Planet Earth

Rational optimist or scientific racist?

Gene ExpressionBy Razib KhanSep 18, 2011 9:29 PM

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I'm quite looking forward to Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. It's coming out in three weeks, so expect to hear a lot more about it. That violence has declined is known outside of Pinker's own work, and I try and spread this "good news" as much as I can. But I've always found it peculiar that some of the most pessimistic and skeptical individuals in regards to these data aren't reactionaries pining for the ancient idyll, but self-styled progressives who seem to believe that we are fallen creatures. Many of the latter are clearly modern followers of Rousseau, previously discussed in The Blank Slate. In any case, Jerry Coyne points me to a really strange aside in a review of Pinker's book in The Guardian:

To be tagged as a credulous optimist is one thing, yet Pinker also risks being condemned as a scientific racist. His graphs on the incidence of murder show present-day tribal and hunter-gatherer cultures to be far more homicidal than even the most lethally armed developed nation, a fact that is bound to bring censure from those Pinker derides as the "anthropologists of peace"

If the reviewer is characterizing these "anthropologists of peace" correctly perhaps it's a commentary on what modern anthropology has become. I'll leave you with some charts....

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