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Monday, January 28, 2019

Critique of "Enlightenment Now"

This article in Salon about Steven Pinker's most recent publication "Enlightenment Now" mentions so many things about Steven Pinker's work that I have noticed too - his shallowness and carelessness, embedded in excess text.

The article begins with a bang:
In a recent article for Quillette, the “Intellectual Dark Web’s” online safe space, Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker offers some reflections on his most recent book, "Enlightenment Now," one year after it was published. Pinker notes that EN (as I will abbreviate it), a pollyannaish paean to Enlightenment "progressionism," has been the target of “irate attacks from critics on both the right and the left.”
The author, Phil Torres, used an approach to critiquing Enlightenment Now that I had to adopt for "Better Angels"
The problems were so pervasive that I ended up writing an extended critique of just a few pages of the chapter. (Examining the entire book would have been simply overwhelming.)
After detailing Pinker's carelessness and misrepresentation Torres writes:
...Pinker borrowed a quote from Bailey, who didn’t cite the original source and who lifted the quote from its original context to mean the opposite of what Zencey had intended. This led Zencey to confess to me, “how this guy [i.e., Pinker] managed to become a public intellectual in fields so far removed from his expertise is something to wonder at.”
The article concludes:
Let me end with a call for action: Don’t assume that Pinker’s scholarship is reliable. Comb through particular sentences and citations for other hidden — or perhaps intentionally concealed — errors in "Enlightenment Now." Doing so could be, well, enlightening.
Here is what I concluded about Pinker's work:
 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.

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