up the entire planet not just once (the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962) but 9 other documented times that folks don’t read about in the corporate-controlled newspapers. If this had come to pass, neither Pinker and like-minded “enlightened” intellectuals, nor any of the rest of us, would be around to discuss the topic in our cozy surroundings.

If Pinker thinks that literacy and our education in propaganda has created a more enlightened populace, that we more modern folks are any better judges of ourselves and the world than humans of past eras, then he is full of the most stercoraceous humbug ever pedaled to a gullible audience.

As Voltaire said (and Pinker quoted Voltaire as saying so), “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” Pinker ought to reflect on the fact that this is precisely so if one takes at face value the absurdities promulgated by the global capitalists and their apologists, of whom Pinker is himself an example.



George Steiner’s views on culture and barbarism are as relevant as ever

‘Today … we find ourselves in a culture in which the methodical use of torture towards political ends is widely established. We come immediately after a stage in history (i.e., World War II) in which millions of men, women, and children were made to ash. Currently, in different parts of the earth, communities are again being incinerated, tortured, deported. There is hardly a methodology of abjection and of pain which is not being applied somewhere, at this moment, to individuals and groups of human beings. Asked why he was seeking to arouse the whole of Europe over the judicial torture of one man, Voltaire answered, in March 1762, “c’est que je suis homme”. (“It is because I am a man.”)  By that token, he would, today, be in constant and vain cry.

That this should be the case is catastrophic. The wide-scale reversion to torture and mass-murder, the ubiquitous use of hunger and imprisonment as political means mark not only a crisis of culture but, quite conceivably, an abandonment of the rational order of man.  It may well be that it is a mere fatuity, an indecency to debate of the definition of culture in the age of the gas oven, of the arctic camps, of napalm. The topic may belong solely to the past history of hope. But we should not take this contingency to be a natural fact of life, a platitude. We must keep in sharp focus its hideous novelty or renovation. We must keep vital in ourselves a sense of scandal so overwhelming that it affects every significant aspect of our position in history and society. We have, as Emily Dickinson would have said, to keep the soul terribly surprised. I cannot stress this enough. To Voltaire and Diderot the bestial climate of our national and social conflicts would have seemed a lunatic return to barbarism. To most intelligent men and women of the nineteenth century a prediction that torture and massacre were soon to be endemic again in “civilized” Europe would have seemed a nightmarish joke. There is nothing natural about our present condition.   There is no self-evident logic or dignity in our current knowledge that “anything is possible.” In fact, such knowledge corrupts and lowers the threshold of outrage (only Kierkegaard foresaw both the inchoate possibility and the corruption). The numb prodigality of our acquaintance with horror is a radical human defeat.’

George Steiner, “In Bluebeard’s Castle: Some Notes Towards the Redefinition of Culture”, pages 48-49, Yale University Press, 1971

As the United States becomes more enamored with wicked, ruthless, inhuman modes of thinking and acting, with the instigation of routine torture by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, with the routine use of killer drones by Barack Obama, with the increasing incursion into women’s bodies by right-wing politicians and fundamentalist fanatics, we are well on our way to the abandonment of the rational order of man.