Debating Pinker

Andrew Sullivan —  Nov 2 2011 @ 7:12pm

The Boston Review hosts a back-and-forth on one of the Dish's current obsessions. Morgan Meis has issues with the book:

Halfway through reading Pinker’s book, I felt as though I was being beaten up: either I accept modernity in its entirety or I am, in essence, nostalgic for a world of immense cruelty and violence. For all his talk of scientific objectivity in his analysis, Pinker is guilty of irrational whimsy. The story of declining violence could just as easily be told, after all, without the additional claims about progress in all things. But that isn’t enough for Pinker—he wants to see an historical trajectory here, leading from worse to better.

 S. Abbas Raza counters:

[Meis assigns] Pinker a role as an unquestioning cheerleader for capitalism, and again, this is a misleading description made possible by stripping away the context of what he actually says. After presenting the evidence for the centuries-long decline of homicide rates in Europe, for instance, Pinker presents two main explanations to account for it. The first cites the consolidation of many small political units into larger entities ruled by powerful monarchs. This prevented the constant battles and feuds between knights and warlords in which peasants were mercilessly exterminated as a way of weakening one’s rivals.