Steven Pinker, HOW THE MIND WORKS, post 3

Chapter 7, “Family Values,” is about the psychology of social relations, is the longest chapter in the book, and second-to-last. The author recalls that period in the 1960s when activists and folk singers called for peace and understanding, and new era, the Age of Aquarius. John Lennon’s “Imagine.” It didn’t last. Indeed, studies showed long lists of human traits that are found in all cultures, including violence. Another scholar showed how, of all the plots found in literature, most are tragedies involving kinship or love. That doesn’t mean that all cultures don’t deplore violence and try to reduce it in various ways; but conflict is part of human nature.

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Agents of Chaos

  • A piece in The Atlantic about people who embrace chaos and nihilism — and spread conspiracy theories just to alleviate boredom, or burn it all down;
  • And an example of this: Washington Post on Libs of Tik Tok;
  • And recalling a scientifictional counterpart: Harlan Ellison’s 1965 short story “‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman”

Here’s a substantial article about a possible deep explanation for so much of what’s going on lately, as well as the entire popularity of conspiracy theories. I come to this in the context of Harari’s speculations about what people in the future will do when or if they don’t need to work anymore. (In Homo Deus, reviewed here. Chapter 9.) Take drugs (i.e. pharmacology to mediate moods and behavior), and play computer games.

(Or become obsessed watching sports, I might add.)

Here’s another idea.

The Atlantic, Derek Thompson, 23 Feb 2024: The Americans Who Need Chaos, subtitled “They’re embracing nihilism and upending politics.”

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Steven Pinker, HOW THE MIND WORKS, post 2

The last few chapters are especially rich and fascinating. Here’s Chapter 6, about human emotions.

Ch6, Hotheads

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More on the IVF Brouhaha

  • Vox summarizes the issue;
  • Republicans are walking the issue back; they know it won’t win them votes;
  • Amanda Marcotte on how this is about Christians controlling women;
  • Robert Reich on the emerging Republican theocracy;
  • A link to Connie Willis’ latest screed, about this issue and many other things;
  • And Crowded House’s “Pour de Monde”.

Vox summarizes the story so far.

Vox, Rachel M. Cohen, 23 Feb 2024: Alabama’s IVF warning to the country, subtitled “The movement to treat embryos as full-fledged people is taking a victory lap.”

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Steven Pinker, HOW THE MIND WORKS, post 1

I mentioned this book a few days ago and quoted from it. Now I’ve finished it and will summarize and highlight. As I said earlier, I’ve had this book since it was published in 1997 (I have a first edition, first printing), and have dipped into and browsed through it from time to time, but until now have never sat down and read it all the way through.

This was Pinker’s second big popular book, after THE LANGUAGE INSTINCT in 1994. In a sense here he’s trying to cover all the major things the mind does, aside from language, already covered. And it’s one of the fundamental modern books about current ideas of the brain and mind and of human psychology.

(Norton, xii + 660pp, including 95pp notes, references, and index; October 1997)

Two impressions strike. First, there’s a lot of familiar material here, partly because I’ve seen similar topics in later books, but also because some of those topics were covered by E.O. Wilson, especially his 1978 book ON HUMAN NATURE (review). Both Wilson and Pinker draw heavily on genetic explanations for human behavior that go back to the 1960s, is why. Given that, it was interesting to find the occasional completely new idea, to me, in Pinker, and I’ll highlight those here.

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Progress, and Regression

  • Progress: This afternoon the US has landed a spacecraft, albeit unmanned, on the Moon, for the first time in over 50 years;
  • Regression: the religious mindset behind the Alabama IVF decision; more examples of the ambitions of the Christian nationalists;
  • Heather Cox Richardson on these issues;
  • WaPo on the lucrative world of Covid misinformation;
  • And Crowded House: “Catherine Wheels”, an early example of Neil Finn’s beautiful pendant melodies.


CNN, this afternoon: Odysseus becomes first US spacecraft to land on moon in over 50 years

NY Times, 22 Feb 2024: U.S. Lands Spacecraft on Moon for First Time Since 1972



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In her soft wind I will whisper

  • Paul Krugman on how people see what they believe, despite evidence, regarding Tucker Carlson and his visit to Russia;
  • Robert Reich on how Trump, and Putin, are not leaders; they’re thugs;
  • About selective memory among conservatives about the economy under Trump and Biden, and those gold sneakers Trump is hawking;
  • Amanda Marcotte expands on the right’s plans under Trump to turn America into a Christian theocracy;
  • About an Alabama Supreme Court justice all for spreading Christian nationalism;
  • Conservative obsession with pedophilia, and the world being rigged;
  • How the Alabama decision about IVF is base superstition; would a firefighter run into a burning building to save a frozen embryo?
  • How Sam Alito allows faith-based bigotry;
  • And Crowded House’s “She Goes On.”

Paul Krugman, NY Time, 20 Feb 2024: Believing Is Seeing (The link here is a gift link, so you can read the piece without being a NYT subscriber.)

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Black Shapes Gather in the Distance

Items from the fringe, many related to my comments at the end of yesterday’s post.

  • How Christian nationalists plan to use a second Trump administration to infuse their policies into all aspects of government;
  • How conservatives claim to “disagree” with things that are actually real;
  • What Bigfoot believers have in common with Trump supporters;
  • How Christian nationalists believe in demons, revealing their loose grip on reality;
  • West Virginia Republicans would like to be able to put librarians into jail;
  • And how that recent poll about the best presidents puts Trump last, and how the conservatives have reacted;
  • A substantial piece by Jeffrey Rosen about how the Founders worried about “a populist demagogue [who] would flatter the mob”;
  • Music this week: revisiting Crowded House, with “Into the Lowlands.”


As I was saying yesterday.

Politico, 20 Feb 2024: Trump allies prepare to infuse ‘Christian nationalism’ in second administration, subtitled “Spearheading the effort is Russell Vought, president of The Center for Renewing America, part of a conservative consortium preparing for Trump’s return to power.”

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Looking Up Instead of Down

Two pieces today about how humanity is progressing, in its understanding of the world and in its social progress, rather than regressing, as conservative movements around the world are striving to do.

  • Richard Dawkins on science as a jewel in humanity’s crown;
  • Steven Pinker on how humanity, through institutions, can overcome the evolutionary derived bases for the more toxic relationships among families and friends;
  • And my comments about why conservatives are against these things.
– – –


Richard Dawkins, Free Inquiry, February/March 2024: Science, the Poetry of Reality, Jewel in Humanity’s Crown

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More Behaving Badly

  • Robert Reich on Trump, ever the con artist;
  • David French on the warping of American life by MAGA threats of violence;
  • Trump doesn’t realize he’s the cause of US demise;
  • The informant who inspired the Republican Biden investigation has been arrested for passing false information;
  • Trump and his family show a lack of remorse that “borders on the pathological”;
  • Another hate preacher who says gays should be exterminated;
  • Republicans and their battle against the zombie apocalypse;
  • How sounding crazy is part of Trump’s appeal;
  • Fareed Zakaria on how Tucker Carlson and the populist right prefer clean cities run by authoritarians in conformist societies to actual American cities in a diverse democracy.
– – –

Robert Reich, 16 Feb 2024: How Trump is liable for fraud even though no one was hurt, subtitled “He was never a successful businessman. He was always a con artist.”

Trump’s lawyers had argued — and will surely argue on appeal — that there was no fraud because there was no victim and no one had been harmed. In a statement on Friday, a Trump Organization spokeswoman noted that the company had “never missed any loan payment or been in default on any loan” and that the lenders “performed extensive due diligence prior to entering into these transactions.”

So where’s the fraud?

Trump’s lenders thought they were making safer loans than they were because Trump inflated the value of his assets to make it seem like he had more collateral than he actually did, and therefore he was a more reliable borrower than he actually was.

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