October 11, 2011

Corporate Tribalism Part 2: Steven Pinker and Sublimated Violence

Filed under: Corporatism, Land Reform, Relocalization — Tags: , , , — Russ @ 3:22 am


In my first preliminary post on corporate tribalism I described how jurisprudence has tried to define corporate persons as more human than human beings. Another aspect of this anti-human inversion has been the ideological attempt to strip humanity of its naturally cooperative traits and repose these only in elite structures, while smearing humanity as being infected with what’s really the psychopathy of elites. 
It was Hobbes, personally traumatized by the English Civil War and wishing to justify the modern State, who gave the classical description of man’s alleged inherent depravity. Without firm, severe rule from above, we were doomed to the “state of nature” where our lives would inevitably be “nasty, brutish, and short”. Today Hobbes is the hero of numerous prominent intellectuals who crusade to represent humanity as naturally wicked, aggressive, destructive, wasteful, deceitful, manipulative, depraved. They’ve enlisted the modern sciences and social sciences, especially genetics, to support the modern neo-Hobbesianism. The direct goal is always to claim that only political elitism, only the State, can organize any kind of constructive endeavor. At least implicitly it’s always a cry of the heart for economic elitism. Only capitalism and especially corporatism can organize any kind of productive endeavor. Richard Dawkins, Jared Diamond, Napoleon Chagnon and others have been prominent in this campaign. The goal is always the same, to render the class war and kleptocracy on a biological/racist basis, but in a pro-capitalist, pro-state way.
The latest, much-hyped installment is Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature. Here the claim is that the level of violence has declined with the rise of the modern state and capitalism. Once again the nasty, brutish primal humanity has to be tamed and put to work by the state, capital, elites. On its face this is absurd. Throughout history elites have always been vastly more violent than peoples, who have generally served as the cannon fodder (military and economic) for the predations, extractions, and wars of these elites. No matter what level of violence one discovers at any place or time, this violence will have been predominantly caused or greatly aggravated by, as anthropologist Brian Ferguson puts it, “the pursuit of practical self-interest by those who actually make the decision.”
But if this weren’t self-evident, no problem. Real scholars like Ferguson and David Graeber have assembled the evidence of anthropology which proves that all the tales of the natural greed and violence of humanity are a fraud. On the contrary, the evidence supports the view of people as naturally prone to cooperation. Perhaps not “noble savages”, but inherently likely to prefer cooperation, nonviolent solutions, and limits on material acquisitiveness. In particular, the evidence is that the state and monetary debt have their origins only in violence and have always comprised embodied, sublimated violence. Tribal violence as a rule involved scarcity competition, but this scarcity has seldom been natural. On the contrary, almost all scarcity competition has been over artificial scarcity. Tribes didn’t find themselves at odds over game or grazable land where there wasn’t enough to go around in an absolute sense. Rather, elites sought to monopolize the resource at the expense of both foreign tribes and their own people. These rival elite claims, not to necessity but to hoarded superfluity, have been the usual engine of violence and war. Today in capitalism we have the most complete and fully rationalized ideology and practice of artificial scarcity. This is the scarcity Pinker has dedicated his life to exalting.
Meanwhile the “evidence” of Pinker and company, just like that alleged for primal barter, is cherry-picked and largely fabricated. Pinker’s project is to remove all violence from its socioeconomic context. He then divides history into the period of the modern State and all other times. Violence prior to* the state is then dogmatically declared to be “natural”, “anarchic” violence. But there’s no evidence for this natural violence, and plenty for the violence organized by proto-state elites.
[*Pinker’s chronology is also eccentric.  His most cited example seems to be this account of public cat-burning:

In sixteenth-century Paris, a popular form of entertainment was cat-burning, in which a cat was hoisted in a sling on a stage and slowly lowered into a fire. According to historian Norman Davies, “[T]he spectators, including kings and queens, shrieked with laughter as the animals, howling with pain, were singed, roasted, and finally carbonized.” Today, such sadism would be unthinkable in most of the world.

But as many have immediately pointed out, this isn’t an example of pre-state anarchic depravity. On the contrary, 16th century France was a starting point for the modern state, which was just starting to explore its own nature with charming activities like this one.]
Pinker’s not here to let the evidence induce truth, but to propagate dogma:

The first is that Hobbes got it right. Life in a state of nature is nasty, brutish, and short, not because of a primal thirst for blood but because of the inescapable logic of anarchy. Any beings with a modicum of self-interest may be tempted to invade their neighbors to steal their resources. The resulting fear of attack will tempt the neighbors to strike first in preemptive self-defense, which will in turn tempt the first group to strike against them preemptively, and so on. This danger can be defused by a policy of deterrence—don’t strike first, retaliate if struck—but, to guarantee its credibility, parties must avenge all insults and settle all scores, leading to cycles of bloody vendetta. These tragedies can be averted by a state with a monopoly on violence, because it can inflict disinterested penalties that eliminate the incentives for aggression, thereby defusing anxieties about preemptive attack and obviating the need to maintain a hair-trigger propensity for retaliation.

Like Hobbes himself, this is nothing more than myth. Hobbes never thought his “state of nature” had actually existed. On the contrary, he considered this the state of “civilized”, tamed man where not kept brutally in line. Hobbes’ view was similar to the phenomena Graeber documents on the real incidence of barter. Barter as a spot trade is not primeval, but occurs only following the collapse of a money economy. People indoctrinated in the use of money and market exchange will try to replicate their training with whatever’s at hand, however impractical the result. That’s what Hobbes thought would happen where already domesticated man ever had the reins relaxed. He then, as a device, read this special circumstance back into primal humanity. That’s how he derived the “state of nature”. So barter and the Hobbesian state of nature go together, conceptually and in practice. Somalia is a good example of this collapse of state/capitalism. But it has nothing at all to do with natural tribal life.
Pinker and his fellow scribblers simply ape their master Hobbes in this procedure. Nietzsche accused every kind of historian, sociologist, scholar of being prone to simply read the present back into the past. Graeber exposes how economists have propagated such a Big Lie. Here we have the “sociobiologist” version. (I did a few searches trying to find anyone else citing Graeber against Pinker but found none. I guess that’s a measure of how Graeber’s findings haven’t yet been widely comprehended.)
So we have the twin lies of nasty brutishness and natural scarcity, when in fact there’s only post-state brutishness and artificial scarcity. These are precisely what Pinker and company try to obscure. In the end a hack like Pinker is just plagiarizing Malthus.
His thesis also depends upon a monumental accounting fraud worthy of Wall Street. He whitewashes the radical escalation of tyranny and coercion under modern structures through the simple fraud of defining violence as only when a gun is fired, while excluding the infinitude of violence involved in people being driven at gunpoint. That’s the only way today’s academic liars can try to camouflage the overwhelming violence embodied in all state and capitalist structures.
But how can any measure of violence be legitimate which doesn’t account for every cent stolen at gunpoint, for example through wage slavery, whether the gun be physically immediate or just threatened for the time being? How can any measure of violence be valid without including on the daily ledger the entire sum of the violence involved in all enclosures and other propertarian thefts, including the ongoing modern land grabs? What other than violence keeps productive human beings off our rightful farmland, forces us to seek “employment”, to accept “unemployed” status, when the bountiful earth exists for us as it always did? Pinker’s job is to elide all this sublimated violence, defining it out of existence. Indeed in this sublimated neoliberal elitist form, what Sheldon Wolin called “inverted totalitarianism”, Pinker exalts violence as the highest form of human existence. He’s the ideologue of sublimated violence.
Meanwhile studies also reveal how psychopaths concentrate at the higher levels of coercive hierarchy, since hierarchy is their natural habitat. Contrary to Pinker’s lies, those truly prone to Randian greed and aggression always have a much harder time in cooperative communities. (Meanwhile, contra Pinker’s lies about the greater violence of tribal peoples, what’s your chance of being assaulted and murdered today if you try to live with the same freedom the people of these tribes knew? If you find Pinker’s argument convincing, try to live without command money and in accord with natural usufruct, and see how much violence you bring down upon you. Whatever the primal assault rate, it was vastly less than the 100% guarantee of today.)
If there is in fact a “selfish gene” and an innate propensity to violence, it’s to be found concentrated at the higher levels of state and corporate hierarchies. And if this biological difference actually exists, it simply defines those who are aggressively subhuman, who must be regarded and dealt with as nothing but rabid dogs.
But ivory tower flunkeys like Pinker try to accomplish an Orwellian inversion. They want to slander the soul of humanity. They want to smear us with the filth of their corporate masters while bestowing the mantle of the “noble” elite upon these gutter gangsters. Pinker defines statism as the measure of nobility and the embodiment of our “better angels”. But this is just a gutter devil calling itself an angel. So he adds blasphemy to injury.
This is a (metaphorical?) theology of corporate tribalism, the sublimated satanism of the 1%. If there’s a biological/neurological abyss, it’s between the 99 and the 1. Pinker and the rest of the sociobiologist crew perform their fraudulent inversions and slanders of the 99 on behalf of the 1.
This is also meant to disparage the prospects of harmonious, prosperous relocalization. How can we have peace and prosperity without the Leviathan State? But the evidence proves the contrary. As human beings we’re naturally fitted to cooperate and mutually assist. We’re ready to build, live, and work in communities where we credit one another and in that way achieve the general good. Today we also possess something new, a clear democratic philosophy and knowledge, in addition to all the new agronomic knowledge we’ve gathered.
Having all this going for us, we need only to purge ourselves of the criminals and parasites. On that day we’ll find sufficient resources and good will to finally live fully as human beings. Dismantling all the structures of embodied violence and getting rid of the practitioners of elitist violence, we’ll finally and truly live in the post-violent world.


  1. Pinker is completely full of shit. His argument is tendentious in the extreme and will not be accepted by anyone with even a passing familiarity with the anthropological evidence he massacres. A good example is his graph where he plots 20 archaeological sites in terms of the percentage of violent deaths- he’s selected, for instance, Nubia site 117, which is basically a 14000 yr old mass grave near Aswan, containing 59 bodies, of which 23 died violently. To say this is representative of the rates of violent death in Nubia is basically like an archaeologist in the future selecting a mass grave in Kosovo or Libya and deciding that the fact that most of the dead buried there were killed by gunfire indicates that those societies were horrifically violent throughout the modern period. The idea that you can take the HSRP report, which fairly convincingly shows a decline in violence over the last 40 or 50 years, and extend that to a timeframe of 20k+ years, is absurd and shows a total lack of respect for the relevant data. The whole thing reeks of the myth of progress and an absurd equation of “modernity” (as though there were some aggregate modernity across the entire world) with a decline in violence, ignoring entirely the absolutely pervasive violence inflicted by the corporate state on all of us (morbidity and mortality due to a lack of health care, poverty, inequality, etc etc are of course not counted in Pinker’s stats).

    In general, evolutionary psychology is a totally intellectually bankrupt enterprise (how can we test evolutionary hypotheses concerning traits for which we have data from a single species??) and anyone who claims to be practicing it almost certainly selling some kind of snake oil, imo.

    Comment by paper mac — October 11, 2011 @ 5:04 am

    • That’s an excellent and amusing point about their sample size of one. Back off man, I’m a scientist!

      You describe perfectly the tendentious cherry-picking and then fallacious interpretation of the evidence. And that’s not even counting all the elision of sublimated violence. 19th century racism, social Darwinism, phrenology were more intellectually respectable than this 21st century version. At least the old crackpots could claim some ignorance of both the science and what capitalism and the modern state were really going to be like. No one today can claim any such ignorance. Someone like Pinker tells premeditated lies as part of a criminal conspiracy.

      Comment by Russ — October 11, 2011 @ 7:19 am

  2. I wonder if Mr. Pinker has ever been in a fight…

    I’m going to jump to a conclusion and guess that if he had been on the receiving end of serious physical violence, this book never gets written.

    I own a few of his books and I’ve enjoyed reading him up until Pinker’s “The Stuff Of Thought” (which I purchased from the bargain bin shortly after it came out-it must have bombed) which started out with what I’ll only describe as a very odd diatribe. Not necessarily the substance of it but the delivery. Finishing it was a task.

    I had to reassess my interest at that point.

    Anyhow, there’s a brief interview with regards to the book here: http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/qa-with-steven-pinker/ should anyone be interested.

    Your article is great food for thought as always. I would love to see the two of you have a discussion with regards to this subject.

    paper mac-

    Your comment is very eye-opening. Thanks.

    Comment by Sanjarias — October 11, 2011 @ 10:31 am

    • I saw a link to the Harris interview earlier, fancied a guess (based on having read End of Faith) that Harris likes his thesis, but forgot to go back and click on it.

      Doing so now, I learn that neoliberal corporatism, and capitalism as such, don’t rate as “totalitarian” the way all those nasty rivals like Nazism and communism do. That and similarly arid lies are usually my cue to exit a piece of scribbling. But if I hadn’t continued reading I wouldn’t have found this to laugh at, listed among the examples of increases in violence (all non-system, of course) Pinker concedes sometimes happen:

      “the rise of crime in the 1960s”

      Why do I somehow think he wasn’t referring to the Vietnam War?

      If I actually had to talk to this pig, my question would be how he figures it’s anything other than violence which prevents me and others from exercising our human freedom and birthright on the land.

      Comment by Russ — October 11, 2011 @ 11:26 am

      • Hey buddy, pigs are nice. You stop insulting them by comparing them to humans!

        Comment by DualPersonality — November 19, 2011 @ 11:01 pm

    • Guys like Harris and Pinker scare the shit out of me. The flavour of scientism they’re peddling is dangerous, in large part because it rhetorically sets itself up in opposition to theocratic fundamentalism, and seems so reasonable to the comfortable remnants of the middle and upper classes. Who doesn’t love a PhD solemnly intoning paeans to the status quo? Everything is as it should be.

      I’ve seen Harris speak about science on a couple of occasions, and he made my skin crawl. The only thing I can compare it to is growing up with a religion in the kind of ordinary, everyday way that people do, and then being exposed to the febrile zeal of a new convert. It’s not very surprising to me that most of these guys are psychologists, not evolutionary biologists or molecular biologists (Harris calls himself a neuroscientist, but imo throwing a bunch of people under an fMRI magnet and asking them questions is tarted-up psychology, not neuroscience). Most neuroscientists I work with are extremely reluctant to make the kinds of grand claims Harris, Pinker, et al make. Our understanding of the molecular and genetic underpinnings of human behaviour is rudimentary, at best, and the routine elision of that fact by these folks in order to make normative arguments (which cannot, in any case, proceed from scientific evidence without a priori premises for which there can be no evidence) is dishonest and unscientific.

      Comment by paper mac — October 11, 2011 @ 2:30 pm

      • I read The End of Faith years ago during what I guess you could call my militant atheist phase. I wanted to check out these “celebrity atheists”. Although I liked some of his negative diatribes, on the whole I despised his kowtowing to system morality. He basically endorsed Kantian objective morality. So he was an example of the kind of pseudo-atheist Nietzsche and I despised. As N wrote, “they’ve rejected the Christian god but cling all the more piously to Judeo-Christian morality”, in order to stay in good standing with the system.

        So my reaction to his phony baloney corporate atheism was the same as yours to his phony science.

        I think that term describes these astroturfers among pseudo-radical intellectuals who want to feel cool and cutting edge even as they serve the same time and carry the same water. So they define as “atheists”. It also helps them make pseudo-scientific Hobbesian/Spencerian arguments like we see with Pinker. I remember reading about some conservatives who wanted to defend Darwin against the creationists because they wanted to rehabilitate Social Darwinism as a pseudo-science.

        But as we see,

        1. The sociobiologists already have that ground covered.

        2. On the “Right” nobody cares even about pseudo-science anymore anyway. The whole scam is solely for the consumption of corporate liberals.

        Comment by Russ — October 11, 2011 @ 4:39 pm

  3. Timely post. I was in a bookstore this weekend and ran across two books displayed side by side: Pinker’s latest (which you write about here) and Justice Breyer’s Making Democracy Work (about how unelected and unaccountable Supreme Court justices, well, make democracy work).

    I bought both books, but I have not had a chance to read either.

    Where the premise of Breyer’s book struck me as oxymoronic, Pinker’s premise struck me as simply moronic. In a world where finance and debt are the weapons of choice, violence is not apparent because it is the law. Violence has merely morphed from the physical into the economic.

    Comment by Tao Jonesing — October 11, 2011 @ 10:41 am

    • How does the song go, “some get you with a gun, some with a fountain pen”. Of course the guns are always ready to go if needed.

      I didn’t know Breyer had a book out, but that’s a good reminder vs. those who still insist on seeing the SCOTUS as 5 bad guys and 4 good guys. Almost never does anyone object to anything on democratic grounds. Citizens United wasn’t 5 corporatists vs. 4 democracy advocates. It was merely a technical squabble between what I’ve called the judicial activist corporatists and the more passive ones. As CU celebrant Greenwald scoffed against democracy advocates, no one on the SCOTUS was objecting to corporate personhood as such.

      Contrast this, William O. Douglas partially dissenting from an anti-segregation decision because it was tendentiously remanded on narrow, frivolous grounds when it should have been decided on the merits, whether or not there was a 14th amendment restriction on the “rights” of corporate property. (This whole issue goes to the core of liberal pathology.)


      Seventy-seven years after Santa Clara, in Bell v. Maryland, (378 U.S. Reports 226 [1963]) the operation of corporate personality in human affairs came again under scrutiny in the Supreme Court. This time it was not human discrimination against corporations but corporate discrimination among humans that provoked the legal controversy. Civil rights activists had been convicted of “criminal trespass” for their “sit-in” at a segregated restaurant. The Court reversed the convictions and remanded the case to state court for further interpretation of state laws regarding property and public accommodations. Justice Douglas dissented from the Court’s refusal to declare a right of public accommodation under the Fourteenth Amendment. He criticized the argument under criminal trespass law that “a person’s ‘personal prejudices’ may dictate the way in which he uses his property”:

      “With all respect, that is not the real issue. The corporation that owns this restaurant did not refuse service to these Negroes because “it” did not like Negroes. The reason “it” refused service was because “it” thought “it” could make more money by running a segregated restaurant…. Here, as in most of the sit-in cases before us, the refusal of service did not reflect “personal prejudices” but business reasons…. Moreover, when corporate restaurateurs are involved, whose “personal prejudices” are being protected? The stockholders’? The directors’? The officers’? The managers’? The truth is, I think, that the corporate interest is in making money, not in protecting “personal prejudices” (Bell v. Maryland, 245-46).”

      One year later, after refusing to declare a constitutional right in Bell, the Supreme Court considered the constitutionality of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964. The decision in that case, Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States {379 U.S. Reports 241 [1964]}, noted that a “fundamental object” of the Act was “to vindicate ‘the deprivation of personal dignity that surely accompanies denials of equal access to public establishments” ( 250). But, as in Bell, the Heart of Atlanta Court declined to enter into a Fourteenth Amendment jurisprudence of human rights and dignity. Instead, the Court explored an alternative constitutional basis—the power of Congress to regulate interstate commerce:

      “[T]he record of [the Act’s] passage through each house is replete with evidence of the burdens that discrimination by race or color places upon interstate commerce…. Negroes in particular have been the subject of discrimination in transient accommodations, having to travel great distances to secure the same…. [O]ften they have been unable to obtain accommodations and have had to call upon friends to put them up overnight…. [T]here was evidence that this uncertainty stemming from racial discrimination had the effect of discouraging travel on the part of a substantial portion of the [*109] Negro community…. This was the conclusion…also of the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Agency who wrote…that it was his “belief that air commerce is adversely affected by the denial to a substantial segment of the traveling public of adequate and desegregated public accommodations” (252-53).”

      This legislative history, the Court stated, “has brought us to the conclusion that Congress possessed ample power in this regard, and we have therefore not considered the other grounds relied upon…. [S]ince the commerce power is sufficient for our decision here we have considered it alone” (250). In short, Heart of Atlanta upheld the constitutionality of the 1964 Civil Rights Act not because of black people’s status as human persons, but because of their status as objects in commerce.

      The Court’s commodified definition of civil rights aimed at equality by virtue of the fact that the market equalizes everything: money is the universal equivalent, through which all things are made fungible. The essence of commodification is the transformation of unique individuality into generic form. In this case, the uniqueness of black people’s historical relation to the Constitution was transformed into the generic form of the consumer in a market economy.

      The jurisprudence of Heart of Atlanta was not about value in human terms of the freedom to travel or to eat in public. It was about economic value (in terms of the gross national product) to be derived from an expansion of interstate commerce. This market-based civil rights in the promised land of the “Great Society” translated human values into an abstract context. It rested on and reinforced a system of human relations in which people are subordinated to property and have “rights” and “freedoms” only on the basis of marketability.

      Just as the historical “freedom” for medieval peasants to leave the feudal manor involved their introduction into wage labor, so the “freedom” of black people to “move in commerce” involved subjugation to the cost-benefit calculations of market jurisprudence. The commerce clause version of civil rights said no more than that those who have sufficient money to pay for what the market offers must be permitted to participate in that market. This is the “equality” of commodified human relations.

      As always, all liberal versions of “rights” are well-incarcerated within the wire of capitalist prerogative. Greenwald’s and the ACLU’s doctrine of free speech for all who can afford it is an instantly classical example.

      Comment by Russ — October 11, 2011 @ 11:23 am

  4. Hello,

    Having listened to some of Steven Pinker on bloggingheads.tv as he spoke about his ‘new’ book, I though it was a rather uninspired work. At the very least it puts the card before the horse to suggest that because of a certain structure of society, people are acting differently – people making decisions are what comprises society and if they are less violent, that is their choice. I think you are right when exposing the coercive force many corporations, that are in bed with governments, hold over the outcome of what happens with certain contested land. In this respect, again I wonder what is the most correct theory of property…

    In my own thoughts on the subject of violence, I have not quite reconciled how communities should defend themselves, should other communities become aggressive, as this would generate a need for a sort of state or army to form, at least temporarily, to defend itself from the outside. It is obvious peace is the goal, but that nothing of value can be sacrificed to attain it, including the acceptance of coercive violence. And I suspect peace is best maintained by a community upholding their strength and potential force, should they need to go to war.

    But these thoughts are besides my main point today.

    When I first came here, I tried to have a discussion with you about your interpretation of Ayn Rand’s work. Unfortunately, it seems that discussion was not fruitful. I must therefore reassert myself here as to not do so would be dishonest.

    “Contrary to Pinker’s lies, those truly prone to Randian greed and aggression always have a much harder time in cooperative communities.”

    I cannot agree with this. Rand never promoted a causeless, valueless, greed or aggression. She was explicitly against seeking the greed qua greed (selfishness without moral values) and denied the moral basis for any explicit or coercive use of force (except in self-defense). Her proposal was primarily epistemological in nature and it was a more concise work in that area than any other that I have read. Her point was simple: Man lives by the use of his mind and anyone who undermines man’s capacity to think (even their own) is immoral. She took that conclusion to a natural end with the metaphysically uncontested ethos of the time she lived in – the earth is a limitless bounty to be utilized. From this, naturally, the capitalist ideal as we currently know it, was the logical conclusion of the fundamental nature of man living with a limitless energy source. I will not pretend that her thought was not idealistic in this respect, but it was nonetheless a correct assertion IF that metaphysical assumption was not challenged. STILL, from reading her work, capitalism is NOT her focus, it is the INDIVIDUAL becoming a master over their own mind and shrugging off PARASITES. The one and the same parasites that you constantly decry on this blog. Rand wanted us to uphold the virtuous – in all their shapes and forms. This is not at odds with cooperative behavior.

    So my friend, consider this new information thoroughly and let your mind digest it. For it would please me to see you reconcile your thoughts on who is an ally and who is an enemy and in what respects they should be mentioned.

    Comment by Strieb Roman — October 11, 2011 @ 2:57 pm

    • The answer to the question of defense is simple. We must have citizen militias, with universal service of all those who are able-bodied. No standing armies, no mercenaries, including professional police. That’s one area where the original philosophy of the American Revolution needs no modification.

      I’m sorry, Strieb, but it’s uninteresting to me to argue about idiosyncratic interpretations of Ayn Rand. You’re saying 99.999999% of both her supporters and detractors get her 100% wrong. I find that unlikely.

      I find it especially unlikely given this:

      She took that conclusion to a natural end with the metaphysically uncontested ethos of the time she lived in – the earth is a limitless bounty to be utilized. From this, naturally, the capitalist ideal as we currently know it, was the logical conclusion of the fundamental nature of man living with a limitless energy source.

      That’s not only morally disgusting but logically idiotic. If the earth is limitless, how could we possibly need or even contemplate capitalism, which is premised entirely on scarcity? If the earth is limitless, wouldn’t socialism and a universal income be no-brainers? Of course they would. So according to your defense of her, Rand’s argument makes no sense.

      Capitalism was obviously organized crime, right from the start.

      I’ll leave off there. I think it’s better if we agree to disagree on that one.

      Comment by Russ — October 11, 2011 @ 4:58 pm

      • Saying ‘A bounty to be utilized’ was a poor way of making a distinction between potential energy which it actualized by the productive work of man.

        I thought this discussion was quite useful but…

        It’s _your_ blog Russ, _your_ work that _your_ mind has made, I’ll leave you to it if that is what you wish.

        Comment by Strieb Roman — October 11, 2011 @ 6:30 pm

      • Strieb, I’m not sure what your point is. I’m the main proximate contributor to this blog, though I get plenty of help from commenters and from those I read outside here. Nietzsche, Proyect, Ferguson, and Graeber contributed to this post, for example. Meanwhile, as I’ve said many times, society as a whole created the Internet in the first place, and any computer user/techie, including any blogger, is standing on that shoulder.

        Unlike many, I’m not a hypocrite on that subject, claiming democratic ideals or that the blog is any kind of democracy but then whipping out the propertarian claws the second there’s any dissent. So if you were inviting me to do so, and to agree with Rand in that way, sorry.

        But I thought you were arguing that interpretation of Rand, almost universally agreed upon, is actually completely wrong. But I’ve never seen anything in Rand which caused me to think she’d disagree with her fans on Wall Street today about e.g. finance criminals being actual Masters of the Universe, while actual workers are Parasites if they demand more than the cost of subsistence.

        I’ve never seen anything in Rand which caused me to question the obvious, that she was performing the exact same inversion of parasite and human which Pinker’s doing here.

        It’s true that you share this interpretation with Jake Chase, who used to be a regular commenter here. Jake never answered my questions about why Rand’s heroes are architects seeking to build highly capitalized Stalinist megaprojects rather than poets who are, shall we say, less high maintenance. I think that’s an indication right there. If you want, I’ll try to hunt down the comment thread where I reproduced for him excerpts from a Vietnam pro-War speech she delivered to West Point cadets. Hitler could have given the speech, word for word.

        Unlike some other controversial writers, Rand was a best-seller and aggressive self-publicist in the mass media within her own lifetime. So it’s hard to believe she was so misunderstood and so badly miscommunicated herself for so long.

        Comment by Russ — October 12, 2011 @ 2:19 am

  5. Really interesting discussion – I have always been perplexed by people who discuss evolutionary psychology as if there really were such a thing. In my experience it is usually guys who want a seemingly objective foundation for their desire to keep women in their “proper places” and their arguments are either silly or tautological. But I am sure there must be more to it than that – right?

    By the way, I did look at the comments on NC today and am sad at how tame and boring it has become without you and downsouth.

    Comment by Ellen Anderson — October 11, 2011 @ 10:54 pm

    • I happened to look at it today as well, and it seems to me that things are going downhill fast.

      Also I found it kind of ironic that despite living in Manhattan, today was the first time Yves managed to catch a glimpse of OWS. And not because she went down from the Upper East Side to Zucotti Park, but because 3 or 400 occupiers made their way to the Upper East Side (apparently where Yves lives) to protest in front of billionaires’ homes.

      Comment by Frank Lavarre — October 12, 2011 @ 1:17 am

      • Oh, my working class credentials are all show, I assure you. Do you really think rich little me, with my $500.00 suits and fine champagne would DARE rub elbows with those plebs? Puhleeeeze. Those are the type of people that balk at my yuppie NYC lifestyle and the “donation” button on NC. But hey, whatever I can do to fleece the rubes, right?

        Comment by Yves Smith — October 16, 2011 @ 1:15 am

    • I think this post would’ve been up DS’s alley, since he used to specialize in attacking these corporate intellectual Hobbesians.

      I’m not familiar with their specific anti-woman arguments, but it follows from their general pro-capitalist scam. Women have performed the bulk of all the necessary work in the family (and community) upon which commerce and capitalism are dependent. Capitalism relegates all of this to the category of the “informal economy” and tries to steal it for free. So sexism in general is a necessary structural part of capitalism. (So it follows that true feminism must be anti-capitalist, while pro-capitalist “feminism” is another scam.)

      Comment by Russ — October 12, 2011 @ 2:32 am

      • A significant chunk (maybe majority, I don’t read the papers except for entertainment value) of evopsych is essentially dedicated to finding “evolutionary” reasons for extant human gender relations. It’s literally stuff like “well, it seems like it would be adaptive for men to spend lots of money on fast cars in order to have sex with as many young women as possible, so that’s an evolved trait”. If you told a 5-year-old to come up with a just-so story normalising exploitation, they’d probably do a better job. Ellen isn’t missing anything, there really isn’t much more to it than that.

        Comment by paper mac — October 12, 2011 @ 3:43 am

      • Method of an academic hack:

        1. My job is to reinforce capitalist conditioning and hopefully sell some cars along the way.

        2. I’m an intellectual, so my job is to do so in a pseudo-intellectual way. My target audience is educated professionals.

        3. Social Darwinism has always been the basic scam for hacks like me.

        4. So let’s find a trendy new version, preferably one not overtly racist, but which can also be adapted for such divide-and-conquer.

        5. “Evolutionary psychology”. That’s the ticket!


        I haven’t deleted spam at the SMF for awhile, and I see there’s now over 630 applications. I can’t look through so many, so if you know of any real people among them, can you confirm those and delete the rest? Otherwise I’ll just delete all of them.

        I feel delinquent that I haven’t done more to start building up that place. I think about it sometimes, and we could definitely turn it into something constructive. I’ve just been lax about thinking that out and then starting to do it.

        Comment by Russ — October 12, 2011 @ 9:39 am

      • I’d actually forgotten about the SMF!! I think it’s probably best to just leave it for now rather than divide up discussion between two places. I was looking at Drupal the other day, and I think it could be used to make a merged blog/forum site, where you would basically post on a forum, but you could also chose to publish particular forums posts as blog postings, and the associated forums thread would be displayed as the comments thread (if that makes any sense). So every forums user would have their own “blog” for any posts they wanted to be viewable at user.forumname.com or whatever, and if you just wanted to see everyone who was posting you could go to the forum rather than a particular user’s blog, and get the same content (but aggregated in forums format). This would enable everyone to have a soapbox while eliminating duplicate discussions and that kind of thing. It’s been a while since I’ve done any coding, but I may have some time next year to fiddle with this stuff- if there’s more than 4 or 5 people who would like to participate in a blogging/forums community I think it would be worthwhile.

        Comment by paper mac — October 12, 2011 @ 5:04 pm

      • This Drupal place


        has the format you’re talking about, I believe. I’ve never been a member at such a place, but I get how it works.

        Comment by Russ — October 13, 2011 @ 5:45 am

  6. Very interesting post. I know I wantonly toss out book recommendations here, but The Shield of Achilles would be applicable to this post, specifically the authors historical account of the formation of the State and it’s organization for perpetrating systematic violence.

    Comment by Ross — October 12, 2011 @ 8:34 am

    • I remember you or somebody recommending that earlier. It sounds good, perhaps along lines similar to Graeber’s book. I also have two James Scott books I have to find time to read. (I haven’t scheduled them yet. Maybe not prior to 2013.)

      Comment by Russ — October 12, 2011 @ 9:29 am

  7. It amazes me that scientistic frauds like Pinker and Harris can sell enough books to stay in business. Who buys this crap? Are there that many unhappy, malaise-filled corporate liberals who need to feel superior to religious folk,workers, and peasants? Both of them, and Dawkins, have always struck me as unpleasant, unhappy, arrogant a-holes. Unpleasant, unhappy, arrogant people are a sign that the ideologies they hawk are bad for your soul.

    Comment by Publius — October 12, 2011 @ 12:33 pm

    • “For me to believe in their Redeemer, they’d have to look more redeemed.”

      – Nietzsche

      Comment by Russ — October 13, 2011 @ 5:48 am

  8. I found this Ferguson paper through the links on the Louis Proyect blog- http://dga.rutgers.edu/~socant/Ten%20Points%20on%20War%20(2008).pdf
    Another paper was recommended, but this one is more recent and contains a concise and devastating takedown of Pinker’s argument w/ regard to the prehistoric evidence. It’s worth noting that Ferguson highlights many of the same factors as the etiology for war as Scott does for state-building- sedentary agriculture, population concentration, hierarchy, bounded us/them social structures. It doesn’t seem like much of a stretch to suggest that war, like sedentary monocropping, urbanism, etc is a disease of state-making projects.

    Comment by paper mac — October 12, 2011 @ 7:31 pm

    • Thanks paper mac. I’ll add that one to the list. It looks like democracy is accumulating data evidence. It’s long been clear that all these things are intended to aggrandize the state, and are completely dependent on the state. (To use the term anachronistically, these were always mostly corporate welfare.)

      Comment by Russ — October 13, 2011 @ 5:55 am

  9. Extremely interesting and thoughtful post! Thanks, Russ

    Comment by DualPersonality — November 19, 2011 @ 10:45 pm

    • You’re very welcome, and I apologize to the actual pigs. 🙂

      Comment by Russ — November 20, 2011 @ 2:10 am

  10. Greetings comrades! Interested parties should see the publications of Quadlibeta for the month of November 2011, where historians have written a series of articles debunking numerous instances of bullshit in Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature – http://bedejournal.blogspot.com

    Comment by Siddiq — November 24, 2011 @ 12:56 pm

    • Thanks, Siddiq. Those are good. I should’ve known the core of his argument depends upon bloated numbers from unreliable sources.

      Comment by Russ — November 24, 2011 @ 3:46 pm

  11. Another work by Graeber pertinent to the particular case of professor Pinker is wherein he notes “All of this [the existence of officially sanctioned systematic violence] is obvious enough. What’s of ethnographic interest, perhaps, is how rarely citizens in industrial democracies actually think about this fact, or how instinctively we try to discount its importance. This is what makes it possible, for example, for graduate students [or professors] to be able to spend days in the stacks of university libraries poring over theoretical tracts about the declining importance of coercion as a factor in modern life, without ever reflecting on that fact that, had they insisted on their right to enter the stacks without showing a properly stamped and validated ID, armed men would have been summoned to physically remove them.” – David Graeber, “Beyond Knowledge/Power: An exploration of the relation of power, ignorance and stupidity”

    Comment by Siddiq — December 17, 2011 @ 12:23 am

    • That’s a good example of the sublimated violence Pinker fraudulently excludes from his accounting.

      Comment by Russ — December 17, 2011 @ 4:52 am

  12. I also have two of my own elementary observations to maker regarding this kind of trash. Needless to say, such fantasies are not limited to this particular cretin, but are in fact endemic among many in the less fortunate portion of the population, which is the only reason they are worthy of any refutation. First, Dr. Pinker does not include suicide as a form of “violent death”. Considering the fact that in the US one is on average more likely to die of suicide than murder, this is a rather significant omission.
    (see the hour long freakonomics podcast “the suicide paradox” for more surprising and fascinating facts)

    Secondly, the professor seems never to have noticed the basic process whereby “quantity changes into quality”. If a tribe of 100 goes to war, 20 of whom are warriors, and half of them get killed, this amounts to 10% of the population. If a nation of 100 000 000 goes to war, 2 000 000 of whom are in the military, a third of whom get killed, this amounts to 0.66% of the population. The apparent statistical improvement may well be due to the increasingly efficient violence of modern economies of scale, together with increasingly efficient healthcare, rather than any real decrease of social violence over time. The only decrease over time to speak of (one which Pinker’s work would provide with many classic examples) is the ability of bourgeois apologists to think – which seems to have dwindled to a most pitiful level. Commenting on the campaign of misinformation carried out against his friends, a young proletarian once remarked “There are three kinds of bullshit: lies, damned lies, and bourgeois statistics.”

    Comment by Siddiq — December 17, 2011 @ 12:28 am

    • Yes, hundreds of thousands of Indian farmers driven to suicide by debt indenture imposed by Monsanto and the government didn’t die violently, oh no. That’s merely, at worst, benign collateral damage of the “civilization” this filth lauds.

      As “A. Carthill” put it, “one must always feel sorry for those crushed by the triumphal car of progress”. Pinker could have that emblazoned on his wall, except he’s far less honest than a straightforward thug like Carthill.

      Indeed, there’s an example of the declining quality of bourgeois apologetics, from a certain strutting defiance to the sniveling lies skulking in the dark today. I suppose the decline is in part from there being no recognizable (to them) opposition, and the fact that they’ve been snorting their own stuff for so long.

      Comment by Russ — December 17, 2011 @ 4:53 am

  13. One final morsel from the most recent Quadlibeta post (15 December) , which historian Humphrey Clark ends thus:

    “In answer to one question… Pinker writes: ‘This is a bogus statistic; see pp. 317–320’.

    No – if you want to see a load of bogus statistics start at page 1 and keep reading till you get to page 832.”

    And yet 90% of people who buy Pinkers rubbish will never, whether or not they fully accept his conclusions, question his methodology! For those interested in “the law of the dwindling force of cognition in bourgeois society” I highly reccomend Joseph Weber’s “The Problems of Social Consciousness in Our Time”, which includes, in the author’s own words, “an excellent lecture on how easy it is to fool readers who are ignorant enough to take everything an author tells them for granted.”

    Comment by Siddiq — December 18, 2011 @ 6:45 am

    • It reminds me of how non-rich liberals and conservatives believe, fundamentalist-fashion, in whatever their preferred corporate media outlet (e.g. NPR or Fox) tells them. What’s the Matter With Massachusetts and Kansas, respectively.

      Comment by Russ — December 18, 2011 @ 10:34 am

  14. wow, I’ve found this article just after writing my review of Pinker’s book on amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Better-Angels-Our-Nature-Violence/product-reviews/0670022950/ref=cm_cr_pr_hist_2?ie=UTF8&showViewpoints=0&filterBy=addTwoStar). I mention Graeber too.

    Comment by cassette playa — December 22, 2011 @ 4:15 pm

  15. […] of nature”, but his argument had nothing to do with natural humanity. The Steven Pinkers whose project is to normalize mass state violence as “peace” and “security” perpetrate the same fraud. (That’s also why Obama was given the nobble pries. The Committee, […]

    Pingback by Waiting In Line « Volatility — June 9, 2012 @ 5:14 am

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

%d bloggers like this: