The Truth of Progress: Steven Pinker Interviewed by Reason Magazine

Steven Pinker’s new book, The Better Angels of Our Nature, on the decline of violence through history, is great—maybe his best book ever. Well, on second thought, let’s say it ties his The Blank Slate. That’s saying a lot. Here’s Pinker talking about The Better Angels of Our Nature with an editor at Reason magazine:

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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3 Responses to The Truth of Progress: Steven Pinker Interviewed by Reason Magazine

  1. Wow, first time actually seeing what he looks like. Different than the picture in my head …
    http://www.theunderstander.wordpress.com

  2. Paradigm says:

    I hope he is right although to me it seems the third world war is the war against terrorism. And that may bring more violence in the future for the very reasons Pinker bring up as to why violence has declined. Imagine the damage Breivik would have done if he was with the al-Qaeda and really wanted to kill as many civilians as possible rather than political adversaries. Eventually the spread of wealth an information will enable these guys to create much more devastating attacks than the present. And 9/11 illustrates what they are willing to do.

    On the other hand, there may be a limited number of terrorists for genetic reasons. Extreme behavior is highly hereditary. There are a lot of supporter but few seem eager to actually become martyrs. So the gene variants contributing to this may be dwindling in the muslim population. The use of women, children and disabled people seems to indicate this.

    • santitafarella says:

      Paradigm,

      If an Islamic terrorist blew up, say, Tel Aviv with a nuclear device tomorrow, it wouldn’t invalidate Pinker’s thesis (in my view). There will always be jokers in the card pack, and Pinker does not posit that humans are essentially good or bad, but that various civilizational trends have steered, and are steering, humans in the direction of “the better angels of our nature.” It’s a probability game where, even as the stakes get higher (nuclear terrorism; rogue authoritarians with biological weapons; religious fanaticism, etc.), there are other trends working in humanity’s favor.

      The whole Iranian-Israeli situation right now is precarious, and it’s not hard to imagine scenarios that could trigger a regional, then even a global, exchange of nuclear weapons sometime over the next decade (if not the next year). If this happened, Pinker’s book would still be chock-full of valid arguments, but rather ill-timed in its release!

      —Santi : )

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