Observations

“Science and humanism are at odds more often than they are at one. For a devoted Darwinist like Pinker to maintain that the world is being pacified by the spread of a particular world view is deeply ironic. There is nothing in Darwinism to suggest that ideas and beliefs can transform human life. To be sure, there have been attempts to formulate an idea of progress in terms of competing memes—vaguely defined concepts or units of meaning that are held to be in some ways akin to genes—although nothing like a scientific theory has been developed. Even if there were such things as memes and they did somehow compete with one another, there is nothing to say that benign memes would be the winners. Quite to the contrary, if history is any guide. Racist ideas are extremely resilient and highly contagious, as is shown by the re-emergence of xenophobic ethnic nationalism and anti-Semitism in post-communist Europe. So are utopian ideas, which have resurfaced in neoconservative thinking about regime change. The recurrent appearance of these memes suggests that outside of some fairly narrowly defined areas of scientific investigation, progress is at best fitful and elusive. Science may be the cumulative elimination of error, but the human fondness for toxic ideas is remarkably constant.”

British philosopher John N. Gray, from a critique of Steven Pinker’s new book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: the Decline of Violence in History and Its Causes.

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