Evil and Other Perspectives

Below are notes for chapters 14 and 15 of ‘s The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature.

Topic:Evil & Psychopathy (compare to Ridley on Schizophrenia)
“Several biologists have adduced evidence that psychopathy is a cheating strategy that evolved by frequency-dependent selection. Statistical analysis shows that a psychopath, rather than merely falling at the end of a continuum for one or two traits, has a distinct cluster of traits (superficial charm, impulsivity, irresponsibility, callousness, guiltlessness, mendacity, and exploitiveness) that sets him off from the rest of the population.” (Pinker 261) (following this Pinker lists Normal Mailer and William F. Buckley as notables tricked by psychopaths. He could have listed Winston Churchill, too. Likewise, is the fact that symptoms match the definition just a function of the definition?)
“Psychopaths, as far as we know, cannot be ‘cured… a problem that many intellectuals tried to wish away in the twentieth century but that has long been a concern of religion, philosophy, and fiction: the existence of evil.'” (Pinker 263)


Topic:Abuse
“In traditional foraging societies, genetic relatives are more likely to live together, work in each other’s gardens, protect each other, and adopt each other’s needy or orphaned children, and are less likely to attack, feud with, and kill each other.” (Pinker 245) (Interesting that he mentioned adoption)
“Until recently, in most cultures, mothers had had poor prospects for sustaining a newborn to maturity cut their losses and abandoned it to die.” (Pinker 248-249) (but isn’t this now true with abortions?)

Topic:Old Ideas
“B.F. Skinner, ever the Maoist, wrote in the 1970s that people should be rewarded for eating in large communal dining halls rather than at home with their families, because large pots have a lower ratio of surface area to volume than small pots and hence are more energy efficient.” (Pinker 246)

Topic:Petty Loyalties (compare to the Petty Troika)
“when leaders have tried to unite a social group they have trained their members to think of it as a family and to redirect their familial emotions inside it.” (Pinker 247)
“In traditional societies, children were shackled to the family’s land, betrothed in arranged marriages, and under the thumb of the family patriarch.” (Pinker 251) (I think Buller disagrees)
“It is not just the husband or boyfriend who takes a proprietary interest in a women’s sexual activity, then, but also her father and brothers.” (Pinker 254)
“the last hunter-gatherers in our own culture, commercial fishermen.” (Pinker 258) (interesting thought!)

Topic:Leftism
“Some radical scientists imagine that the only alternative is an Ayn Randian individualism in which every man is an island. Steven rose and the sociobiologist Hillary Rose, for instance, call evolutionary psychologist a ‘ring-wing libertarian attack on collectivity.'” (Pinker 255)
“Much of what is today called ‘social criticism’ consists of members of the upper classes denouncing the tastes of the lower classes.” (Pinker 277)
“[Academic leftists] condemn ideas whose very contemplation ought to give rise to feelings of disgust and denounced the less-than-human scientists who can even think of such a thing. But of course it is the job of scholars to think about things, even if only to make it clear why they are wrong. Moralization and scholarship thus often find themselves on a collision course.” (Pinker 279)

Topic:Religion & Morality
“In the nineteenth century and early decades of the twentieth, self-contained communes based on a philosophy of communal sharing sprang up throughout the United States. All of them collapsed from internal tensions, the ones guided by socialist ideology after a median of two years, the ones guided by religious ideology after a median of twenty years.” (Pinker 257) (Leaving aside still-extant >Hutterite Colonies, this argues that religious memes are an order-of-magnitude more powerful than secular ones.)
“If someone believes abortion is immoral, then allowing other people to engage in it is not an option, any more than allowing people to rape or murder is an option.” (Pinker 269) (interesting thought, but simplistic view of morality.)
“three spheres of morality — ethic of autonomy pertains to an individual’s interests and rights — community pertains to the mores of the social group — divinity pertains to a sense of exalted purity and holiness.” (Pinker 271)
“The reason that dominance got melded with morality in the first place is that reciprocity depends not only on a person’s willingness to grand and return favors but on that person’s ability to do so, and dominant people have that ability.” (Pinker 272)
“The ethic of community also includes a deference to an established hierarchy, and the mind (including the Western mind) all too easily conflates prestige with morality.” (Pinker 273)
“When college students are given descriptions of people and asked to rate their character, they judge that a person who eats cheeseburgers and milkshakes is less nice and considerate than a person who eats chicken and salad!” (Pinker 275)

Topic:Kurzban
“And then there is the Public Good game, in which everyone makes a voluntary contribution to a common pot of money, the experimenter doubles it, and the pot is divided evenly among the participants regardless of what they contributed.” (Pinker 257) (this game was described by Bob Kurzban. The book mentions other games, including the Dictator game, immediately before this)

Topic:Sex & Marriage
“infidelity, stepchildren, and in-laws are among the main causes of marital strife… The psychologist Elizabeth Paul sums up her research on the phenomenon: ‘Casual sex is not casual. Very few people are coming out unscathed.'” (Pinker 253)
“People may have sex in private for the same reason that people during a famine eat in private: to avoid inciting dangerous envy.” (Pinker 254)

Topic:Modularity & Limits of Self-Knowledge
“the conventional view that natural selection favors nervous systems which produce ever more accurate images of the world must be a very naive view of mental evolution… when a person suffers neurological damage, the healthy parts of the brain engage in extraordinary confabulations to explain away the foibles caused by the damaged parts (which are invisible to the self because they are part of the self.” (Pinker 264-265) (interesting OODA implications)
“Each party to a dispute can sincerely believe that the logic and evidence are on his side and that his opponent is deluded or dishonest or both.” (Pinker 265-266) (Rand made the same comment while defending the existence of law-courts)

Topic:Definitions
beautiful or elegant [means that] a few deep principles… generate a wealth of subtle predictions.” (Pinker 241)
nepotistic altruism [means applied] family love — the cherishing of children, siblings, parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts, nieces and nephews, and cousins…” (Pinker 242-243)
reciprocal altruism [is the trading of] favors.” (Pinker 243)
theory of parent-offspring conflict says that families do not contain all-powerful, all-knowing parents and their passive, grateful children.” (Pinker 249)
group selection, a Darwinian competition among groups of organisms rather than individual organisms.” (Pinker 258)
group… a set of mutual reciprocators.” (Pinker 259) (Bloom‘s definition of group is stronger than this, but weaker than traditional group selection)
moralization and amoralization [are when] moral emotions [are] turned on and off like a switch.” (Pinker 275)

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