Friday, 20 March 2015

John Gray v Steven Pinker on the alleged decline of violence

John Gray and Steven Pinker have been attacking each other in the media over Pinker's claim the world is becoming a less violent place. Worth reading and some of the comments are good also. I love how Pinker's article is placed in the 'Death and Dying' category of the paper.

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/mar/13/john-gray-steven-pinker-wrong-violence-war-declining?CMP=share_btn_tw


 http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/mar/20/wars-john-gray-conflict-peace?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter 

18 comments:

  1. Arguing about war is a bit of a red herring. My first reaction was to ask: what about psychological violence? The number of suicides around the world is increasing, predominantly and ironically in the most peaceful and medically/technologically advanced countries. Even if war is all but eradicated, boredom and a general sense of the emptiness of existence will take its place and cause a great amount of suffering. Indeed, boredom seems rather underrated as a form of suffering in my opinion.

    I also sense a kind of gamesmanship and point scoring coming from Pinker, whose rather banal point is that violence has been decreasing. Yes, perhaps, but for a statistically meaningless amount of time for just a few generations of humans, a species he clearly favors. What about all the millions of years of evolution on this planet during which myriad life forms devoured each other? What about the vast, mostly irredeemable changes to the climate and biosphere that humans have caused during this same span of time? Some good a lack of war will do us when more deadly natural disasters take its place! And too bad non-human animals don't have quite the same "stuff of thought" to more clearly express their terror and pain at being systematically obliterated, either for food or just because they were in the way, by the hairless ape overlords!

    As Schopenhauer remarked, any kind of optimism, including Pinker's, always comes across as a bitter mockery of the very real sufferings of innumerable creatures, both human and not. One has the urge to be Pinker's Virgil and show him around the various circles of hell on earth so that he can see the hollowness of his claims. How patronizing it would be to some poor man in pain to see an Ivy League pinhead like Pinker explain to him that he may take his suffering in stride, for according to the data, humans outwardly appear to be less violent! No spreadsheet or chart showing a meaningless trend ever cured cancer or will ever cure it.

    Speaking of which, the budget for cancer research has been recently slashed by the federal government, the members of which were elected by people who "vote in democracies," a group Pinker uses to "measure progress." How very strange! What's also strange is the juxtaposition that comes right after that in his list: "enjoying the necessities of modern life." Chew on that phrase for a minute. What exactly is he trying to say? Who the hell "enjoys" the necessities of life - which presumably include things like defecating, contracting illnesses, becoming an invalid in old age, and finally dying - let alone modern life - which presumably include things like being forced to work under a system of wage slavery, owning various items like cars that help destroy the environment and other species, and living in a completely asinine, morally vacuous culture as well as under a government controlled by sociopathic plutocrats? Oh yes, Pinker, I do so much "enjoy" these necessities and I'm sure everyone else does too....

    Anyway, I recently discovered your blog, Karl, and have since then read through most of the entries with great interest and (genuine!) enjoyment and wanted to debut a comment on your newest one.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Anonymous. I thoroughly enjoyed and relished reading your excellent comment several times over:-)

      Delete
    2. perfect. completely in tune with my thoughts. chronic anxiety, loneliness, boredom and thoughts of impending terror are all sources of violence. one dies a thousand deaths before.

      Delete
    3. Do you honestly think Pinker means to console any suffering individual by invoking statistical trends that go opposite to his/her personal experience?

      Delete
    4. To the second anon, no, I don't think Pinker means to console any suffering individual, but I do think he means to console himself and his likely optimistic worldview. His claim that less war = glorious human progress loses much if not all of the force he imbues it with in light of my considerations above, such that in reality it is rather meaningless both quantitatively, in terms of its scope, and qualitatively, in terms of the kind of suffering he talks about and on whom this suffering is inflicted.

      Delete
    5. An excellent read anon - thank you.

      Delete
    6. Great reply. I find Pinker to be very mediocre and lacking a capacity for complexity, nuance, and humanity.

      Delete
  2. Anon,

    Very good points.... Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Some comments by Gray:

    http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/mar/13/john-gray-steven-pinker-wrong-violence-war-declining

    Bold emphasis mine:

    "Such links between Enlightenment thinking and 20th-century barbarism are, for Pinker, merely aberrations, distortions of a pristine teaching that is innocent of any crime: the atrocities that have been carried out in its name come from misinterpreting the true gospel, or its corruption by alien influences. The childish simplicity of this way of thinking is reminiscent of Christians who ask how a religion of love could possibly be involved in the Inquisition. In each case it is pointless to argue the point, since what is at stake is an article of faith."

    "In Europe, targeted killing of journalists, artists and Jews in Paris and Copenhagen embodies a type of warfare that refuses to recognise any distinction between combatants and civilians. Whether they accept the fact or not, advanced societies have become terrains of violent conflict. Rather than war declining, the difference between peace and war has been fatally blurred."

    ------

    And when the resources really start to dwindle we will see just how civilized and empathic this 'peace loving' mankind really is.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Nice to see Pinker's brand of optimism getting its well-deserved slapdown by someone as eloquent as John Gray.

    ReplyDelete
  5. There is no solution for violence.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The solution to violence is more violence.

      Delete
  6. Pinker's only great work was The Blank Slate, in which he defended the view that people's temperament, intellignece and behavour is mostly due to our genes, and not upbringing. This has massive consequences regarding immigration and education.

    I also doubt that in a 100 years from now there will still be people in Europe interested in our culture. Schopenhauer, Cioran as well as Shakespeare, Goethe and so on will no longer be printed; the dwindling european population and the mass immigration of africans and people from the middle east with vastly different cultures will most likely lead to a civil war, and huge cultural degradation. All in all I can say good riddance to such a world, as european culture is the only thing that keeps me living, and if that's going to vanish, there is no reason for _anyone_ anymore to live (I also count Davila and japanese authors like Akutagawa, Dazai and Soseki to western culture, as they have been heavily influenced by european authors). Apropos Japan: they do it right by massively limiting immigration and counting on robots. O tempora o mores!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I can only say that sadly I think your prophecies sound highly accurate.

      Delete
    2. Karl, I agree with many of the things you write but agreeing with the above comment smacks somewhat of this wave of right-wing xenophobia that is drowning large parts of Europe.

      When Anonymous above rattles on about "the mass immigration of africans" and things of that sort, I can only sigh about how short our collective memories here in the so called developed world is... after-all much of this wealth was built directly upon the plunder, looting and pillaging of other lands.

      And ultimately, all of humanity is one big mess...regardless of which part of this godforsaken globe they might come from.

      Delete
    3. Why should I or anyone else be welcoming mass immigration to an already overcrowded continent?

      Delete
    4. Let this be a message to minorities everywhere: stop harshing Karl's melancholy with your differing levels of melanin and insufficient knowledge of moldy dead crackers.

      Delete
    5. I love it when sanctimonious morons play the race card to paper over uncomfortable issues that threaten their worldview.

      Delete