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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...

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Strong pinkerism and Koch funding

Steven Pinker recently gave the keynote speech on "the nature of academic controversies" for the 2019 Fire Faculty Conference and doubled-down on his "intelligent alt-right" comments originally made as part of the Spiked tour in 2017.

Pinker's message, yet again, is that universities are responsible for the extremism of the alt-right.

After spending a lot of time in the speech declaring his liberal bona fides, Pinker says, near the end (thanks to the Youtube automatic transcript):
...the regressive left is an incubator of the alt-right and I say this from some painful experience when I have seen some former students of mine who have gravitated to the alt-right because they see what happens in universities when positions such as that there may be sex differences or cultural differences are immediately squashed the people voicing them are punished and their reaction is well you can't handle the truth they tend then to form their own self-contained bubbles and in which far more extreme and radical and unsubtle positions and gain a footing can fester unchallenged because they're in their bubble academia is in its bubble and so in cases like sex differences police shootings and the advantages and disadvantages of capitalism you can get extreme versions cultivated in alt-right and other non academic circles precisely because these are debates that don't take place in refereed forums in which the flaws and the extreme versions can be pointed out and mitigated so let me sum up some of us are more controversial than others  admittedly some of us are extremely  controversial despite what at least I would consider to be relatively moderate positions...
This is an example of "strong pinkerism." As I noted, when Pinker is in a room with people who might not agree with his more extreme opinions, he reverts to weak pinkerism, as when he declined to argue with Paul Krugman on whether or not we know why New York City was such a violent place in the 1960s, in spite of the fact that Pinker spent pages in his "Better Angels" book claiming it was the fault of dirty hippies and blacks not getting married.

Pinker's original defense of the alt-right was presented as part of a tour funded by Charles Koch. A Koch-funded event is the perfect place for strong pinkerism. They want Pinker to blame universities for the worst evils of the world.

Which is why a FIRE event is another perfect place for strong pinkerism.

FIRE - Foundation for Individual Rights in Education is heavily funded by Charles Koch, according to the invaluable Sourcewatch web site:
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education does not disclose its donors, but some of its funding sources are known through other tax filings. FIRE's known funders include:
  • Adolph Coors Foundation: $45,000 (2012, 2015)
  • Bradley Foundation: $1,490,000[9]
  • Charles G. Koch Foundation:$955,561 (2008-2014)
  • Claude R. Lambe Foundation: $740,000 (2005-2007)
  • DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund: $1,372,500 (2012-2015)
  • Jaquelin Hume Foundation: $235,000 (2001-2011)
  • Randolph Foundation: $62,000 (2009-2011)
  • Sarah Scaife Foundation: $355,000 (2012-2014)
  • Searle Freedom Trust: $300,000 (2008-2013)
Koch is especially interested in promoting the view that universities are too left-wing as part of the Koch attempt to capture American universities as documented by the NYTimes:
As early as 1990, entities controlled by the billionaire brothers Charles G. and David H. Koch were given a seat on a committee to pick candidates for a professorship that they funded, the records show. Similar arrangements that continued through 2009 gave donors decision-making roles in selecting candidates for key economics appointments at the Mercatus Center, a Koch-funded think tank on campus that studies markets and regulation. The appointments, which also created faculty lines at George Mason, were steered to professors who, like the Kochs, embraced unconstrained free markets.
Koch doesn't donate money to FIRE out of the goodness of his heart, it's part of his political campaign against liberalism. And Pinker is one of the favorite useful idiots of Koch. Which is why he emphasizes his liberal bona fides - to give cover to the fact that FIRE is a NOT a non-partisan quest for fairness but rather a project of right-wing plutocrats who have no interest in fairness or justice whatsoever.

This is one of the reasons why Steven Pinker is so annoying - his utter lack of intellectual integrity, which is the source of the constant see-sawing between weak and strong pinkerism.