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The Brian Ferguson Interview

I talked with Rutgers University professor of anthropology R. Brian Ferguson about Steven Pinker, Napoleon Chagnon, Marvin Harris, anthropo...

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Richard Nixon, just asking questions: "Can well-educated black people teach English?"

The biggest deal in this New Yorker article is Ronald Reagan's blatant racism:
Reagan, who was then the governor of California, gave his opinion of the African delegates to the United Nations who voted against the United States’ position that Taiwan, rather than the People’s Republic of China, should receive U.N. recognition. “To see those, those monkeys from those African countries—damn them, they’re still uncomfortable wearing shoes!” Reagan exclaimed. Nixon laughed heartily and went on to tell the Secretary of State, William Rogers, about Reagan’s outburst...
Nixon's racism and anti-Semitism had already been revealed by previously released tapes.  However from Pinkerite's POV this was most interesting (my highlight):
Earlier that month, Nixon had been explaining to Daniel Patrick Moynihan—an academic who had worked in the White House—about how he had been thinking about how, in his mind, “blacks” just had a hell of a time governing. And that [Reagan’s comments] really said something to him, and that squared with things he was reading about this noxious idea of a connection between I.Q. and race.
Via The Atlantic's Tim Naftali I found the actual audio recording online  and Nixon's discussion with Moynihan starts at minute 1:32:05.

The excerpt I'm most interested in is available on Youtube with a transcript. However I am not linking to the Youtube version because both versions I've found there were posted by racists.

The transcript is pretty bad so I have to edit it, which is taking a long time, so I will be posting the transcript in pieces. Here is part one. The "Herrnstein" mentioned is, of course, Richard Hernnstein, co-author with Charles Murray of "The Bell Curve." The Herrnstein piece they mention is "I.Q." from the September 1971 issue of The Atlantic available in its entirety here.
Good morning, Mr President. 
Where are yah? 
I'm - I'm in New York, writing a speech which I'm going to give today at the United Nations, and give the Russians a little hell, sonuvabitch (laughs)  
Right, good. You got a minute or is this a bad time? 
I do sir. 
In fact I'm writing a speech and I'm delivering tonight at 7:30 so I'm gonna have to write in the middle of it but it's brief so you can listen 14 minutes - does your retention time that long. 
I never-   
- don't admit it. The reason I called you as a matter of fact - I sort of read things - when I was in Florida going over to Walker's I read with great interest your piece from the UN on Herrnstein's piece, you know, that I passed onto you. Let me say first of all nobody in the staff even knows I read the goddamn article  
Oh good. 
- and nobody in this staff is going to know any better because I couldn't agree more with you that the Herrnstein's stuff and all the rest, this is not -  first nobody must think we're thinking about it, and second if we do find out it's correct we must never tell anybody - 
I'm afraid that's just the case  
- that's right yes now let me add a few things that you can and you might just make some mental notes about it or anything  you want just as  I give you my own views. 
I've reluctantly concluded based at least on the evidence presently before me and I don't base it on any scientific evidence that that what Herrstein says and also what was said earlier by Jensen and so forth is it’s probably very close to truth. Now - 
I think that’s where you'd have to be as - 
- now having said that then you copper that by saying something that the racists would never agree with, that within groups there are geniuses, they're geniuses within black groups,  there are more within Asian groups and incidentally it was a rather neat trick to point out that the Asians are number one and the Caucasians are number two 
And the Eskimos -

- and the Eskimos are above the whites, which is good - and also your little deal about the English and the Irish. Now that is the best example of the fact this is knowledge but it is knowledge that it is better not to know. At least good God it would cause another war, they haven’t enough damn problems in Northern Ireland now - 
And basically there are Irish geniuses. 
Well I think - got a few Irish presidents. 
Yeah that's right, well Burke wasn't bad - 
Who’s not bad? 
Something the liberals said. Now so let me say that in getting this knowledge and that's the point that I - and it's a you're welcome to pass this on to Herrnstein as we talk - in getting started tell him I think the reason I have to know it, is that as I go for programs, I must know, that, if that they have basic weaknesses -  and did you read Glaser's piece in Commentary recently?  
“The limits of Social Policy” yes indeed 
And uh, you know he didn't come out against family assistance but he just raised a hell of a lot of questions, but he's well it's already got it in New York and isn't working, and so forth and so on, but you respect Glazer don't you?
Oh he’s my very dear friend and - sure  
Well tell him I read his piece too and - 
I certainly will - he feels, what he meant was that the family assistance should not be - we should not expect it to change the world - 
Yeah - what he meant, what was interesting to me, was that he said that even in Sweden the ultimate example, and in Britain the less ultimate example, that they still have a tremendous emphasis on the work ethic, in other words that going on, going on welfare just sort of ain’t the thing people ought to do. Now that is of course the reason why the work requirement thing is so important here I mean - 
Damn right. 
Everybody says well the work requirements is only for the purpose of making these poor poor colored women you know who can't work and with little babies coming every month or it's every nine months I believe, anyway whatever
 the case is you can't make them work. Now that isn't it - the whole point is that - as you well know that the we just not got to sort of get into the psychology, that well at the welfare is a good way of life, that is that there's where the working poor comes in, etc etc. 
And the point about Family Assistance is it gives us an alternative to welfare as a way of life - 
- exactly well now coming on to the other points -  when the other side, and here's where I think we have to bear in mind, we’ve got to realize on Family Assistance on anything we do, the limits of Social Policy, if we don't we're going to raise expectations and then have the dull thud that was the problem with Johnson. 
Um hm. 
Johnson's - he took your hard university speech and he carried out a lot of things but he, I really don’t think he did it deliberately, I think Johnson probably convinced himself all this stuff is going to work. You agree? 
Can I just say one thing Sir? One of the fascinating things is in 1967 he announced a great program of “new towns in town” to start building around town and you had to deal with the end of it - in 1968, beginning, he sent a message to Congress in which he said “even now a new town is rising on the site of Fort Lincoln in the city of Washington DC.” At that moment not a single Spade of Earth had been turned - but he didn’t know it, he thought it was going on. 
Now coming to the other point I - a couple of questions - has Coleman demonstrated the fact that where you put blacks, or for that matter under-privileged Chicanos or anybody else - blacks in with whites integrated that it raises the blacks and does not bring down the whites - is that clear? 
Yes up to a point- 
Now the second point I raise then and I raise - this is really hitting at the nerve center - is this true when you have an integrated faculty - let’s take for example where my daughter was teaching (unclear)- or was going to teach. Let's suppose that that you've got a black, graduated from a good black college in the south, teaching English, now do you believe that she can teach English?
More transcript coming ASAP.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Happy birthday Pinkerite

This blog is now a year old. It went by so fast, it hardly seems possible.

Obviously it turned out not to be a podcast, in spite of the claim of the first post.

Which is not to say there has been no other media besides the blog - there's a Youtube channel on which is posted the biggest accomplishment of Pinkerite so far - an audio interview with anthropologist R. Brian Ferguson.

And the Pinkerite Twitter account has been an important way to share updates with others.

Other accomplishments of this blog:
Biggest disappointment - did not complete my series on The Bell Curve.

Most popular posts for the year, based on Blogger analytics:

Friday, November 15, 2019

Steven Pinker's PR Machine

It seems as though Steven Pinker is everywhere these days.

Pinkerite hasn't tracked every single thing that Pinker has done in the past year, in spite of this blog being dedicated to critiquing Pinker as the most respectable member of the Intellectual Dark Web, but Pinker has shown up at the UN, appeared in a discussion at Brown University with Paul Krugman, gave a speech at the Peace Research Institute at Oslo, and everywhere in-between.

And all this even though this might be the first time in his career in which he is being loudly criticized (outside of his books' reviews.)

This year alone these articles have been published about him:
Plus the articles, this year, about his connection to Jeffrey Epstein.

And (ahem) this blog which is coming up on its one-year anniversary.

In spite of all this publicity, there are many people who have never heard of Steven Pinker. When I tell people about this Pinkerite project, often smart people who have good general knowledge and are up on current events, I usually have to explain to them who Steven Pinker is.

Pinker is doing his best to remedy that, I believe. He announced in a tweet on November 10 that NOVA is doing a program called "The Violence Paradox" based on "The Better Angels of Our Nature."

Bad, bad move, NOVA/PBS - Better Angels is crap.

It's gotten bad reviews, like the one by Elizabeth Kolbert in The New Yorker. Pinker was so annoyed by it that not only did he call on race science proponent Razib Khan to defend him, he was still mad about it years later.

And as I have discussed, he claimed that the reason for violence in the 1960s was dirty hippies and blacks not getting married, although he reverted to weak pinkerism when he met up for a discussion with Paul Krugman and declined to correct Krugman when he said we don't know the reason for 1960s violence.

I have further thoughts on the Pinker-Krugman discussion which I will talk about in an upcoming post.

Perhaps the worst aspect of "Better Angels" was Pinker misrepresenting the archaeological record by counting individual incidents of apparent prehistorical violence more than once - an error he has never admitted to, as far as I know, although he must be aware of anthropologist Brian Ferguson's critique in his "Pinker's List" article. And I spoke with Ferguson about it in this audio interview.

Also the book is eight years old. I don't think there's a huge clamoring for a television program based on the seriously flawed "Better Angles of Our Nature" book. So why is there a program coming up on NOVA/PBS?

I think it's because Pinker's PR people pitched it to PBS.

A friend of mine recently mentioned to me that her daughter, who is very wealthy in part through her marriage, paid a PR firm to promote her latest book, the result of which was that her book was reviewed in prominent media outlets; she was the subject of articles in respected publications; and she gave interviews on well-known radio programs, including public-funded ones.

This gave me insight into the way books are promoted, which I had not had before. I think Pinker pays a PR firm to market the holy living shit out of his work and to be vigilant about Pinker's public image. I had already been thinking about the possibility of Pinker having a PR machine when I happened to look at the Talk section of his Wikipedia entry. This is what I found:
Request to change Steven Pinker's Photo on Wikipedia[edit] 
An edit request by an editor with a conflict of interest has now been answered. 
Hello fellow Wikipedians, 
On behalf of Steven Pinker, I have 3 requested changes, 1. Change picture from current photo to 102111_Pinker_344.jpg 2. Change photo title to "Steven Pinker by Rose Lincoln/Harvard University" 3. Change photo caption to "This photograph is released under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license by Harvard University." 
Steven Pinker has disclosed to me that he would like his Wikipedia picture changed. I attempted to make this edit earlier this year on Steven's behalf, but it looks like the change was reversed. 
Because this request was sent to me through email, I do not have a URL to post supporting the requested changes. However, I am happy to send a transcript of the email to a private party or engage in other forms of necessary verification. Aufstrich (talk) 23:26, 14 November 2018 (UTC) 
How do we know he has requested this? And if he has, then he has a WP:COI. Also, we don't normally show attribution for photos in captions, unless the photographer is notable. Sorry. In any case, you should upload the image first either here or at Commons and provide a link to it, so we can see what it's like. Martinevans123 (talk) 23:50, 14 November 2018 (UTC)
So someone with the Wikipedia username of Aufstrich (text in blue above) had been emailed by Steven Pinker with a request to change his Wikipedia photo. Aufstrich then went on Wikipedia and made the change, which was then reverted. I do have some sympathy there, Wikipedia editors are ridiculous.

Aufstrich received a response from Martinevans123 (in dark red above) who appears to patrol the Pinker entry regularly.

Aufstrich doesn't appear to have a lot of experience with Wikipedia editing and received a list of rules they broke, seen here.

Clearly Pinker is very particular about his public image, going so far as to email someone - probably his PR firm - to tell them to change his Wikipedia page photo and they likely then handed off the job to one of their low-level PR flunkies.

Pinker has indisputably used a PR firm - Meryl Zegarek Public Relations (MZPR) admits to promoting "The Language Instinct" which was published in 1994 - although I suppose it could have been the book's publisher, rather than Pinker himself who had direct dealings with MZPR. And based on Zegarek's LinkedIn profile, she handled the Pinker publicity campaign while she was Associate Director of Publicity at William Morrow and Company.

And let's not forget Jerry Coyne, who I hope Pinker is paying for Coyne's constant defenses of Pinker.

It appears to me that Pinker uses the wealth accumulated from his crap books to continue to promote his crap books in an effort to achieve Great Man of Science fame.

Which would of course not only feed the Pinker ego and increase his wealth further, it would aid with one of his apparent side projects, mainstreaming race science.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Bo Winegard doesn't like his RationalWiki page

Bo Winegard published a piece in Medium today about his RationalWiki entry:
Needless to say, this is not a dispassionate account of my beliefs or my professional life. It’s an ideologically motivated smear job. To the best of my knowledge, I do not promote “pseudoscience.” I am certain that I am wrong about a number of things. But I am open to evidence. And I would never willingly promote something that I knew was false. I have made no attempt to “surround” myself with “white nationalists”. Most of my friends are liberal to progressive.
As so often with Winegard this paragraph is a combination of self-pity, self-regard and bullshit.

Winegard is not "open to evidence" because he is paid by Quillette (and probably others) to promote race science, and his tendency, like Claire Lehmann, to block critics of race science is one example of his refusal to listen to evidence and reason concerning race science.

From the Bo Winegard RationalWiki:
Winegard spends most of his time on Twitter talking about race and the alleged evils of liberalism.[citation NOT needed] He retweets Nathan Cofnas, Charles Murray, Noah Carl, Emil Kirkegaard, James Thompson and other alt-righter "race realists". Winegard identifies as a member of the alt-center which is basically an attempt by white nationalists in the alt-right to re-brand themselves as political moderates.[10]
However Winegard is correct there is a factual error in the article which includes this reference:
EvoPsych and Scientific Racism — a critique of Winegard's "Human Biological and Psychological Diversity" article by Steven Pinker on Freethought Blogs
As Winegard notes in his Medium piece:
Steven Pinker has never denounced my work, although it is certainly possible that he disagrees with some of my hypotheses.
I've never seen any evidence that Pinker disagrees with anything Bo Winegard has ever said, and in fact Pinker has enthusiastically recommended the work of the Winegards, in particular their defense of The Bell Curve and its claim of black genetic intellectual inferiority.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Did Christina Hoff Sommers suddenly forget all about James Damore?

Back in 2017 Google engineer James Damore published a memo on a Google company discussion board claiming, among other things, that women were intellectually inferior to men at STEM subjects. 

The memo has its own Wiki page which includes (my highlight):
The company fired Damore for violation of the company's code of conduct.[2] Damore filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, but later withdrew this complaint. A lawyer with the NLRB found his firing to be proper;[3][4][5] however, such a decision is not legally binding.[6] After withdrawing this complaint, Damore filed a class action lawsuit, retaining the services of attorney Harmeet Dhillon,[7][8] alleging that Google was discriminating against conservatives, whites, Asians, and men.[9][10] Damore dismissed his claims in the lawsuit to pursue arbitration against Google.[11]
Harmeet Dhillon - where have we heard that name before? Of course, Harmeet Dhillon is also Andy Ngo's lawyer.

It appears that Harmeet K. Dhillon, Republican National Committeewoman, is the lawyer of choice for the Intellectual Dark Web whenever they have a controversial issue.

Anybody who has read the memo can see Damore indisputably claimed that men had better tech abilities than women, biologically:
I’m simply stating that the distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ in part due to biological causes and that these differences may explain why we don’t see equal representation of women in tech and leadership.

So imagine my surprise when my inbox had this retweet by Christina Hoff Sommers the other day.

I keep forgetting to unfollow Sommers on one of my Twitter accounts that she hasn't blocked. Getting a tweet almost every morning from professional misogynist Christina Hoff Sommers is sapping my will to live.

Meghan Daum, who appears to be a second-string member of the Intellectual Dark Web, apparently has not heard of Larry Summers, Steven Pinker, or James Damore, who all do believe that women have inferior math abilities compared to men, biologically.

But of course we know that Christina Hoff Sommers has heard of them, and has written in defense of both Larry Summers and James Damore.

So why does Sommers seem to agree with Daum's ignorance-based claim that "no serious person has ever said it's about ability"?

1. Is this a sign that the Intellectual Dark Web has decided that it's no longer about "ability" and instead plans to emphasize female "preferences" which are both factors attributed by James Damore to women's lesser STEM achievements?

2. Maybe Sommers, at age 69 is starting to show signs of losing it, intellectually, like other senior members of the Intellectual Dark Web and forgot why she considered James Damore a "truth-teller"?

3. Is this an example of "weak pinkerism" as I described in the previous blog post - when it suits the IDW, they pretend they don't believe the extreme hereditarian things they claim to believe when they think they have a friendly audience?

4. Or is it about the grift?

One of my all-time favorite articles about the Intellectual Dark Web is - although it was published before Bari Weiss popularized the term in May 2018 - The Free Speech Grifters by Mari Uyehara in March 2018. The piece includes a perfect description of the grift-loving soul of Christina Hoff Sommers:
At Lewis & Clark Law School, Sommers found what seems to be her favorite kind of audience: a disruptive one. Prior to the speech, activists handed out flyers labeling her "a fascist," among other hyperbolic charges familiar to anyone who has spent time on a college campus. When she attempted to give her talk, a handful of students, led by a blonde ringleader in a black "Stay Woke" jacket, disrupted it with chanting about comrades while holding up a cardboard sign that read "No Platform for Fascists." It was a Ben Shapiro wet dream. As the ringleader yelled, "Black lives matter," Sommers turned to the camera euphorically grinning from ear to ear. Here it was: the money shot.
Could it be that Sommers supported James Damore not because she has bothered to pay attention to what he actually said in the memo, but because it's her job as part of the wingnut welfare ecosystem that pays her to hate women, and also because she loves the grift so much?

It could be a combination of several.

But it's clear that Christina Hoff Sommers is not overly-concerned about intellectual integrity. Which is likely why she makes a living taking money from Koch and other plutocrats to be a shitty third-rate intellectual.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Weak Pinkerism and Strong Pinkerism

The title of this blog post comes from the infamous Ezra Klein-Sam Harris debate about race science.

Klein said:
My working theory is that there’s a strong version and a weak version of Murrayism, both are represented in the conversation, but though the strong version is emphasized in the presentation, there’s been a retreat to the weak version upon challenge...
Harris's response was:
Actually, there is a real version and a fictional one. Here’s an article on that:
Harris is citing the absolute garbage Quillette article by the Winegard brothers "A Tale of Two Bell Curves" in which they defend The Bell Curve by saying Charles Murray was onto something by claiming the reason for African American underachievement is black genetic intellectual inferiority. I explain some of the problems with that and their related Quillette article about race and racism here.

In other words, there is no "Two Bell Curves" which is to say a "real" version and a misrepresented version, in spite of the claims of the Winegard brothers, Sam Harris and Steven Pinker. Both Bell Curve critics and the Winegards agree, Charles Murray holds that genetics is the cause of African American failure to thrive. The actual difference is that critics don't agree with Murray and the Winegards that this is so.

To be precise the Winegards say, in defense of the hereditarian position:
Of course, there are other possible explanations of the Black-White gap, such as parenting styles, stereotype threat, and a legacy of slavery/discrimination among others. However, to date, none of these putative causal variables has been shown to have a significant effect on the IQ gap, and no researcher has yet made a compelling case that environmental variables can explain the gap.
So the claim that The Bell Curve is misrepresented by its critics is a straight-up lie

Pinker seems to be a fan of Barack Obama, in spite of the fact that Obama is also a harsh critic - for the same reason as every other critic - of The Bell Curve.

But back to weak and strong Murrayism. Klein is talking about a phenomenon that PZ Myers has described concerning disputes with evolutionary psychology proponents (see Myers indispensable  dissection of evolutionary psychology here) - such as Jerry Coyne:
There is also a tactic I really dislike; I call it the Dignified Retreat. When criticized, evolutionary psychologists love to run away from their discipline and hide in the safer confines of more solidly founded ideas. Here’s a perfect example (from Coyne):
…the notion that “the fundamental premises of evo psych are false” seems deeply misguided. After all, those premises boil down to this statement: some behaviors of modern humans reflect their evolutionary history. That is palpably uncontroversial, since many of our behaviors are clearly a product of evolution, including eating, avoiding dangers, and the pursuit of sex. And since our bodies reflect their evolutionary history, often in nonadaptive ways (e.g., wisdom teeth, bad backs, the coat of hair we produce as a transitory feature in fetuses), why not our brains, which are, after all, just bits of morphology whose structure affects our behaviors?
You know what? I agree entirely with that. The brain is a material product of evolution, and behavior is a product of the brain. There are natural causes for everything all the way down. And further, I have great respect for psychology, evolutionary biology, ethology, physiology, anthropology, anatomy, comparative biology — and I consider all of those disciplines to have strong integrative ties to evolutionary biology. Does Coyne really believe that I am critiquing the evolved nature of the human brain? Because otherwise, this is a completely irrelevant statement. 
Evolutionary psychology has its own special methodology and logic, and that’s what I criticize — not anthropology or evolutionary biology or whatever. Somehow these unique properties get conveniently jettisoned whenever a critic wanders by, only to be re-adopted without reservation within the exercise of the discipline. And that’s really annoying.
And we can see Pinker defending himself from the Guardian article by using the same technique as Coyne - reverting to the weak version of evolutionary psychology, by pretending that all he is saying is that men and women are not exactly the same, while leaving out his claims that women have evolved to be weaker at STEM subjects than men, that women do more housework because of "sex differences" or that a bile-spewing, professional misogynist crackpot like Camille Paglia is a reasonable feminist, as opposed to Gloria Steinem, whom Pinker contrasts unfavorably to Paglia in The Blank Slate.

Which brings us to Pinker's discussion with Krugman. Welcome to Weak Pinkerism which appears, I suspect, because even Pinker can't help but notice that Krugman is a strong opponent, and Pinker doesn't want to risk a rhetorical ass-kicking.

...it's a great time now to live in New York if you can afford a place, which is the problem.
But housing costs aside, there was a period when social order really did break down to a very important extent.
We did go from being from a city that was pretty safe, was never completely violence free, but it was a pretty safe place in the early 1960s.
It became an extremely-- well, maybe not by the standards of the Middle Ages or Stone Age societies, but by modern standards New York became a very dangerous place, and peaking in the 1980s. 
There was a real sense in which life in New York for lots of people became a lot worse.
There was a period when dystopian books and movies, Escape from New York, that sort of thing, was [INAUDIBLE]. That wasn't coming out of nowhere. That wasn't a fantasy. That was driven by what seemed to be the very real collapse of social order in America's greatest city.
Now, that has turned around. And these days, New York is, once again, a very safe place...
And so you ask, what did we do? Why did things go so wrong, and what did we do? What made them go right again? And indeed, there's been a great deal of research.
And I think the answer, with fairly high degree of confidence, is we have no idea, that there are interesting stories of all kinds. But fundamentally, we don't know why things got so much worse. And we certainly don't know why things got so much better.

I don't happen to agree with Krugman in this rare instance. I think we do know why things got bad, and the Rick Burns documentary New York gets it right when it points out that after the mid-1950s the jobs started to leave New York City.

And as anthropologist Marvin Harris will tell you, at the same time New York was losing jobs, poor blacks were moving in, escaping oppression in the Southern states, seeking low skill factory labor. But factories were leaving town, and meanwhile the jobs that were increasing - office work - were taken by white women, who were often better-educated than poor Southern blacks, and were entering the job market in unprecedented numbers.

It was a combination of these factors that lead to high black unemployment and black crime at a time when New York City was struggling to keep it together due to a shrinking tax base caused by middle class flight.

Here are some factors that caused NYC to recover: controlling debt in the 1970s; Southern "country" blacks began to acquire new modern workplace skills and integrate into city life with the aid of anti-discrimination law and affirmative action policies; the job market expanded in the 1990s thanks to computer technology; the lure of a car-based suburban lifestyle soured for many; birth rates dropped; women started spending the money they were earning as well as paying taxes; and new foreign investments by the 1980s which Krugman mentions elsewhere in the discussion.

That's the cultural materialist explanation.

Steven Pinker has his own eclectic explanation.

He spent pages of "Better Angels" making a case for his theories that dirty hippies and low marriage rates for blacks were critical causal factors in the breakdown of New York City social order.

That was strong Pinkerism. But in a room with Paul Krugman he retreats to weak Pinkerism - suddenly he is content to let Krugman claim we don't know the answers.

Now, could it be that Pinker has changed his mind about the magic of marriage and dirty hippies but doesn't want to admit he was wrong? I think that's a possibility. But as Phil Torres noted about Pinker and his IDW buddies:
They facilely dismiss good critiques as “hit jobs” and level ad hominem attacks to undercut criticism. And they refuse — they will always refuse, it’s what overconfident white men do — to admit making mistakes when they’re obviously wrong. 
Although there are women members of the IDW and they also refuse to admit when they've been obviously wrong, as the odious Christina Hoff Sommers demonstrated recently. I'll talk about that next.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Steven Pinker: Marriage is Magic

I am posting this edited version of a post from my personal blog from February 2018 because the discussion between Pinker and Krugman got me thinking about it.

I will explain more in a near-future  blog post, in which I will be referring back to this post.

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

He writes:
...as 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.

Demonstrating, contrary to Pinker's claim, there is no causal connection between marriage and violence.

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

And FactCheck.org 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.

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

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Pinker vs. Krugman Part 2

Brown University made their recorded debate between Steven Pinker and Paul Krugman available (I only just now discovered it) and so as promised, this is part 2.

I have included the transcript here. Both the audio and the transcript end 3 minutes before the video.

I will be responding to this soon on Pinkerite.

In the meantime, can't resist responding to Pinker's latest weasel words. He wrote a letter to the Guardian complaining about how they portrayed his views of women, the last part of which he says:
I do disagree with the 1970s-era assumption that women’s equality depends on their being biologically indistinguishable from men: fairness does not require sameness. Vince’s observations that the distribution of women’s traits overlaps with those of men’s, and that individuals should be treated according to their talents and choices rather than their gender, far from contrasting with my views, could have been taken from the pages of my 2002 book The Blank Slate.
But what he means by women and men "not being biologically indistinguishable" which, in general principle, few people would disagree with in the first place, is that women have evolved to be inferior to men at STEM subjects.

Pinker also apparently believes that women evolved to be more interested in housekeeping than men.

In The Blank Slate Pinker characterizes Camille Paglia, a vicious professional misogynist  (and fan of NAMBLA) who believes women are hapless, helpless losers as a "feminist."

Knowing this should give you a good idea of exactly where Steven Pinker stands on women's issues  as on virtually any other - he is an absolute two-faced WEASEL.

The best review of The Blank Slate ever was in the New Yorker: What Comes Naturally by Louis Menand. Menand was the first reviewer, as far as I am aware, who noted a pronounced Pinker tendency of "having it both ways."

One of Steven Pinker's favorite "feminist" thinkers.