Steven Pinker is very clever and provides resonant food for thought whenever he speaks or writes anything. The dichotomy of which he is so fond and upon which so much of his work depends – a political turn is never far from a popular work on science in his many compositions – is an instance of a broader principle. An ideological distance and difference by and through which an(y) intellectual position is constructed never really inhabits that place quite so much as that place inhabits it.
Any thinker that has a backstop dependency on politically-inflected rhetoric (of any ideological flavour) is always and already asserting the ascendant significance of politics in and as all they do. This is perfectly fine but has a tendency to warp science in unfortunate ways and notwithstanding that Pinker’s metrics have been at times and in places questioned, it raises the perennial spectre and question of whether a person does science from a political perspective or politics from a scientific one.
Politics is the distributed embodiment of a core difference and psychological insecurity that haunts human history. Leveraging pathology for success is an old game indeed but as an autonomously self-propagating conflict for which we are one and all little more than component microcosms and unwittingly compliant transmission medium, politics exploits us all and for its own ends.