Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Goodbye to All That

The laptop on which my notes on the Pinker book were kept was finally repaired and picked up last week, and I was thinking about writing part whatever-the-hell-we're-up-to-now this week. But yesterday my computer developed another problem, one it occasionally has that makes it run too slowly to use and can only be fixed by a recovery to factory default settings. Usually the problem starts gradually and I can copy off whatever data I need, but this time it was so abrupt that all my files were lost. The Pinker notes are gone, and without them I can't be specific enough to make future installments worth doing. In short: we're done.

It's probably just as well: the more I thought and read about the book, the more I felt it was so ridiculous, so intellectually sloppy, that it wasn't worth responding to in such detail. As I've said before, Pinker, like virtually every popular intellectual, is popular precisely because his beliefs reinforce old ideas while providing them with a modern, academic gloss. Anti-intellectualism has become the standard pose of conservatives, but most liberals, although their ideas are no less fixed and circumscribed, prefer to think of themselves as broad-minded. That this book is in reality a one-sided polemic that dismisses historical complexity and contingency in favor of nineteenth-century caricatures about reason and enlightenment is the point: it encourages readers to accept the status quo because they can tell themselves there's serious brainpower justifying it. I mean, it's 800 pages, with footnotes, and Pinker's a Harvard professor! What more could you expect? I used to want to debunk that kind of non-critical response; now I can't see the point. The David Bentley Hart review I linked to earlier says all that's worth saying.

The good news is that, with Pinker out of the way, I no longer have an excuse not to get back to The West Wing, which is easier to write about and (I would imagine) more enjoyable to read about, for the occasional poor soul who stumbles across this blog. Next episode, this week, I promise. Or hope. Or something.