Why Steven Pinker Is Wrong


Stephen Corry makes the case in Truthout:

Let's start at the beginning for a perfect example of how Pinker leads us on. He takes only a single page of preamble before he tries to sell us his grisly thesis, which as far as I can understand it, is that everyone was once generally violent and horrible (tribal people still are, because apparently they are living relics of the past). Darwinian selection favored the most aggressive towards outsiders, and nicest to insiders. They had lots of children who went on to create states, which were generally nice, and imposed peace and “prosperity.”(1)

Better Angels opens with a rhetorical question, “What is it about the ancients that they couldn't leave us an interesting corpse without resorting to foul play?”

Exhibit number one is the 5,200 year-old “Iceman,” nicknamed “Ötzi.” As Pinker breathes with Hitchcockian crescendo, “[Ötzi] had not fallen in a crevasse and frozen to death, as scientists had originally surmised; he had been murdered.” Here is Pinker's very first “Murder Most Foul.”

Introducing Ötzi with a list of his kit, “ax and backpack, a quiver of fletched arrows, a wood-handled dagger… ,” Pinker's deduction seems straightforward. But, although scientists have come up with dozens of guesses about how Ötzi met his end, Pinker offers us just one “reconstruction:” He thinks Ötzi “belonged to a raiding party that clashed with a neighboring tribe.”(2)

I will avoid bending the facts to fit a hypothesis, and cross-examine the evidence. The Iceman had three significant wounds: a cut hand; an arrowhead in his back, and a blow to his head. It was a violent death, but did it result from a clash between tribes?