Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Z-Net - Reality Denial: Steven Pinker's Apologetics for Western-Imperial Volence

Here is a radically different perspective on Steven Pinker's recent book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, than you are likely to find anywhere else. The book largely has been praised for its more optimistic outlook and for its expression of the "more evolved = more compassion" argument inherent in many versions of evolutionary psychology (of which Pinker is the best-known proponent).

Here is the beginning of the article, which comes from Z-Net.

Reality Denial : Steven Pinker's Apologetics for Western-Imperial Volence


It is amusing to see how eagerly the establishment media have welcomed Steven Pinker’s 2011 tome, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined,[1] which explains not only that “violence has been in decline for long stretches of time,” but that “we may be living in the most peaceful era in our species' existence.”[2]  A professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University since 2002 and a two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist in the general nonfiction category,[3] Pinker’s lovable theme coincides with the Nobel Peace Laureate’s current engagement in wars on at least four separate continents (Asia, Africa, Europe, and South America); his regretful partial withdrawal from invaded and occupied Iraq; his victorious termination of the 2011 war in Libya; his buildup and threats to engage in even larger wars with Syria and Iran, both already underway with aggressive sanctions and an array of covert actions;[4] his semi-secret and ever-widening use of remote-controlled aerial gunships and death squads in global killing operations;[5] and his declaration of the right to kill any person anywhere for “national security” reasons—officially making the entire world a U.S. free-fire-zone.[6]  The Barack Obama regime, and before it the Bush-Cheney regime, have also supported and protected Israel’s escalated ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, and the hostile U.S. actions and threats involving Iran and Syria are closely geared with those of Israel.  

Whereas in Pinker’s view there has been a “Long Peace” since the end of the Second World War,[7]  in the real world there has been a series of long and devastating U.S. wars: in the Koreas (1950-1953), Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia (1954-1975), Iraq (1990-), Afghanistan (2001- or, arguably, 1979-), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (1996-), with the heavy direct involvement of U.S. clients from Rwanda (Paul Kagame) and Uganda (Yoweri Museveni) in large-scale Congo killings; and Israel’s outbursts in Lebanon (1982 and 2006), to name a few.  There were also very deadly wars in Iran, invaded by Saddam Hussein’s Iraq (1980-1988), with Western encouragement and support.  And with the stimulus-excuse of 9/11, the U.S. political and “defense” establishment was able to declare a global “War on Terror,” open-ended and still ongoing, to assure that the “Long Peace” would not be interrupted by a conflict that met the Pinkerian standards for a real war.

In the same time frame as Pinker’s “New Peace,” alleged to have begun with the dissolution of the Soviet bloc, the Warsaw Pact, and of the Soviet Union itself (1989-1991), we have also witnessed the relentless expansion of the U.S.-led NATO bloc, its 1990s war on and dismantlement of Yugoslavia,[8] its acceptance of new “out of area” responsibilities for “security,”[9] its steadily enlarging membership from 16 to 28 states, including the Baltic and former Eastern European satellites of the Soviet Union, and a growing U.S. and NATO encirclement of and threats to China and Russia.[10]  And during the first decade of the 21st century, the United States openly embarked on the systematic use of  “enhanced interrogations” (i.e., torture) and the frequent resort to “extraordinary renditions” that send captives to torture-prone clients for some not-so-angelic working over.[11]

Pinker’s standard for an interruption of the “Long Peace” would be a war between the “great powers,” and it is true that the major Axis and Allied powers that fought each other during World War II have not made war among themselves since 1945.  But Pinker carries this line of thought even further: He contends not only that the “democracies avoid disputes with each other,” but that they “tend to stay out of disputes across the board,” (283) an idea he refers to as the “Democratic Peace.”[12] (278-284)  This will surely come as a surprise to the many victims of U.S. assassinations, sanctions, subversions, bombings and invasions since 1945.[13]  For Pinker, no attack on a lesser power by one or more of the great democracies counts as a real war or confutes the “Democratic Peace,” no matter how many people die.

“Among respectable countries,” Pinker writes, “conquest is no longer a thinkable option.  A politician in a democracy today who suggested conquering another country would be met not with counterarguments but with puzzlement, embarrassment, or laughter.” (260)  This is an extremely silly assertion.  Presumably, when George Bush and Tony Blair sent U.S. and British forces to attack Iraq in 2003, ousted its government, and replaced it with one operating under laws drafted by the Coalition Provisional Authority, this did not count as “conquest,” as these leaders never stated that they launched the war to “conquer” Iraq, but rather “to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger.”[14]  What conqueror has ever pronounced as his goal something other than self-defense and the protection of life and limb?  It is on the basis of devices such as this that Pinker’s “Long Peace,” “New Peace,” and “Democratic Peace” rest.  (See “Massaging the Numbers,” below.)       

And it is in this kind of context Pinker throws-in his “gentle commerce” theme by advancing the so-called “Golden Arches Peace” idea—that “no two countries with a McDonald’s have ever fought in a war.”  The “only unambiguous” exception that he can name occurred in 1999, “when NATO briefly bombed Yugoslavia.” (285)  In an endnote he mentions that an “earlier marginal exception was the U.S. attack on Panama in 1989,” but he dismisses this U.S. war as too insignificant to make the grade—“its death count falls short of the minimum required for a war according to the standard definition,”[15] though according to the UN Charter and customary international law, there was nothing sub-standard about this unambiguous U.S. aggression against a sovereign country.  Here as in many other places, Pinker selects the estimated death toll that minimizes the U.S.-inflicted casualties and fits his political agenda.[16]

Pinker mentions in passing that the post-World War II peace among the giants was possibly a result of the immense cost of wars that might involve a nuclear exchange—and it did extend to the Soviet Union during its post-World War II life—but his explanation focuses mainly on the cultural evolution and biological adaptations of the Civilized,[17] in contrast with the Uncivilized of the Third World.  Why this new peaceableness of the Civilized does not stop their violent interventions abroad he fails to explain.  The exclusion of wars against the Uncivilized from his definition of a “Long Peace” reflects gross political bias. 

Pinker attributes the sense of increased violence to multiple “illusions,” one of which he believes is caused by the development of media and other advanced forms of communication that allow a rushing to the spot of bloody events, and recording them and transmitting them to the world.   As he explained in a guest appearance on CBS TV’s The Early Show in mid-December 2011: “Not only can we send a helicopter with a film crew to any troubled spot in the world but now anyone with a cell phone is an instant reporter.  They can broadcast color footage of bloodshed wherever it occurs and so we’re very aware of it.”[18]  Apparently Pinker believes that the media cover the world on a non-discriminatory basis, reporting on Guatemalan peasants slaughtered by their army, civilian victims of U.S. drone warfare in Afghanistan, Honduran protesters shot dead by their own military, and dead and injured U.S. soldiers as aggressively as they report on civilian protesters shot dead on the streets of Tehran, or the victims of the Syrian government or of the late Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.[19]  The naiveté here is staggering.  

Pinker’s “Long Peace” and “New Peace” and their alleged declines of violence not only coincide with the numerous and ongoing attacks by the giants on the midgets, the huge expansion in arms, and the new “burgeoning” of  torture,[20] but runs parallel with the increasing structural violence of a global class war that has resulted in growing inequality within and between countries, systematic dispossession of vast numbers, a widespread seizure of the commons, major migrations, growing cities of slums, increased ethnic tensions and anti-Islamic fervor, deliberately stoked in a troubled, receptive environment, mass incarceration of minority populations, and more vocal oppositional forces both here and abroad.[21]  These do not constitute “violence” in Pinker’s accounting system.  
Read the whole article.
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