I may as well admit that I haven’t read all of Steven Pinker’s new book, The Better Angels of Our Nature, but quite enough of it to see that the mixture is the same as in his previous bestsellers – a great piece of theatre in which half-truths do battle with straw men while the reader watches in safety, defended by barricades of apparent fact against any danger of actual thought.
The whole trick depends on sustaining the illusion that only what’s under the lighting exists. The index here, for example, contains three entries for Columbine high school, and none whatsoever for Christianity. Whether or not you suppose Christian myth to be true, it is simply impossible to consider the development of ethical thought and practice in the west without understanding that almost all of it has been Christian, and that what comes after Christianity is itself incomprehensible without it.
One piece of advice, Andrew: Read the whole book before you write about it. It may indeed be true that one can just skim the book and find all sorts of catastrophic errors, but nevertheless: read it. Read all of it. It won’t take you all that long, even when the book is a big one. No one is going to take you seriously if you begin your review by airily proclaiming that you couldn’t be bothered to read the book you’re denouncing. You tell me that Pinker has made all these factual errors, but are you a trustworthy guide to the facts? My first thought — and many will share this thought — is that you’re too lazy to be reliable. So just read the book first.