Ilya's Reviews > The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature
The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature
by Steven Pinker
by Steven Pinker
Dec 28, 10
Political arguments generally cannot be resolved from the first principles, if only because the first principles are about things too far removed from the details of real-life political controversies. I am reminded of the conversation I had with some Internet libertarian: my opponent brings up an absurd example of government regulation of the economy; I object that his example does not prove that all government regulation is wrong, since everything is harmful in excessive quantities: if you drink too much water, the pH of your blood will change so much that you can die, but this does not mean that drinking water is generally bad for you; my opponent replies that "socialism" is more like arsenic than it is like water. In this book cognitive scientist Steven Pinker asserts, correctly in my opinion, that there is a human nature (including gender differences, largely heritable intelligence and personality traits, greater empathy with relatives compared to strangers, and so on), and that the many academics who say that there is not - and he dredges up dozens of hilarious examples - are all wrong. What I cannot agree with are Pinker's claims about the impact this fact should have on politics, child rearing, violence and the arts, where according to Pinker, the obvious truth has been distorted by lefties, especially academics who engage in "moral exhibitionism". For example, Pinker cites some feminists who say that rape is not an extreme form of sex but an extreme form of humiliation; he asserts that they are wrong: rape is a reproductive strategy, and as such, it is a part of male nature as much as other reproductive strategies such as marriage. Well, South Africa, with population 44 million, has about 50 thousand reported rapes per year; Japan, with population 127 million, has about 2200 reported rapes per year (and in the late 1990s the number was about 1600). Surely, the fact that the capacity for rape is a part of male nature tells us nothing about the possible prevalence of rape in a society, and this is what's interesting. Then why do we care about things that tell us nothing about what's interesting? That modern and postmodern art is elitist is well-known; the Modern Library's editors' and readers' lists of 100 best novels and 100 best nonfiction books are my favorite proof of this; but why drag human nature, which modern and postmodern art supposedly runs counter to, into the picture? Are the Modern Library editors not human?
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