The book itself probably doesn’t need much plugging here, but I’ll plug it anyway. It’s about true and false (as in the “Blank Slate” of the title) views of human nature, and about how they affect politics, education, aesthetics, and so on. Summarising brutally, if you think that human nature is something that a political system can simply shape at will, you’ll tend to say that your preferred political system should shape away, sometimes with murderous consequences.
To me the encouraging thing about this book is that here is a mainstream publishing event, so to speak, which is full almost to the point of saturation with references to the literature of liberty, of classical liberalism and of anti-collectivism. If you were a regular reader of the publications of, say, the Libertarian Alliance, or of the Reason Foundation, or of the Cato Institute, you’d find references to any number of debates and discussions and personalities which would ring bells with you. Among the many names, for example, listed in the References section are: Friedrich Hayek, Thomas Sowell, Robert Nozick, Kenneth Minogue, Ferdinand Mount, Wendy McElroy and Tom Wolfe, to name just a very few such. I suspect that the Reason foundation may deserve particular kudos for helping Pinker’s thinking along these lines.
When I first spotted this poster, there must have been quite a few of them around, but when, digital camera in hand, I went looking for it again yesterday, I had nearly given up when I found one still on view. Presumably this campaign was timed to coincide with this competition, for which The Blank Slate was shortlisted. (Pinker has been shortlisted for this prize three times, but has yet to win it.)
Since this is Samizdata, let me also mention that the lady in the poster to the left of the Pinker poster as we look at it is Eliza Dushku, star of the movie Wrong Turn. “A brutally exciting, savage shocker. Shriek, jump, enjoy!”
Ah, human nature.