Friday, October 24, 2008

US cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker defends freedom of expression in Canada

Well, of all people!

Regular blog readers will know that I have rarely been kind to Harvard cognitive scientist Pinker, either at The Mindful Hack or The Post-Darwinist (examples linked), or in The Spiritual Brain.

I find his hard core materialism juvenile - after all these years he still doesn't know that his show left town a while back, as Thomas Wolfe has noted.

All that said, P. M. Jaworski notes at The Shotgun Blog (civil rights lawyer Ezra Levant's online magazine) that Pinker recently said something in defense of intellectual freedom in Canada that makes a lot of sense to me:

I was aware of the Steyn/Maclean's case.

It’s truly shocking that a supposedly democratic government has arrogated to itself the power to censor speech because some judge or bureaucrat thinks it may “expose a person to contempt.” This could outlaw any criticism of a practice that is statistically more common in some groups than others, such as slavery, polygamy, child abuse, ritual torture, gay-bashing, and so on.

It allows haters to decide who gets to say what -- all they have to do is say, “So-and-so’s essay made me show contempt,” and So-and-so gets fined or jailed. And it opens the door to the government banning speech that upsets anyone, anywhere -- as all-important speech is bound to do.

This is an atrocity against the ideal of free speech, and will make Canada a laughing stock among lovers of democracy and enlightenment. (October 24, 2008)
Pinker gets a lot right here - the "human rights" commissions can be used to outlaw criticism of any practice that is "statistically more common in some groups than others."

But he is, alas, mistaken on two points:

1. The criticized practice does not need to be statistically common. Prosecution requires only that the "human rights" commissioner believes that the critic may “expose a person to contempt.” Statistically uncommon practices are more likely to do so.

2. Second, given that many countries have - or are contemplating - similar laws, we are kidding ourselves if we think that Canada - or American university campuses - are making themselves "a laughing stock" by enforcing censorship of opinion.

Many earnest, humourless people who know that they are "victims" or that they represent "victims" will only rest easy when they have permanently shut down all thought that gives them anxiety. As they are not likely to be free of anxiety any time soon, dislodging them will hardly be easy.

Hat tip: Five Feet of Fury
Photo credit: Rebecca Goldstein

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MercatorNet: Political science: the messy room

Junk science about voting is floating around and you might bump into some this election.

by Denyse O'Leary

In "Political Science: What Being Neat or Messy Says about Political Leanings" (Scientific American, October 13, 2008) Jordan Lite tackles the "hard science" question, "Do genes determine whether you'll be liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican?"

What if they did? Then we could dispense with elections in favour of DNA tests. Anyone who doubts that many academic would prefer such measures has not noted the drift to hard core materialism, or naturalism. In a recent study, for example, 78 per cent of evolutionary biologists were pure naturalists -- that is, they maintain that there is no God and no free will. Obviously, if there is no free will, democracy is not clearly a defensible system.

Finding what you are looking for

Of course, "Neat or Messy?" research is not motivated by anything so grubby as politics, right? ... Right?

Read the rest here:

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