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This page is a collection of comments on things that I am / have been reading, listening to etc.

Steven Pinker: The Better Angels of Our Nature

  • To begin with this book, I find it plausible that immediate violence and brutality have, in relative terms, decreased in history. However, I wonder whether this indicates that violence is in decline overall, including its non-immediate forms such as structural violence. It seems quite possible that while the average human's risk of being subjected to massive, direct violence (such as torture) is at an all time low, and yet, the amount of freedom and self-determination is shrinking at the same rate or even more quickly, as humans are subject to more coercion and control, including self-control that is instilled into them from early age.
  • The fictitious graduation speech at the end of Chapter 1 seems rather overoptimistic to me. Particularly the idea that the countries that emerged from the dissolving Soviet Union are democratic is questionable, considering the problems in Belarus (Lukashenko government), Kazakhstan (Nazarbayev government) and also the various Caucasian countries / Russian states that have suffered from various (civil) wars. This doesn't necessarily detract from Pinker's general argument, but it is a bit too naive to be really persuasive (to me at least).

Podcasts etc.

"The Death of Nuance", BBC Radio 4

  • One aspect of nuance discussed in this programme is the ability to criticise or reject an idea as such, without rejecting anyone proposing or supporting that idea, as a person and wholesale. This is a very important point, which is reflected in the pacifist adage that we'll need to achieve peace with all people as they are, whether we like them or not. Another perhaps more pointed quote in the same spirit is "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it".
  • I like the idea of taking time to consider news before commenting on it in a rash. As humans we're able to think things through, and if those things are complex that takes time. I wonder whether the (questionable) idea that no time for thinking is needed is, to some extent, reflected in the conflation of "seeing" with "understanding" that has somehow crept into English usage, in the phrase "I see what you mean"...?
  • In a similar perspective I like the idea of pondering remarkable things we heard being said. I wonder about the idea that the language, the words, that are forming our thoughts, as, in my experience, thought precedes verbalisation. From this perspective, what really matters is engaging with the thought expressed in what was said, not so much the words that were used to express it.