Pinker is a bit of a jerk. He is very dominate by virtue of being a fire hose and he never tempers his pronouncements with even the slightest bit of doubt. Thus you often feel a strong “now just wait a minute there!” emotion when reading or listening to him. All that said it can be fun to go for along for the ride.
I once worked in a team that had gifted it’s self a subscription to an wonderfully foolish supermarket tabloid. We kept in the conference room. Slowly but surely we would, all of us, read every article. And, we came to notice that the fictions reported, entirely with a straight face, in these articles began to enter our brains as if they were true. You’d find your self saying “I read that in Brazil they found … no wait, maybe that wasn’t true … oh nevermind.”
I have exactly that same problem with Pinker, but it’s worse. All I can recall is that at the time I read or heard him explain X I had strong doubts about the argument’s coherence; but now – later – it’s too late.
One thing I liked was that his had a number for frameworks I should take the time to add to my collection. For example Alan Fiske three kinds of relationships:
- Dominance — don’t mess with me
- Commonality — share & share alike
- Reciprocity — business like or tit for tat
It is no end of fun to map those three into some of my other triples (rock, paper, scissors?).
If I actually go look into Alan Fiske’s work I bit it appears there are four kinds; let me quote from here.
P – Market Pricing (MP): Haggling over a commercial transaction between strangers who do not plan to meet repeatedly. Involves bidding, bluffing and countering while keeping one’s true buying limits a secret. Non-personal instrumental exchanges with no self-disclosure.
A – Equality Matching (EM): Equality of exchange over time, a balance of exchanged favours, accruing social debt and obligation when receiving favours, the discharge of debt or gain of credit when giving favours. Tit-for-Tat. Ground rules for peer relationships.
E – Authority Ranking (AR): Negotiated inequality, deciding over time who has more importance, status or dominance over others. Unequal exchange where the dominant obtains resource advantages but accrues an obligation to support or sustain subordinates in some way.
I – Communal Sharing (CS): People contribute what they can and take what they need. Almost always constrained to the inclusive fitness group, nuclear family and sometimes various degrees of extended family, rarely beyond.
In the four reciprocity has been split into two groups; reflecting how very different one shot transactions are from longer term transactional relationships.