Steven Pinker on Taboos, Political Correctness, & Dissent

by Greg Lukianoff

Several months back, it was my great pleasure to sit down and interview Harvard psychology professor and bestselling author Steven Pinker about his books, the crucial role dissent plays in keeping society sane, the special importance of free speech on campus, and the origins of political correctness. Professor Pinker is the author of The Blank SlateThe Better Angels of our Nature, and The Stuff of Thought. He is also a member of FIRE‘s Board of Advisors and, thanks to his boldness, insight, and elegant prose, one of my favorite authors.

In his most recent book, The Better Angels of Our Nature, Professor Pinker discusses several FIRE cases. In this video he notes the irony that campuses, which rely on the open exchange of ideas more than any other institution, often restrict speech more aggressively than society at large. Pinker describes how the urge to censor is related to the “psychology of taboo,” a topic he expanded upon back in 2010 when he, along with Harvey Silverglate and me, accepted an award on FIRE’s behalf from Boston’s Ford Hall Forum.

During the interview, I got to ask him why a book like Better Angels, which delivers the positive argument that violence has declined over human history and especially since 1945, could be considered politically incorrect. Check out his answer to this and many more questions in our new video “Steven Pinker on Taboos, Political Correctness, & Dissent.” (And check out what Pinker had to say about Unlearning Liberty in the “Reviews” section of the website).