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Steven Pinker Chapter 16: Politics Chapter 17: Violence PowerPoint PPT Presentation


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Steven Pinker Chapter 16: Politics Chapter 17: Violence . Greta Kent-Stoll Brooke Porter. Chapter 16: Politics. Intellectual conceptions of human nature lead to political ideologies ranging from right to left How is society conceptualized? . Social Contract

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Steven Pinker Chapter 16: Politics Chapter 17: Violence

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Steven pinker chapter 16 politics chapter 17 violence l.jpg

Steven PinkerChapter 16: PoliticsChapter 17: Violence

Greta Kent-Stoll

Brooke Porter


Chapter 16 politics l.jpg

Chapter 16: Politics

  • Intellectual conceptions of human nature lead to political ideologies ranging from right to left

    • How is society conceptualized?


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  • Social Contract

    • Individuals agree to sacrifice autonomy in exchange for security.

    • (The biological equivalent is reciprocal altruism)

  • Sociological View

    • People are social by nature, and they function as parts of a superorganism


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  • The association between political ideology of either right and left AND these two conceptions of society is loose

  • The clustering of beliefs into either liberal or conservative: what is the underlying reason?


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Liberal vs. Conservative

  • Liberal

    • Can be associated with the Utopian Vision

      • Utopian Vision: Our limitations come from social arrangements

      • We do not have an inherent nature (Blank Slate)

  • Conservative

    • Can be associated with the Tragic Vision

      • Tragic Vision: humans are limited and selfish

      • Traditions last because they allow us to work around the flaws that are part of our nature


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  • Different political beliefs result from two visions

    • Two examples:

      • Economy

      • Violence


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The Problem with the Utopian Vision

  • Scientific evidence for an inherent human nature

  • Historical evidence for an inherent human nature


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The U.S. Constitution concurs with the Tragic Vision

  • Checks and balances in government

    • Measures to protect the people from corrupt rulers

    • Protecting the rights of the individual (and his desire to get ahead)

  • Democracy is not perfect, but it is the best proven government system thus far

    • Freedom as well as security

    • Famines rare

    • Wars against other democratic nations rare


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The Tragic Vision can coexist with various political views from right to left

  • Bowler and Gintis

    • People are neither “antlike altruists nor self-centered misers” (Pinker, 2002).

  • Robert Frank

    • People tend to spend their money like “drunken sailors”

    • We would benefit from high consumption tax

  • Chomsky

    • Inborn language faculty: propensity to communicate

    • Natural desire for community and the drive for creative expression


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  • Politics can (and should) change as our conceptions of human nature become increasingly sophisticated


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Strengths of Chapter 16

  • The separation between political right and left

    • There is an obvious clustering when it comes to the diverging views of liberals and conservatives

    • Variations of political association and ideology can exist


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Strengths of Chapter 16

  • Selfishness and the desire for self-preservation are inherent components of our human nature

    • Evidence exists to suggest that the desire for community and a degree of communication and cooperation is a part of our nature

  • Our politics are capable of changing as we become more advanced in our conceptions of human nature


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Weaknesses of Chapter 16

  • Is there a true “clustering” of beliefs on either end of the spectrum?

  • Do the political views possess a degree of logical cohesion after all?

    • Liberal views on sex and a desire to create economic equality

  • Is Pinker accurate in explaining the political polarization by an underlying alliance to either the Tragic or Utopian Vision?


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Chapter 17: Violence

“The story of the human race is war. Except for brief and precarious interludes there has never been peace in the world; and long before history began murderous strife was universal and unending.”

– Winston Churchill


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Historic Evidence of Human Violence

  • Skeletons with scalping marks, ax-shaped dents, and arrowheads embedded in them

  • Weapons like tomahawks and maces that are useless for hunting but specialized for homicide

  • Paintings from several continents showing men firing arrows, spears, and boomerangs at each other

  • Cannibalism: human bones ground up and used for food, myoglobin found on pot shards and in human excrement


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More Historic Evidence

  • Not just war: ethnic strife, turf battles, blood feuds, individual homicides

  • History indicts our species: the crucifixion of Jesus

  • Words in our vocabulary: to crucify, to draw and quarter, to flay, to press, to stone, the garrote, the rack, the stake, the thumbscrew.


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Theories of Violence: Learned

  • Learned, Social

    • Violence has nothing to do with human nature but is a pathology inflicted by malign elements outside of us

    • Violence is a behavior taught by culture

    • Right-thinking people: “violence is learned behavior”

    • Childhood abuse: people who have been victimized often become victimizers themselves


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Journalist Alfie Kohn attributed the Oklahoma City bombing to American Individualism: “We have a cultural addiction to competition in this country. We’re taught in classrooms and playing fields that other people are obstacles to our own success” (pp. 309).

Another explanation of the bombing put the blame on American symbols: national seal, state mottoes.

New Hampshire: “Live Free or Die”

Massachusetts: “With the sword, we seek peace, but under liberty”

Many say American Culture is the cause


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The American Conception of Maleness

  • Boys are forced to separate from their mothers and stifle their emotions

  • “Violent behavior, emotional distance, and higher rates of drug addiction can’t be explained by hormones…the problem, experts say, is cultural beliefs about masculinity-everything packed into the phrase ‘a real man’”(pp.309).


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Not based on any sound research

Aggressive parents often have aggressive children: These tendencies may not be just learned, but inherent as well

Guns make it easier for people to kill: Maine and North Dakota have the lowest homicide rates, but almost every home has a gun

“Violence is learned behavior”


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Media violence – glorified violence and murder

Violent children seek out violent entertainment; children are aroused by action-packed footage

American media and media violence is a major cause of American violent crime

Investigation: 200 studies looked for a connection between media violence and violent behavior, and more than half failed to find one.

Exposure to media violence has little or no effect on violent behavior in the world

Canadians watch the same television shows as Americans but have a fourth of their homicide rate

Some opposing views on media violence


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Theories of Violence: Biological

  • Evidence that we may have evolved mechanisms for discretionary violence

    • Large size, strength, and upper-body mass of men is a zoological giveaway of an evolutionary history of violent male-male competition

    • The effects of testosterone on dominance and violence

    • The emotion of anger

    • Fight-or-flight response

    • Disruptions of inhibitory systems of the brain can lead to aggressive attacks

    • Boys play rough and tumble


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Pinker thinks…

  • “…we will never understand violence by looking only at the genes or brains of violent people. Violence is a social and political problem, not just a biological and psychological one” (pp. 317).


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Two fears people have

  • Examining the roots of violence in human nature consists of reducing violence to the bad genes of violent individuals

    • Ethnic groups with higher rates of violence

  • If people are endowed with violent motives, they can’t help but being violent, or must be violent all the time


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Understanding Violence: The 3 Principle Causes of Quarrel

  • Competition

  • Diffidence

  • Glory

  • Hobbes’s analysis shows that violence is not a primitive, irrational urge¸ nor is it a pathology . It is a near-inevitable outcome of the dynamics of self interested, rational social organisms.


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Understanding the Hobbesian Trap

  • The problem with violence is that the advantage of deploying it or renouncing it depend on what the other side does

  • Game Theory: the best decision for each player individually is sometimes the worst decision for both collectively


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Means of Preventing Violence: Conflict Resolution

  • Submitting to the rules of the law

  • Figuring out a way for both sides to back down without losing face

  • Acknowledging the possibility of one’s own self-deception

  • Accepting the equivalence of one’s own interest and other people’s


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  • Advances in human conflict resolution depend on the ability to be rational, and to realize that the mind is a combinatorial, recursive system: we have thoughts, thought about our thoughts, and thoughts about our thoughts about out thoughts.

  • Acknowledgement of this unfortunately may be accepting violence or even approving of it.


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Strengths of Chapter 17

  • Strong arguments against the “usual suspects”

    • Guns, discrimination, poverty

  • Pinker’s agreement with the “radical scientists”

  • Use of contemporary examples to easier relay his ideas


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Weaknesses of Chapter 17

  • More strengths than weaknesses in this chapter

  • Flowery language tends to muddle his message

  • Slightly unorganized


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  • We’re finally finished!

  • Thanks for your participation!

  • THE END!


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