Steven Pinker is wrong about “primitive” people.

Steven Pinker is on the right side when it comes to determinism, but he seems to be on the wrong side of so many other important debates (he is, for instance anti-anarchist). Christopher Ryan, author of Sex at Dawn, argues in this article that Pinker, in his belief that “primitive” societies were extremely violent and warlike, distorts the truth in a dishonest fashion.

Only one of the seven societies cited by Pinker (the Murngin) even approaches being an immediate-return foraging society (the way Russia is sort of Asian, if you ignore most of its population and history). The Murngin had been living with missionaries, guns, and aluminum powerboats for decades by the time the data Pinker cites were collected in 1975—not exactly prehistoric conditions.

Furthermore, why did Pinker not include the tens of millions who died in some of the most vicious and deadly examples of twentieth- century warfare? In his discussion of “our most peaceful age,” he makes no mention of the Rape of Nanking, the entire Pacific theater of World War II (including the detonation of two nuclear bombs over Japan), the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot’s killing fields in Cambodia, several consecutive decades-long wars in Vietnam (against the Japanese, French, and Americans), the Chinese revolution and civil war, the India/Pakistan separation and subsequent wars, or the Korean war. None of these many millions are included in his assessment of twentieth-century (male) war fatalities.

4 thoughts on “Steven Pinker is wrong about “primitive” people.

  1. Etelka June 4, 2013 at 10:56

    Interesting article! I liked this: “This oops-forgot-to-mention-the-bonobo technique is distressingly common in the literature on the ancient origins of war.” People like to ignore the bonobos’ radically polygamous sexual practices as well.

    • Francois Tremblay June 4, 2013 at 12:50

      Looks like we found each other’s blogs! :)

      Yea, I guess the bonobo are considered too embarassing. We seem them as the drunk uncles of the primate family, or something. I think they’re awesome.

  2. Etelka June 8, 2013 at 20:09

    I was trying to remember the book in which I first read about them and I ran across this. Looks interesting!

    http://books.wwnorton.com/books/The-Bonobo-and-the-Atheist/

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