Steven Pinker's "The Better Angels of Our Nature"

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Steven Pinker's "The Better Angels of Our Nature"

Post by mdsimpson92 » Fri Jan 16, 2015 9:04 pm

Just finished reading this and I have to say that I was impressed. Pinker definitely has an atheist bent in his thinking, but his general explanations for why relative violence in the world has gone down over the last century is pretty compelling. He goes pretty in depth concerning government control, education, increased empathy, less emphasis on ideology, less focus on the concept of "honor." All of these things he seems to give good explanations for.

If I had to criticize something is his tendency to focus too much on the West, while he does go into other countries, he does seem to like going back to the Middle Ages and definitely worships the Enlightenment to an extent. Also, he makes a lot of references and interpretations of the Bible that I'm not quite sure fit in context, but these references are central to his argument, merely examples among many others.
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Re: Steven Pinker's "The Better Angels of Our Nature"

Post by Magritte » Mon Jan 19, 2015 12:26 pm

Interesting. I've seen it around and was wondering if it was worthwhile or a bit fluffy. Wonder what he'd have to say about recent developments like IS and Boko Haram.
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Re: Steven Pinker's "The Better Angels of Our Nature"

Post by mdsimpson92 » Tue Jan 20, 2015 9:21 pm

Magritte wrote:Interesting. I've seen it around and was wondering if it was worthwhile or a bit fluffy. Wonder what he'd have to say about recent developments like IS and Boko Haram.
Well, maybe that was one reason why he was primarily focused on the West. The Middle East never had an Enlightenment or the distinction between church and state that Christianity had. He does mention the more honor based ethics that is present there in contrast to the law based ideas of Western Europe and North America (though that honor based ideas is still prevalent in the American South).
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Re: Steven Pinker's "The Better Angels of Our Nature"

Post by mdsimpson92 » Tue Jan 20, 2015 9:25 pm

mdsimpson92 wrote:
Magritte wrote:Interesting. I've seen it around and was wondering if it was worthwhile or a bit fluffy. Wonder what he'd have to say about recent developments like IS and Boko Haram.
Well, maybe that was one reason why he was primarily focused on the West. The Middle East never had an Enlightenment or the distinction between church and state that Christianity had. He does mention the more honor based ethics that is present there in contrast to the law based ideas of Western Europe and North America (though that honor based ideas is still prevalent in the American South).
He does mention that the radicalism is a possible result of that honor based ethics mixed with being constantly invaded, colonized, and left in the dust of/by Western nations for hundreds of years. It is a shot to their identity. ISIS would be the most extreme example. Though perhaps it may end up like the 30 Years War with so much death that everyone just says "screw it, bygones be bygones." By the way, just started reading on that war, nasty nasty stuff.
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Re: Steven Pinker's "The Better Angels of Our Nature"

Post by Magritte » Wed Jan 21, 2015 9:12 am

mdsimpson92 wrote:
mdsimpson92 wrote:
Magritte wrote:Interesting. I've seen it around and was wondering if it was worthwhile or a bit fluffy. Wonder what he'd have to say about recent developments like IS and Boko Haram.
Well, maybe that was one reason why he was primarily focused on the West. The Middle East never had an Enlightenment or the distinction between church and state that Christianity had. He does mention the more honor based ethics that is present there in contrast to the law based ideas of Western Europe and North America (though that honor based ideas is still prevalent in the American South).
He does mention that the radicalism is a possible result of that honor based ethics mixed with being constantly invaded, colonized, and left in the dust of/by Western nations for hundreds of years. It is a shot to their identity. ISIS would be the most extreme example. Though perhaps it may end up like the 30 Years War with so much death that everyone just says "screw it, bygones be bygones." By the way, just started reading on that war, nasty nasty stuff.
There's one school of thought that the west shouldn't engage, that IS is just going to have to run its course and let everyone get sick of them, as horrible as it sounds, instead of having them gain an external enemy to focus on. Which they'd love, because I think they know this is the case. Thus the constant goading and holding foreigners hostage. Strategically it could easily become another Vietnam (or, um, Iraq, or Afghanistan) with western troops unable to distinguish fighters and their supporters from the public. Not that there would even be clear lines to be drawn between those groups.

One thing I've read about the 30 years war and its awfulness was, it was a huge influence on Leibniz's thinking, being born at the tail end of it, and it informed his ideas of a universal Christian state that would unite... well Europe, mostly.

About the American south - I think it's not just a canard that they're still stuck in the civil war mindset; that loss was an affront to their dignity in the same sense that exploitation and occupation were an affront to the middle east.
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Re: Steven Pinker's "The Better Angels of Our Nature"

Post by mdsimpson92 » Thu Jan 22, 2015 11:42 pm

Magritte wrote: There's one school of thought that the west shouldn't engage, that IS is just going to have to run its course and let everyone get sick of them, as horrible as it sounds, instead of having them gain an external enemy to focus on. Which they'd love, because I think they know this is the case. Thus the constant goading and holding foreigners hostage. Strategically it could easily become another Vietnam (or, um, Iraq, or Afghanistan) with western troops unable to distinguish fighters and their supporters from the public. Not that there would even be clear lines to be drawn between those groups.

One thing I've read about the 30 years war and its awfulness was, it was a huge influence on Leibniz's thinking, being born at the tail end of it, and it informed his ideas of a universal Christian state that would unite... well Europe, mostly.

About the American south - I think it's not just a canard that they're still stuck in the civil war mindset; that loss was an affront to their dignity in the same sense that exploitation and occupation were an affront to the middle east.
There is an element, though I think it is more the deep South like Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama that have this. Though it is worth noting that this is still going down overall, just not as much as Europe and Canada. It was worth noting that the ancestors of those from the South were shepherds, largely from Ireland, and didn't have as much security under rule of law. When your status was threatened, it meant that people would walk over you. The government wasn't as reliable. In contrast to New England (which has a murder rate comparable to Europe and Canada) their ancestors had that tradition and security under the law, so there is a greater tendency to trust the institutions that are in place. In the South there is a greater suspicion of the government, stronger emphasis on providing yourself with security rather than the government.
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Re: Steven Pinker's "The Better Angels of Our Nature"

Post by Magritte » Fri Jan 23, 2015 8:52 am

mdsimpson92 wrote:
Magritte wrote: There's one school of thought that the west shouldn't engage, that IS is just going to have to run its course and let everyone get sick of them, as horrible as it sounds, instead of having them gain an external enemy to focus on. Which they'd love, because I think they know this is the case. Thus the constant goading and holding foreigners hostage. Strategically it could easily become another Vietnam (or, um, Iraq, or Afghanistan) with western troops unable to distinguish fighters and their supporters from the public. Not that there would even be clear lines to be drawn between those groups.

One thing I've read about the 30 years war and its awfulness was, it was a huge influence on Leibniz's thinking, being born at the tail end of it, and it informed his ideas of a universal Christian state that would unite... well Europe, mostly.

About the American south - I think it's not just a canard that they're still stuck in the civil war mindset; that loss was an affront to their dignity in the same sense that exploitation and occupation were an affront to the middle east.
There is an element, though I think it is more the deep South like Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama that have this. Though it is worth noting that this is still going down overall, just not as much as Europe and Canada. It was worth noting that the ancestors of those from the South were shepherds, largely from Ireland, and didn't have as much security under rule of law. When your status was threatened, it meant that people would walk over you. The government wasn't as reliable. In contrast to New England (which has a murder rate comparable to Europe and Canada) their ancestors had that tradition and security under the law, so there is a greater tendency to trust the institutions that are in place. In the South there is a greater suspicion of the government, stronger emphasis on providing yourself with security rather than the government.
Wow! That clarifies a lot about the south for me. Is that Pinker's analysis, or yours, or from somewhere else?

It's amazing how learned attitudes can persist across generations and centuries.
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Re: Steven Pinker's "The Better Angels of Our Nature"

Post by mdsimpson92 » Fri Jan 23, 2015 10:33 am

Slight correction, they were Scots-Irish herders.

However, yes. The idea of rule of law wasn't as heavily developed as it was in the North. He quotes one guy as basically saying "America reached democracy too soon." The English institutions were not quite as heavily emphasized there. What didn't help was the fact that one aspect of the American Revolution was about the right to bear arms, particularly against an abusive government (not that the British were particularly abusive at the time......to white males). You could say that English culture on rule of law didn't quite settle in fast enough. The revolution probably helped to solidify that emphasis on self-sufficiency in security.

But yes, that is why vigilantism has a higher tendency to be tolerated (again crime rate is going down overall, but it is still there).

This came from Steven Pinker.
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Re: Steven Pinker's "The Better Angels of Our Nature"

Post by Magritte » Sun Jan 25, 2015 10:15 am

OK, I'm sold. This goes on my reading list right after I work through a programming book on physical simulations.

There's been an awful lot of books lately that purport to explain differences between people and societies with neat little sociobiological or ev psych tricks - what I like about this, from what you've said, is that Pinker has a sense of how historical contingencies factor in too.
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Re: Steven Pinker's "The Better Angels of Our Nature"

Post by Metacrock » Mon Oct 19, 2015 8:53 am

mdsimpson92 wrote:Just finished reading this and I have to say that I was impressed. Pinker definitely has an atheist bent in his thinking, but his general explanations for why relative violence in the world has gone down over the last century is pretty compelling. He goes pretty in depth concerning government control, education, increased empathy, less emphasis on ideology, less focus on the concept of "honor." All of these things he seems to give good explanations for.

If I had to criticize something is his tendency to focus too much on the West, while he does go into other countries, he does seem to like going back to the Middle Ages and definitely worships the Enlightenment to an extent. Also, he makes a lot of references and interpretations of the Bible that I'm not quite sure fit in context, but these references are central to his argument, merely examples among many others.

Hey Miles great to see you again! I know you follow my blog but I haven't heard from you in so long.

Seems like I answered a thing by Pinker as one of the early things I researched for TOG, the chapter on RE and drugs and brains. It seems his views on the Bible ere ripe for CARM.
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