Steven Pinker: Here's how political correctness winds up creating its own antagonists

This is a week old so forgive me if you’ve seen it already but I just came across it today. In this clip, Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker makes the case that political correctness actually winds up creating its own antagonists as curious students discover certain unspeakable truths have been hidden from them.

Pinker doesn’t offer any precise definitions of political correctness here but it’s clear what he means, i.e. left-wing efforts to silence opponents and censor discussion of certain uncomfortable topics. He offers a number of examples of what he means.

“So here is a fact that is going to sound reasonably controversial but it is not and that is that capitalist societies are better than communist ones,” Pinker states before an audience of Harvard students. He continues, “If you doubt it well then just ask yourself the question ‘Would I rather live in South Korea or North Korea?’, ‘Would I rather live in West Germany in the 1970s or East Germany…I submit that this is actually not a controversial statement but on university campuses, it is considered flamingly radical.”

Pinker goes on to offer several more statements: That men and women differ in their tastes and interest. That different ethnic groups commit violent crime at different rates. Finally, that the majority of suicide-terror acts worldwide are committed by Muslim extremists. And this brings Pinker to his central point.

“Now if you’ve never heard these facts before and you stumble across them or someone mentions them, it is possible to come to some extreme conclusions,” he says, adding, “That women are inferior, that African-Americans are naturally violent, that we all ought to be anarcho-capitalists and do away with all regulation and social safety nets.”

Pinker’s point is that there are arguments against each of these conclusions, for instance: All modern capitalist systems have significant social safety nets, including (he says) some with the highest levels of economic freedom.

There are plenty of details one could argue with here. For instance, it’s not necessary to go all the way to fringe anarcho-capitalism in order to argue that a particular piece of regulation poses an unnecessary burden on private interests. It’s also not necessary to take from the high rate of black violent crime that violence is in some way innate or natural to certain races (as opposed to culturally influenced).

Still, it’s an interesting argument that efforts to make certain topics verboten wind up creating a kind of intellectual black market where the potential for reaching more extreme conclusions is heightened unnecessarily. Instead, Pinker suggests it would be better to be able to acknowledge these facts and then discuss them openly. I think he’s on to something there but I doubt he’s going to convince those on the far left who have embraced “no-platforming” their opponents. Shouting people down is more emotionally satisfying than having a discussion in which neither side can claim a clear win.

The full clip is about 8 minutes long and is worth a look.