Sex Differences, Human Nature, & Identity Politics (Pt. 1) | Steven Pinker | ACADEMIA | Rubin Report
08:02 "... in the modern denial of human nature ..."
08:15 "... slate the modern denial of human nature ..."
08:23 "... there is no such thing as human nature ..."
09:09 "... the science of human nature but also to ..."
12:33 "... to human nature but just due to our ..."
15:50 "... controversies around human nature like ..."
16:13 "... in human nature therefore since war is ..."
17:10 "... human nature tells us that ..."

Dave Rubin of The Rubin Report talks to Steven Pinker, a cognitive psychologist at Harvard University and the author of the new bestselling book “Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress.” Steven joins Dave for a discussion about his childhood and background, the ideas around gender equity, human nature, the effect of political correctness on the sciences, free speech on campus, his approach to race differences, and more.

About Dave Rubin:[Music] joining me today is a Johnstone family professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University as well as a New York Times bestselling author whose new book enlightenment now is for sale right now Steven Pinker welcome to the Rubin report thank you I am I am thrilled to have you here I think I have emailed or called or contacted or pigeon messaged everyone related to you or that knows you in any way to get you here and Here I am and here you are worked it goes to prove that a little positivity I think can make some things happen so true yeah all right a lot I want to talk to you about I thought before we dive into the book and and all the the things that you teach and write about and all that I just I like hearing a little bit about people's history and where they come from and growing up and all that you are Canadian and I've had a lot of Canadians on lately I find there's something about Canadians in general that I like what is it about Canadians that leads to a certain Pleasant disposition well we're so reasonable or so yeah alight yeah sometimes people say think the model of Canada's peace order and good government yes and it's a country that is that has been diverse for for quite some time Quebec where I grew up has english-speaking community in a french-speaking community and we we didn't begin with a revolution unlike the United States and we negotiated our way to independence we're part of the British Empire in the British Commonwealth and kind of have that British reserve and politeness yeah so that we have we have some things going for us a couple of things going yeah at least until at least all the Americans end up moving up there if things keep going this way well the way we might build a wall yeah right you guys may end up building the wall exactly tell me a little bit about growing up your family what kind of family you grew up in in the english-speaking section of Montreal in Monroe it was pretty segregated when I grew up I grew up in a Jewish english-speaking community which was known for producing among others Leonard Cohen who is a contemporary my mother's mhm the author Mordecai Richler who was a contemporary of my father's William Shatner Burt Bacharach Wow the Saul Bellow spitters person his childhood in Montreal so it's a small community that has a number of people that were proud of yeah what do you make of that that so many I mean that's a pretty diverse interesting group of people right there and I'm sure there are others yeah I it it may just be that having many cultural influences both Canada's really couldn't dominated by the United States it really is the 800-pound gorilla next door yeah so is the American influence the British influence the French influence perhaps is just being in a cosmopolitan diverse community know that help with that and of course the the Jewish influence although it was not I didn't grow up in none of the people that I mentioned grew up in an ultra-orthodox community high grew up in a in a reformed temple we didn't take God all that seriously but we did take Jewish identity seriously yeah I don't remember a moment in which I decided oh I'm an atheist I just was not a big issue one day or another do you find that to be sort of standard thing with most secular Jews I think that's sort of East the ones that I've been talking to on this show that I think are sort of out there more that seems to be thing that there's an ethnic identity or a cultural identity that's separate from the belief part absolutely and I think that's more true of Judaism than it is of say Catholicism where the belief really is stipulated in Judaism this is a bit of a kind of Don't Ask Don't Tell as long as you have a though as long as we pay the laws and rituals right if you keep the Sabbath if you have you know mots on Passover then you're a good Jew and what you believe is just not as important what one rabbi said to my wife rebecca goldstein another secular Jew mm-hmm well-known a secular humanist writer when she talked about her novel 36 arguments for the existence of God a work of fiction which is kind of the great I said and she spoke at a Jewish Community Center and I was a little worried whether there'd be some pushback from the rabbi who introduced to him afterwards he went over he said you know there's nothing in Judaism that says you have to believe in God you just can't believe in more than one of that's I mean that's pretty perfect do you think there's a there's an inherent problem they're sort of disconnecting God from reason if it really is well just for the longevity of it let's say oh yeah yeah it's a good question I think that may have been part of the explanation for why I mean there's so many secular Jewish intellectuals kind of immersed in argument dispute ation particularly about morals and ethics but without a bit but it was all argument disputation it wasn't a catechism that you had to recite there wasn't a set of beliefs that you I have to have so there was a tradition of disputation that's what the rabbi's were famous for right at the pill pole thing here splitting and and maybe that was a contributor as well but I went to public schools I went and in fact when you go to public schools in Quebec when I in my childhood meant you had two Protestant schools because it was divided along religious lines they were Protestant schools and Catholics so interesting Protestant meant on Catholic basically everyone else yeah who do Muslims and the Jews and Chinese and so on there's a bizarre system yeah how's how he just hadn't lis unconstitutional in this country oh my god I got to I actually got a pretty serious Protestant religious education I sang hymns we said the Lord's Prayer every day I learned about the life of Jesus so they had the Jews and the Muslims and everyone in the getting a Protestants yeah and at one point I remember I was you know eight and nine and I actually didn't even belong to a temple I said so it's my mother you know one of my friends said that that Jews aren't supposed to believe in Jesus should I not believe in Jesus anymore after you sent me their Hebrew school so fast made my head spin hilarious and him my teachers because they couldn't hire Catholic teachers either and virtually everyone in Quebec is a francophone community or Catholics it's actually hired Algerian and Tunisian and moroccan jews to teach French to the Jewish and Protestant kids of Montreal the parson Kizza Montreal did not learn French from native québécois we learned it from Egyptian and Tunisian immigrants how bizarre it was I'm pretty sure I know the subject of your next book I mean it's like there's just so much richness just in that or at least there's a little comedy in there so I think it sounds like your family was kind of on the intellectual side or at least that the county was red house was full of books and magazines my my father was had a law degree but didn't practice when I was a child he was a and had a little bit of real estate did sales before starting a law practice pretty late in life my mother was like most mothers of the 50s and 60s a homemaker but then found a career when she was kind of getting bored when I became a guidance counselor and then a vice principal of a high school and and my mother Roslyn Pinker very intellectual an intense reader knows everything intellectually very engaged yeah and my sister Susan de is a columnist for The Wall Street Journal certain have been in a couple of books one on sex differences one on face-to-face contact my brother Rob so I work for the Canadian government for several decades as a policy analyst and an administrator so how much of the intellectual pursuits that you all have do you think is is biological versus just learned experience yeah this is one of the themes that keeps coming up around these conversations and and it is was a topic of my book the blank slate in the modern denial of human nature yeah the blank slate being the metaphor that I argued became kendama Nate and intellectual life largely for political reasons yeah can you explain that a little bit for the people that don't know the book yeah so the the blank slate the modern denial of human nature just was released in 2016 with an afterword was about the idea that that there is no such thing as human nature that we are blank slates written on by our parents by by the culture by education and that there's no innate human traits or ways of learning and thinking it's it's you can program a human however you want and I argue that it was popular in the 20th century for political reasons one of them being that it seems like the ultimate way to achieve equality you know overall zero then zero equals zero equals zero so we all have to be equal right I argue this is a mistake in the book that equality is really a legal and moral principle to treat everyone equally it's not really the belief that we're all clones home like slates and a lot of the book tried to both lay out the science of human nature but also to explore the political and emotional and moral baggage and coloring and to try to clarify it and so the difference between equality of treatment and equality of of our biological endowment was a major theme that also course enters into discussion of sex differences hmm where one of the reasons that certain intellectual factions certain parts of feminism want to deny that there are any sex differences they think well that will make it impossible to discriminate because there's nothing to discriminate we're all exactly this board exactly the same right and I do that's a big big mistake there's first of all there is a lot of evidence that men and women aren't identical in all traits yeah I mean I'm not a scientist but I think there is a lot of everything I think anyone who's had a son and a daughter has been in a heterosexual relationship yeah anyone who's listen to gossip about anyone talking about anyone else yeah many women aren't really not this is not exactly the same but I think the myth that they're the same was introduced for political purposes namely that would make discrimination irrational right because there's no nothing to discriminate on and I argue that that you know that's just a error in logic I strongly believe in gender equity that no one should be prejudged because they're a man or a woman partly because of a scientific fact that there's a huge overlap between the sexes in any trait you want to look at so you can predict an individual's traits just knowing that they're a man or a woman but they the policy we should be fair doesn't require the false belief that were the same that we are single what's the best have you heard any argument for that belief that you thought made any sense or you just for which belief or the idea that that this that these genders are equal like when because you must hear this from other academics right I mean we know that some of this stuff is being taught at schools yeah well there are you know there's no doubt that there are there's a normal enormous overlap there's no doubt and and some of the differences between the sexes are are pretty small and and subtle so in say mathematical ability which was one of the most controversial claims about sex differences it it could it went to a huge firestorm when Larry Summers the president of Harvard mentioned that differences between the sexes might explain why the number of engineering professors at Harvard at MIT what wasn't 50/50 down the line male/female yeah this is very much like the the James d'amour situation with with Google it is exactly it's almost it's almost a replay yeah and and it isn't easy in fact it would be hard to say that men and women are better at math in general it's you have to even drill down to certain sub components like mentally rotating three-dimensional objects that men are clearly better at but women are better at word problems in arithmetic and math so it's a so some of the pushback is that in fact the science is often complicated you can't make a sweeping across the board generalization yeah and then the other kind of pushback for people who defend the blank slate is well yeah that's true of you know 2002 when your book came out but society is changing and you know more women are consuming porn and more women are having multiple sexual partners and maybe the differences say in sexuality aren't due to human nature but just due to our culture at a particular moment that may become obsolete and that seems incredibly dangerous to me to view it that way well maybe although you know you could in some ways it's actually highly progressive and even correct because you could have said you know 70 years ago women you don't want to go into the professions they they want to stay home with the kids and and housework and that's what makes them complete and satisfied and happy and there'll be all you know neurotic and anxious if they start to become lawyers and doctors and we know from the course of history that you know that's not true that when as soon as the doors open women did pour through the doors and so that would be an example where too strong a claim of biological differences would have been refuted by the facts of history so it's not a slam dunk I mean it is something that has to be examined on a case-by-case basis are you shocked at how difficult it is to talk about all of this without getting yourself yourself or any of the people that talk about it into hot water yeah because you want that you have to go through here as I can see you're you're quite well-versed at you're probably the best at it it's a lot to make sure that somebody can't pinpoint that one line but then they're gonna just you know drag you for exactly right well and the reason that I wrote the blank slate was it wasn't so much I have chapter on gender but the point wasn't just to review the literature on gender differences it was also to say okay so what how does it matter for our public debates mm-hmm and I also documented in the book how even when the book first came out there was a history of people being deep platformed and shouted down and called you know all kinds of nasty names for for the view that were not blank slates and I said well look this is based on on emotion based on bad politics not based on the facts so I kind of I don't know if I'm honest leading myself but I laid out all of these political controversies so I wasn't blundering into it naive I was actually that was actually the subject of the book right sometimes though that that can't fully defend you there i an't and in fact both larry summers and jamie d'amour yeah they almost could have taken their speeches and indicated in case of larry summers partly did from the chapter on gender in the book so I managed to escape some trouble that people who then repeated the arguments got into trouble for yeah so it's interesting you sort of laid out a case beforehand to defend yourself you did like sort of a preemptive strike exactly where someone both of those guys I know James I know James personally needs been in here whereas like he sort of stumbled into this thing and then the the reaction the way it sorted out it just becomes this bigger beast that you end up fighting when you were just really trying to talk about science well the science I I wasn't just talking about the science because I was talking about first the science then what are the political and moral Indonesian which I thought got confused feeding back on people trying to shoehorn the science into a politically correct position because they were kind of lazy when it came to the politics you know I don't believe in I obviously I don't believe in discrimination against anyone and but the point being that having that belief doesn't mean that you have to insist that were blank slates right and I made that argument for other controversies around human nature like do we have any violent impulses where there's there there's a kind of political argument for a different reason maybe people think well if we're innately violent then we're kind of doomed to war and forever and if you try to reduce war you're just some romantic peace Nick and it's hopeless and war is in human nature therefore since war is bad and if we're violent then we'll always have war we can't be violent and I argue that's that too is illogical we do have violent impulses I think that's pretty clear but it's not all we have we also have have the Faculty of self-control we also have empathy we have cognitive processes of problem-solving so we can figure out how that we can reduce war we've got moral norms they're just certain things you don't do and the fact that part of us is violent doesn't mean we're doomed to violence because part of us pushes back on the violence I cited a statistic that's that three-quarters of men and 60% of women at least once have had a homicidal fantasy it imagined killing something they don't like three-quarters of men and 60% of ask yeah and and when I introduced this fact in lecture and I say well what does this tell us about human nature tells us that three-quarters of men are liars but but I point at this this doesn't mean that trying to increase peace is futile because there are other parts of human nature we can work with and of course that was what led to my more recent book the better angels of our nature and they said not only is it possible it's happened yeah but again that it's kind of the the nexus between the political on the one hand and the scientific on the other that I was exploring and I talked about how the people who thought they were advocates of peace tried to squash all evidence that people have violent impulses because it was just politically too uncomfortable and I said that's first of all distorting the science is never a good idea and is if they clear about the politics then the science doesn't even mean that we've got to accept war yeah so for someone that sort of insulated themselves from some of this because you were doing the work beforehand which is actually pretty brilliant tactic are you afraid that the hard sciences are going to be hit by all of this identity politics stuff in a bigger way than we're seeing right now when it comes to to gender or race or any of these issues it's not even so much the hard sciences but the social sciences well we know the social sciences yeah haven't happened yet yeah but you don't fear that it's gonna come for the hard sciences too well there there may be some aspects of genetics and brain science that are that if they're feeling the political pressure the neuroscience of sex differences for example did certainly the genetics of intelligence and personality have felt that political pressure yeah one of my collaborators and former students said James Lee presented a paper where he's part of a consortium that for the first time identified a number of genes that were linked to intelligence there's no IQ gene but there are hundreds many probably no thousands of genes that that could bump your IQ up by a fraction of a point up or down mm-hmm and they mean some of the first really hard replicable discoveries because there are a lot of bogus discoveries in the past but there's was really solid and there was there was pretty big pushback including from the president of the Society saying this is this is fascist - this is unacceptable so there was some pushback and this was this was genetics yeah so what do you make of the people that focus on like race and IQ I you know I've had stefan molyneux here i don't know if you know who he is but he really focuses on that and I wanted what I wanted to know from him really was not necessarily why it really not what do you think of this but why the focus on that yeah that that team to me that's the part I'm more concerned about yeah I think it's a I think it's an excellent question and it's one that that torments me I mean on the one hand you could make the argument well we should not be afraid of the truth and for that matter a vigorous exploration of the genetics of racial differences might show that there are no genetic differences relevant to personality or intelligence and that would give races of a really decisive blow yeah but you never know that before you look right so you can't count on that you've course if you do science you've got to be prepared for any possibility there is I think a legitimate question of whether we really should be getting to the bottom of this it's an argument actually goes back to my old MIT colleague Noam Chomsky way back in the 1970s said we can't insist that the truth be one way or another because that's just contrary to a whole spirit of science but we don't have to ask every question a lot of questions that are scientifically pretty minor they could have socially damaging consequences so let's put them really low on the list and he suggested that that race an IQ for example is should not be of interest in a society that treats people as individuals because then it's just like a correlation between any two traits and that that we should just be a low priority and something we should ignore now that's a little bit I think it ignores the fact that there are people who already are dividing humans by race and by and measuring the outcomes and attributing it to poverty or racism and then you kind of say well gee if as long as we're raising the question at all should we look at all the hypotheses it might even be an argument for just downplaying race in general instead of dividing us up by race and obsessively measuring the differences look at things like class and income mm-hmm because that that's really what what matters more and just not make everything a racial issue in the first place so that whether the racial issue is from biology kind of fades in importance yeah you mentioned the Nexus of politics and science I really like that phrase because I think of so many of the conversations I'm having here it seems to me that politics and science are really just linked all the time it explains why so many people want to talk to you why they want to talk to the Weinstein brothers in Sam Harris and so many other people are you a little concerned that it's becoming so political yeah I mean I mean part of the it is that it's that what but what I'm doing and what some of the other your other guests have been doing is to try to deep alit acai some of the scientific issues and it took me what I tried to do in the blank slate or you clarify what what the political issues are yeah and what it's almost impossible these days right it is becoming a little bit well it's it the landscape is really diverse and divided I mean there are they vary the identity politicians and the social justice warriors and the political correctness police who are making things as political as possible I mean they've been around for a long time when I was a student in the 70s there were plenty of people who are shouting things like fascists don't have the right to speak or chanting mobs that shut down and my Harvard colleague EO Wilson when he published sociobiology this isn't a new thing mm-hmm and there are certainly constituencies that are totally opened to D politicizing the science and considering the politics on its own terms but again there is a fringe that appears to be more radical than ever yeah how do you decide how much weight that fringe has that seems to be one of the themes these days it seems to be very hard to tell is this just this small group that's screaming a lot or or has it truly infected not only a ton of you know the millennial generation and a huge swath of young people but that also it does seem to be creeping up or creeping down depending on which way you look at it a ton of academics at universities and all sorts of all sorts of other people that that actually have power well I think the academics have been distorted for quite some time and this is a an idea that's been pushed by Jonathan Hite tetlock Jose Duarte shot a lot of stern they had a pretty widely discussed article called that the title some like viewpoint diversity will help social science where they gave a number of cases some of which I had discussed in in the blank slate of how just the questions that psychologists asked the the items they put on their questionnaires the way they frame issues just clearly has a left-wing bias that they argued that if there were also people conservatives in more of them in psych departments then they would have pointed out hey your questionnaire is flawed right and that the actual quality the science would improved and to the credit of my field of psychology their paper was published there in a journal where there were thirty commentaries so 30 people had a chance to go after them or teams and it was it was there was disagreement but it's very respectful they weren't called any nasty names it was a really good debate but the the question that you asked about how is this a are the the totally illiberal and radical movements the ones that that just shout down speakers sometimes physically assault them is that the whole millennial generation or is that just an increasingly vocal fringe my mind was changed just a couple of days ago when I read an article in Fox about a new study Sam Harrison sent it to me saying that actually support for free speech is increasing including I saw the article I saw the article yeah okay so that you know that I wasn't I was kind of surprised I wasn't totally shocked yes at least my experience at Harvard is that the students are all the ones that I've interacted with admittedly a biased sample but they are perfectly supportive of debate free speech openness so it's interesting so I mentioned right before we started that I spoke at Harvard through the open oh yeah that's right and it was a wonderful group and I and it was clear that they were politically diverse and and all the other diversity that everyone likes but that I don't care about that much but afterwards we we went to a dinner and there were about thirty or forty kids I was with Brett Weinstein actually and I asked them like what do you guys do you are you guys okay saying what you think and do you think it's gonna hurt your grades or your friendship and virtually everyone said yes so I'm still struggling with this because I didn't they said they said yes that it would worry would either hurt them or they've lost friends I mean mostly I sense most of them were kind of libertarian ish kind of live and let live fun but certainly not all of them but but virtually everyone at the table said that they either were afraid to say certain things to friend or certainly to professor's so that's why when I read the articles like that at Vox and I go to these campuses and I hear this consistently it's just hard to grade and I and that's exactly why I'm posing the question Pam yeah it's just hard to this way this article was was an eye-opening and it went against the narrative that the millennial generation are a bunch of snowflakes they're a bunch of you know of cultural revolutionaries the Warriors it's just that that it there certainly is that faction but it may not characterize our era all together yeah have you thought at all about how much social media is a piece of this puzzle well I don't know and that's nowadays everything is blamed on social media like you know what the role of El Nino in that was on MySpace Yeah right yeah I don't know a lot of this I think predated social media I think that cable news networks had had a role Fox News in particular because it was so politicized in a way that no previous network really had been and and there are studies showing that when a town gets Fox News and you could do the natural experiment because some towns got it before others just because the way cable companies offer different packages for no particular reason you could tell the town's the god Fox News became more polarized and became and shifted to the right well I really did have a causal effect that's one case where it's not just correlational yeah so you you had a strange moment about a month or two ago about two months ago now where you you said something to the effect you someone asked you a question at a panel about the all right and and in effect you said but I want to put words mouth what did you say this is that's I don't want to butcher open campus initiative oh it was it there okay there you go so I know this is a good group of people you were sitting with it was of the and the topic of the event was did political correct correctness help elect Trump it was held almost on the anniversary of the 16 election and I suggested that I thought it did in part because the when you have certain ideas that are just not discussable on campus and you've got a savvy interconnected community as the original alt-right were a lot of people associate cult right with the torch carrying skinheads but I had a mind was the term as it originally applied to internet discussion groups mmm-hmm and that the the danger of restricting debate on a campus of making certain ideas taboo is that when smart people do stumble upon them then they number one are completely alienated from the mainstream intellectual life because they think well this is a truth that they can't handle what other truths can't and they since the ideas never get expressed the kind of pushback and and contextualization and counter arguments the kind of thing that you that you want for any idea never happens and within this like-minded community they sometimes jump to the most extreme conclusions so it's sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy of sewers yeah so an example being gender differences if it's taboo even to mention the possibility that men and women differ then you stumble across some pretty good scientific evidence that they do then you might be like you know Milo your novel is saying oh we should we should have fewer women in medical school because they're just gonna drop out and have babies now I mean it's a totally you know idiotic idea but the reason that he could put forward an idiotic idea is that since the whole existence of sex differences never discuss uh I never said that's an idiotic idea yeah and likewise and there are a number of other facts that are undiscussables conclusions if you're not challenged whereas if you

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