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Author Topic: Pinker's "Better Angels..."  (Read 4382 times)
nebo113
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« on: November 24, 2012, 5:49:51 PM »

Bookclub is reading "Better Angels...."  Pinker is not my favorite but....  Do we have a thread on it anywhere (I did try the search function.)?

If not, has anyone else waded through it and have comments, cudgels?
« Last Edit: November 24, 2012, 5:50:46 PM by nebo113 » Logged
yellowtractor
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« Reply #1 on: November 24, 2012, 5:50:35 PM »

I am not familiar with this book.  Does it in fact identify which angels are better?
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nebo113
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« Reply #2 on: November 24, 2012, 5:53:13 PM »

The better angels seem to be contemporary human beings.  His thesis is that we are not as violent as we were up before we became civilized agrarians....or something.  It's a tome; the only tome I've ever much enjoyed was Gone with the Wind when I was 18.
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larryc
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« Reply #3 on: November 29, 2012, 1:17:44 AM »

In his new book, Steven Pinker argues that our current era is less violent, ... but Steven Pinker's “Better Angels of Our Nature” tells us much more than ... Why are homicide rates higher in the southerly states of this country than .

Yet we eliminate spammers by thousands, and no one sheds a tear.
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nezahualcoyotl
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« Reply #4 on: November 29, 2012, 11:32:29 AM »

The better angels seem to be contemporary human beings.  His thesis is that we are not as violent as we were up before we became civilized agrarians....or something. 

This would seem blindingly obvious, but it sounds like a refreshing take on the subject rather than the usual tropes on the evils of modernity.
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nebo113
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« Reply #5 on: December 03, 2012, 7:01:46 PM »

neza-- Pinker says the the media (if it bleeds, it leads) influences (brainwashes) us to see the world as more violent than it actually is. 
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nezahualcoyotl
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« Reply #6 on: December 10, 2012, 11:28:55 PM »

neza-- Pinker says the the media (if it bleeds, it leads) influences (brainwashes) us to see the world as more violent than it actually is. 

I agree with the second part, but if it bleeds, it doesn't necessarily lead (think the never-ending Congolese war, which IIRC is the bloodiest war since WWII yet is mostly ignored by the media, at least outside Africa). The media approach is more like "if people like us bleed, then it leads."
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oldfullprof
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« Reply #7 on: December 18, 2012, 1:25:47 AM »

I'm reading it now, and it does seem to have a slapped together quality.  But...it's pleasant... I don't really know if that's a recommendation.  I agree that large-scale slaughter has dropped off (most of the time,) but let's see how we do with global warming and its social effects (like competition over resources.)
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oldfullprof
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« Reply #8 on: March 14, 2013, 9:38:31 AM »

I finally finished the monster.  I like the overall message, which may well be true.  Or we could be in an era like the 19th Century Peace of Vienna with a resource cataclysm lurking in the future.

Here are some specific critiques.  I'm not comfortable with the psychologized biology that Pinker cites about how people think and act.  Also, I think he overdoes the prisoners' dilemma-- it appears in virtually every chapter.

He gets Max Weber very wrong.  Weber proposed a stage of rational-legal domination.  This does not mean neutral market relations (although they may be epiphenominal.)  Weber is much more like a secularized Nietzsche.  It's about pushing power onto people.  In Weber, they have to agree to legitimize it, so this sort of agrees with Pinker's citing Hobbes, but Pinkers write up of this is uninformed.

Globalization of markets is not a wonderful and neutral thing because it binds us all through trade.  It, in fact, increases tensions between world rulers and world workers as security is diminished and it is harder for workers to push back because capital is too nimble.

Obsessive compulsive disorder is not healthy for people and other living things (projection much?)  Sexual repression is ugly, even when touted by menschlicher bourgeois dad types.  There are few people, Steve, who don't fantasize about sex with others outside their relationships, even if they forgo it.

Pinker doesn't understand dependency theory, and is not allowed to just shove it aside.  It does inform the active ways underdevelopment was maintained by arriviste imperialist countries in their relations with colonized areas.

It's an optimistic read-- but has many faults.  
« Last Edit: March 14, 2013, 9:39:25 AM by oldfullprof » Logged

Taste o' the Sixties
nebo113
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« Reply #9 on: June 09, 2013, 11:58:34 AM »

I finally finished the monster.  I like the overall message, which may well be true.  Or we could be in an era like the 19th Century Peace of Vienna with a resource cataclysm lurking in the future.

Here are some specific critiques.  I'm not comfortable with the psychologized biology that Pinker cites about how people think and act.  Also, I think he overdoes the prisoners' dilemma-- it appears in virtually every chapter.

He gets Max Weber very wrong.  Weber proposed a stage of rational-legal domination.  This does not mean neutral market relations (although they may be epiphenominal.)  Weber is much more like a secularized Nietzsche.  It's about pushing power onto people.  In Weber, they have to agree to legitimize it, so this sort of agrees with Pinker's citing Hobbes, but Pinkers write up of this is uninformed.

Globalization of markets is not a wonderful and neutral thing because it binds us all through trade.  It, in fact, increases tensions between world rulers and world workers as security is diminished and it is harder for workers to push back because capital is too nimble.

Obsessive compulsive disorder is not healthy for people and other living things (projection much?)  Sexual repression is ugly, even when touted by menschlicher bourgeois dad types.  There are few people, Steve, who don't fantasize about sex with others outside their relationships, even if they forgo it.

Pinker doesn't understand dependency theory, and is not allowed to just shove it aside.  It does inform the active ways underdevelopment was maintained by arriviste imperialist countries in their relations with colonized areas.

It's an optimistic read-- but has many faults.  

I guess that was my problem with it:  optimism based on faults.  I'd like optimism based on reality.
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ralfyph
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« Reply #10 on: June 11, 2013, 2:00:40 AM »

Interesting second chart here, which shows conflict-related deaths increasing in both absolute and relative terms during the last century compared to the previous four:

http://democraticpeace.wordpress.com/2009/01/27/why-the-20th-century-was-the-bloodiest-of-all/
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oldfullprof
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« Reply #11 on: June 27, 2013, 5:50:26 PM »

Ralfyph, sort of more in agreement with your last.
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Taste o' the Sixties
nezahualcoyotl
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« Reply #12 on: June 29, 2013, 1:38:27 PM »

Interesting second chart here, which shows conflict-related deaths increasing in both absolute and relative terms during the last century compared to the previous four:

http://democraticpeace.wordpress.com/2009/01/27/why-the-20th-century-was-the-bloodiest-of-all/


I suspect the figures would change quite a lot if they were figures of deaths directly attributable to deliberate human action - the deliberate spread of disease, violent deaths, esp. systematic murder not usually labeled war (drug violence, for example), deliberate famine, literally working people to death, etc. In the Americas in the 16th century the percentage deaths for that would probably be well over 50%, and I doubt even WWII in Eastern Europe would be worse.
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'Education is like a venereal disease; it makes you unsuitable for many jobs, and then you have the urge to pass it on.'
-Terry Pratchett

I do solemnly swear to obey all the laws of thermodynamics.
ralfyph
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« Reply #13 on: June 30, 2013, 4:00:33 AM »

I don't see any relevance in doing so. After all, a few can kill many given deadlier weapons today, but does that make our situation less violent?
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nezahualcoyotl
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« Reply #14 on: July 02, 2013, 11:28:40 PM »

I'm not sure I understand - yes, we have more powerful weapons than ever before, and therefore the relatively low levels of violence since 1945 in much of the world are more striking. A serious case can be made for Mutually Assured Destruction keeping the peace, and MAD only works if both sides have credible nuclear second strike capabilities.
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'Education is like a venereal disease; it makes you unsuitable for many jobs, and then you have the urge to pass it on.'
-Terry Pratchett

I do solemnly swear to obey all the laws of thermodynamics.
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