Monday, March 26, 2018

Pinker's new book has made many enemies

I criticized Steven Pinker's new book under the assumption that everyone else would praise it. I was wrong. Most of the reviews have been negative. See also here.

The main problem is that his defense of Western Civilization and European Enlightenment is seen as white supremacy and racism in disguise. When he rips into Islamic countries as backward and unenlightened, he is seen as bigoted and colonialist.

Pinker is a leftist Jewish atheist Harvard professor, so I thought that he would be immune to those criticisms. Eg, he calls Steve Bannon a fascist and denounces Pres. Trump. Again, I was wrong.

He also gets criticism from folks who should be ideological allies. Eg, Eliezer Yudkowsky writes:
Pinker’s reasoning on AI was so horrifically bad (as reasoning qua reasoning, not to mention as elementary scholarship; angry and dismissive and failing to consider the opposite or try steeling the imagined argument, as well as ignorant of the Bostrom book that even outsiders who’ve heard of the field have heard is the basic literature), that I’m disinclined to believe anything Pinker says about topics I don’t already know about, lest that just be Gell-Mann Amnesia on my own part. I frankly worry he’s gotten old and run out his supply of precision.

My agreeing with Pinker on elementary points of humanism and being on the same side as him against the anti-Enlightenment does not imply an extension of epistemic credit or forgiveness for invalid argument steps. My side *is* the side that thinks arguments have local validity and statements have local truth regardless of who is on what “side”, and I can no longer trust Pinker to be on that side if he thinks that it’s okay to launch dumb arguments against conclusions that he conceives to support his political foes.

And if Pinker has abandoned that side, then I can’t extend him epistemic credit without checking every little thing he claims, and that’s too much work to put into reading a book–especially one whose “side” I’m already on.
Nathan J. Robinson attacks Pinker for being too tolerant of inequality:
Inequality has been talked about so much that it can be easy to forget why it matters. Today, it’s seen as one of the defining issues of our time even by the plutocrats at the Davos conference. Their particular worries may spring mostly from self-interest (see venture capitalist Nick Hanauer’s warning to his fellow one-percenters that unless they got serious about economic inequality, the pitchforks would soon be coming for them), but there are plenty of people whose opposition to inequality is sincere and principled. Millennials, with their infamous tendency toward socialism, are often fairly bitter about a system in which so many languish in the gig economy while a few others get to fund their own private space program.

Yet there are some serious arguments that opposition to economic inequality is misguided. Steven Pinker, in his new book Enlightenment Now, makes the case that inequality itself does not matter, and that people should stop talking about it so much. Pinker claims that inequality is “not a fundamental dimension of human well-being” and that “an increase in inequality is not necessarily bad.” He admits that economic inequality has been growing, but argues that it is wrong to see this as a “counterexample to human progress.”
Pinker presumably recognizes that inequality is a necessity for civilization. The only way to get closer to equality is thru some massive disaster, like war, plague, or famine killing millions of ppl.

Is it possible that Pinker is some sort of closet Nazi?

He has swallowed the red pill about human nature. If he publicly endorsed right-wing views, he would probably get kicked out of Harvard, and lose the high academic status he now enjoys.

My test for detecting closet Nazis, Commies, and other political extremists is the ask the question: Is he operating on the edge of his Overton Window? In the case of Pinker, the answer is yes.

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