What he’s arguing about is the dominant position among liberal humanities
and social science professors.
A lot of them think that everything evil and unfair comes from capitalism
or is socially constructed. So for example, the media’s preference for young,
slender women is thought to be the cause of why most people think that way.
And if we were born as totally blank slates, that might make sense. Then those
women in the Dove commercials would be just as desirable, and it’s all
just the media’s fault.
So Pinker looks at evidence that the
preference for traits in a made (youth and fitness) that coincide with
fertility is probably at least in part evolutionarily encoded. And the
media is just pandering to a preference that’s already there.
When he wrote the book, at lot of people believed that people were
born as _completely_ blank slates because of the French philosophy
that was so huge at that time said some. Everything was just “socially
constructed” by corporations, people in power, etc. Then he sketches
out some biological traits which are probably inborn. Like, everywhere
in the world, sociallism has failed and free-market capitalism
succeeded. (Most) people are not motivated to work for some abstract
community; they work for themselves and their loved ones.
Since he wrote the book, more people have come around to agree that we
are not _completely_ blank slates. Though they are not as far along
the biological track as Pinker.
So it’s not exactly _information_ that the Blank Slate dispute is
about, but preferences, behaviors, etc.
Think like: If you reversed socialization and culture completely,
could you then make a nation where girls were more violent and
aggressive and boys more communicative and emphatic? Blank Slaters
would say yes; Pinker’ites would say no because boys are on average
predisposed towards such behavior by hormones etc.
So if your position is that we are not born with _information_, then
everyone probably agrees 🙂
On language, he makes some pretty speculative arguments, yes.
For example, he talks about how mice that are born without hearing or
ears are still born with and develop hearing centers in their brains,
as if they had.
His argument is that in the same way, the brain is born with a
disposition for learning language, but of course, that’s pretty hard
to prove. Though he makes the argument that language comes easily to
people, no matter what they do, and reading and writings has to be
learned in schools. Probably because one is evolutionarily primed and
the other is too recent and invention to be worked into the genome
etc. yet. I find that pretty reasonable.
So people couldn’t learn a language with no senses, just as mice
cannot hear with no ears. But in his view, we are born with faculties
in the brain to facilitate things like learning language. So if that’s
right, at least the blank slate view where everything is just the
result of culture and socialization is wrong.
You might think: “But who would even think that?” In the book, he
mentions Judith Butler. People of that kind of conviction all think
that (or at least used to). When I went to university, we were taught
the same thing. It’s all just culture and power and socialization.
They taught that as if it was the deepest thing in the world.
Pinker’s PHD-adviser is famous for the theory that though there are
different languages, the structure is pretty similar in most of them.
He then makes the argument that the brain is born with the facility to
learn these grammatical structures and construct sentences in them.
But *not* the specific languages. I don’t know if I agree with that
theory. The whole language aspect, I think is an example of his own
field of expertise being crammed too much into the book where it
really should have been about gender, race, evolution, etc.