So I pick up Steven Pinker’s How the Mind Works and flipping to the chapter called “Family Values” find an introductory paragraph almost entirely of quotations from the Youngblood’s song, “Come on People Now, Smile on Your Brother,” Lennon’s “Imagine,” compacted in with a few passing remarks about the dawning of the age of Aquarius. The next paragraph begins: “Incredible as it may seem, many of us used to believe this treacle.”
I think “treacle” a pretty hard word. I didn’t think Lennon’s song was treacle at the time, and I still don’t. I thought “Imagine” was a pretty nice song and the Youngblood’s song, while silly, still expressed a nice sentiment and I liked the tune. Still do. I have to wonder who those “many of us” were exactly that “believed” this treacle. Who the hell believes in a song? Only, I have to think, very literal minded and possibly tone deaf people who desperately need other people to tell them what to feel and think.
So still, who the hell are this “many of us.” I clearly wasn’t one of the many and I was around at the time. Personally, I don’t see where one gets the nuts, excepting perhaps from pure grandiosity, to claim that one know what many of us believe about anything. Pinker does try to back up the “many of us” by talking about the sales of Reich’s “The Greening of America.” But the introduction really boils down to: let’s kick the 60’s around for a bit.
What we have in Pinker is the psychology of disillusionment. One wants to say, grow up, buddy. Nobody ever did say it was going to be pretty. Too bad you fell for it. Why don’t you get with it and get over it. Pinker though wants to claim he is over it. Now he knows treacle when he sees it. His whole book is an extension of the “tough guy” ethic. Just perfect for the nasty nineties and the reactionary Friedmanesque bottom line ethic. Just more of your herd of wimps in wolf’s clothing. In short your basic follow the leader academic.
And to top it off, Pinker still buys into the very fantasy of utopian thinking he appears to excoriate as treacle. A perception placed in my head, no doubt, by Rene Dubos’ The Dreams of Reason. Dubos, himself a scientist, has the character to see the really scary utopian fantasies have not come from lame artists but out of the “science” camp. These science guys are constantly coming up with some “facts” or some “truths” that will somehow make the misery of human existence less miserable. Oh, yes, one day we shall conquer, if only we are tough enough and able to look “reality” in the face.
People ARE selfish; people do kill each other, etc. As if one didn’t know that and as if it took science to explain to us that getting rid of this nastiness will prove quite difficult. But this again is the academic’s tough guy privilege: to throw the cold water of reality into the faces of unsuspecting students or a docile public. But as noted, Pinker takes away with one hand and gives back with the other. I, the tough guy, know,the idealists of the 60’s were bullshit, but I the realist have the answers or will have them when one day science solves everything.
Talk about your treacle, otherwise known as rampant bullshit.