Steven Pinker on Civility

I am about half way through Steven Pinker’s much discussed recent book, The Better Angels of Our Nature a book on why violence has supposedly declined over time, and I have to say there is much there for a Christian to agree with. I plan to write a few posts reviewing the book once I am done but something he wrote about the spike in violence in the ’70s and ’80s starting on p. 160 struck me. He attributes this spike to the ‘decivilization’ of the 1960’s specifically to attacks on self-control, the delegitimizing of webs of interdependence that obligate us to other people and the undermining of marriage and family life during that time. These decivilizing forces created a huge spike in violence in the US, reversing a decade’s long decline. In many ways I see the memory of this history as being one of the main factors in opposition to the current gay marriage efforts. One of the reasons there is an age gap between supporters of gay marriage and those who oppose it, is that the older generation remembers the impact of the sexual revolution of the ’60s. It created societal chaos, greatly damaged the family and was very detrimental to the poorest segments of society.

In short, when gay marriage advocates claim that arbitrarily changing the institution of marriage to satisfy particular sexual proclivities won’t damage the institution of marriage we have empirical evidence to prove this isn’t true. We have been there and done that and the results were devastating – in fact we have only in the last decade begun to recover from the last round of social experimentation.

Pinker counts himself amongst the ‘New atheists’, so he obviously has no reason to empirically verify these essentially conservative and Christian values and yet he does so throughout his book. I think this is the inevitable result of a cold and hard chronicling the facts of human history.

The great experiment on what values and morals best lead to human flourishing has already been done – I for one appreciate the fact that someone like Steven Pinker has been honest enough to take a look at the data.

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2 Responses to Steven Pinker on Civility

  1. Mike D says:

    Wow. Just… wow. This is so convoluted and absurd it’s hard to know where to start.

    Firstly, the institution of marriage has been continuously changed – by straight people. In Biblical times, marriage was an exchange of property: women had no rights to speak of. Now, marriage is a voluntary arrangement between two fully consenting adults. Marriage used to be about providing a safe upbringing for children; now, many couples simply choose not to have children. Marriage used to be for life, no matter how damaged the relationship; now, unhappy people in unhealthy marriages are not socially stigmatized when they want to start over.

    Secondly, the acceptance of gay marriage is not arbitrary. Gay people have been around as long as humanity has been around. Gay relationships aren’t anything new. But now, instead of following the esteemed Biblical principle of butchering them to death with rocks, we have decades of psychological research proving that gay couples have fulfilling, happy, emotionally healthy relationships just like straight people do. We also have overwhelming evidence that children raised by gay couples are just as well-adjusted as their straight-raised peers.

    The acceptance of gay marriage strengthens families, not weakens them. It allows the millions of gay people who have perfectly happy, healthy long-term relationships to do so with the same legal privileges that straight people do and, in time, without the bigotry leveled against them by guys like you.

    Maybe instead of bagging on people who want to start families, you ought to focus your vitriol on the flash-in-the-pan marriages like Kim Kardashian’s 72-day marriage or Sinead O’Connor’s 18-day marriage. If anyone’s turning marriage into a “social experiment”, it’s straight people.

    But hey, glad you took my book suggestion.

  2. jackhudson says:

    Firstly, the institution of marriage has been continuously changed – by straight people. In Biblical times, marriage was an exchange of property: women had no rights to speak of. Now, marriage is a voluntary arrangement between two fully consenting adults. Marriage used to be about providing a safe upbringing for children; now, many couples simply choose not to have children. Marriage used to be for life, no matter how damaged the relationship; now, unhappy people in unhealthy marriages are not socially stigmatized when they want to start over.

    Marriage has historically always been about the relationship between men and women. It exists at all because of the biological, cultural, and I would contend spiritual benefits it brings to creating and raising a family. The fact that certain folks glom onto the institution in some misled quest for personal fulfillment doesn’t change its importance in the civilizing process, nor the fact that we have data showing that undermining the institution has detrimental effects on society.

    For over a thousand years it has proved to work best when it is monogamous. Pinker confirms the benefit in terms of the impact it has on the behavior of men (cads vs dads, p. 105) and further explains that it was this dynamic that helped civilize the Western US. And you have ignored the point that he plainly shows it was the disruption of this relationship in the ‘60s that precipitated the rise of violence of in the ‘70s and ‘80s. The same arguments were made then (based on ‘studies’) that the sexual revolution and single parenthood wouldn’t significantly impact our society only to see the inner cities devastated by fatherlessness. The reality is we already know what works, and it has nothing to do with the model of marriage offered by gay marriage advocates. You can acknowledge the data or ignore it.

    The acceptance of gay marriage strengthens families, not weakens them. It allows the millions of gay people who have perfectly happy, healthy long-term relationships to do so with the same legal privileges that straight people do and, in time, without the bigotry leveled against them by guys like you.

    It doesn’t do anything for ‘families’; gay marriages may create families by incorporating the biology of others, but this certainly isn’t the natural and demonstrably healthy way to create and raise a family despite what limited studies of self-reporting lesbians might indicate.

    Maybe instead of bagging on people who want to start families, you ought to focus your vitriol on the flash-in-the-pan marriages like Kim Kardashian’s 72-day marriage or Sinead O’Connor’s 18-day marriage. If anyone’s turning marriage into a “social experiment”, it’s straight people.

    You’re the one who thinks it’s good that “unhappy people in unhealthy marriages are not socially stigmatized when they want to start over” not me. It’s your worldview that created those sorts of marriages, not mine.; I am all to happy to point out the artifice of those relationships as well.

    But hey, glad you took my book suggestion.

    I appear the only one of us actually reading it. And I got the idea from Joe Carter.

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