Tuesday, July 07, 2020

Steven Pinker, the latest target of "cancel culture"

Steven Pinker is Harvard University's most prominent evolutionary psychologist, a man who knows how to explain why the people (and animals) evolved to think in the ways that we observe.

Aside from hundreds of technical papers that have collected almost 100 thousand citations, he is also well-known for many popular books dedicated (not only) to the intelligent laymen. "The Blank Slate" is one of them; his latest bestseller, "Enlightenment Now...", is an optimistic description of the world we inhabit. During the witch hunts on Larry Summers around 2005, I was fortunate to communicate with him as one of the beautiful minds with a spine. I've also attended some ingenious lectures he gave.

Steven Pinker is not just brilliant but extraordinarily polite, too. Sometimes I have even felt that he was even more polite than I am – which is an extraordinary achievement, as everyone who knows me may confirm. However, his rational approach and sanity visibly contradicts the irrational, totalitarian, and extremely dishonest ideology that has spread in the Western Academia much more than any coronavirus ever can. And this ideology is far more damaging, too.

Being aware of the ideological gap between Pinker's scientific or rational approach to groups and other things, I couldn't be surprised of his becoming a target of the far left "cancel culture". In many cases, the extremism of these people trumps my latest expectations but in this case, Prof Pinker will surely forgive me, I was asking: Why did it take them so long? ;-)

At any rate, it's here. A group of extremists signed and speaking on behalf of all the linguists in the world (Pinker is also a linguist) has penned a hit piece or a petition that was easily supported by 545 signatures to start with:
Letter to the Linguistic Society of America (LSA)
The linguists-proletarians of all countries have united and they demand the LSA to remove Pinker from two prestigious lists, of some fellows and of some experts. To justify their demands, they have listed about a dozen or two of Pinker's perfectionist texts or tweets that directly hit the core of many problems involving race, crime, and other things; and they pointed out that an academically worthless extremist wrote something else about the same problems in a despicable leftist rag. In the signatories' opinion, this contradiction proves that Pinker doesn't belong to the prestigious LSA lists.

Sorry, Ladxes and Gxntlemxn, among other mutated or otherwise fxdged up nouns, but it means something very different. The contradiction actually means that those who can't understand (or, in many cases, who can't even calmly listen to) Pinker's statements that are supported by so much logic and evidence don't belong to the scholarly environment. Pinker surely does. He has arguably contributed to mankind's wisdom more than the signatories combined.

There was a moment when these purges – including the removal of the most stellar intellectuals improving the names of the most famous universities in the world – became an unavoidable event that was scheduled for the future. As far as I can say, this "point of no return" occurred at least 15 years ago. (I sort of overlooked or avoided ideology-related problems in the U.S. up to 2004 but in late 2004 or early 2005, they exploded and made it clear that this was really the moment to "escape from the Holocaust as soon as possible".) Left-leaning scholars who still had some integrity were just way too reckless. They often asked: "Why wouldn't I hire another person for racial or sexual reasons? It will increase the diversity and some ideological points of our, Democratic Party, but it won't hurt the scholarship much."

I always knew that this attitude was insanely irresponsible. Some of the scholars who chose this attitude already see it, too (because they became targets themselves). They were just spectacularly wrong. Of course it was always extremely dangerous to change the balance of the university environment in favor of marginal hires supported by affirmative action who find the ideology – and the gratitude to the ideology for being at well-paid places where they probably wouldn't belong according to the meritocratic criteria – more important than the Academic values such as the Academic freedom, integrity, fairness, accuracy, hard work, and peacefulness and rationality of the polemics.

The people who are at universities for the wrong reasons obviously and predictably feel threatened by those who are there for the right reasons – like Pinker – which is why they want to get rid of the likes of Pinker. And when their number of heads becomes (or became) high enough, they start to act and the cultural revolution arising from these decisions starts to resemble an unstoppable phase transition. We are already in the exponentially growing stage where every success of the current leading totalitarian movement helps them to increase their self-confidence and ambitions further.

Obviously, if the cancellation of a centrist top thinker like Pinker succeeds, any good scholar is likely to be canceled, too. All sensible people should agree that the fix that has any value has to be truly deep. It is basically a revolution that may be described as the cancellation of the universities that exist today – followed by their possible rebirth from scratch. You simply can't sustain a scholarly environment that does what it should do – including quality research and teaching – with huge majorities whose values resemble those of the signatories under the despicable anti-Pinker hit piece.

Meanwhile, Pinker tries to be calm and his Twitter account posts various texts by university folks who support the basic Academic freedom. It's probably the best thing he can do but the prognosis looks poor to me simply because the bad people have probably outnumbered the good ones – and the bad people behave as a scary mob, indeed.

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