The last time I saw Steven Pinker, at the Old Vic, with Ian McEwan, he was so dreadful that words failed me altogether. I’m glad that Louis Menand was not so afflicted, in the New Yorker.
The insistence on deprecating the efficacy of socialization leads Pinker into absurdities that he handles with a blitheness that would be charming if his self-assurance were not so overdeveloped. He argues, for example, that democracy, the rule of law, and women’s reproductive freedom are all products of evolution. The Founding Fathers understood that the ideas of power sharing and individual rights are grounded in human nature. And he quotes, with approval, the claim of two evolutionary psychologists that the “evolutionary calculus” explains why women evolved “to exert control over their own sexuality, over the terms of their relationships, and over the choice of which men are to be the fathers of their children.” Now, democracy, individual rights, and women’s sexual autonomy are concepts almost nowhere to be found, even in the West, before the eighteenth century. Either human beings spent ten thousand years denying their own nature by slavishly obeying the whims of the rich and the powerful, cheerfully burning heretics at the stake, and arranging their daughters’ marriages (which would imply a pretty effective system of socialization), or modern liberal society is largely a social construction. Which hypothesis seems more plausible?
(I found this on Electrolite. Apparently it has been transcribed from the printed edition. It doesn’t seem to be online).