Passages from Pinker

As a palette cleanser from my last post, here are some thoughts from my ongoing reading of Steven Pinker’s THE BETTER ANGELS OF OUR NATURE, a history of the world with focus on violence, that summarizes that history through phases: the Civilizing Process; the Humanitarian Revolution, in concert with the Age of Reason and the European Enlightenment; the evidence of the Long Peace of the latter 20th century; and Rights Revolutions since the mid 20th century.

I’m working out of order here, since I haven’t yet summarized his chapter about the Humanitarian Revolution. But from the later chapters about the apparent “New Peace” of the past few decades, and the recent Rights Revolutions, some quotes.

“A world that is less invigorated by honor, glory, and ideology and more tempted by the pleasures of bourgeois life is a world in which fewer people are killed.” (p309.8)

“The mind’s habit of essentialism can lump people into categories; its moral emotions can be applied to them in their entirely. The combination can transform Hobbesian competition among individuals or armies into Hobbesian competition among peoples. But genocide has another fateful component. As Solzhenitsyn pointed out, to kill by the millions you need an ideology.” (p328)

“Religion thrives on woolly allegory, emotional commitments to texts that no one reads, and other forms of benign hypocrisy.” (p367) Echoing earlier comments; it’s just as well.

A long section about the ‘Rights Revolutions’ is about how, in the past 50 or 60 years, tolerance of violence has diminished toward “vulnerable classes of victims that in earlier eras fell outside the circle of protection, such as racial minorities, women, children, homosexuals, and animals.” p380.

Key insight: “The code of etiquette bequeathed by this and the other Rights Revolutions is pervasive enough to have acquired a name. We call it political correctness.”

You realize that those who rail against ‘political correctness’ are those who still wish to demean the various classes mentioned above.

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