I’m on Steven Pinker’s side regarding this current controversy. He is a superb scholar who has written great books advancing our knowledge tremendously and his critics find six tweets and a couple of two-word phrases objectionable in all his work. Even if a few phrases uttered were objectionable I can attest as a university instructor and writer for over 30 years that if you say and write enough someone will find something you say objectionable no matter how innocuous your intent.
I hate to somewhat agree with the American political right about political correctness but this is what some of them have in mind when they talk about cancel culture. And I did experience this in my own classes, ironically enough when I discussed E. O. Wilson or Pinker about a topic like sex differences. I don’t know if it is true that, for example, women have some innate advantage when it comes to child-rearing or men are generally better suited to be firefighters. But whatever the truth is about these and other matters I want to know what it is. We just need to follow the evidence wherever it leads. (What I do know is that the world would be an infinitely better place if at least half of all politically powerful positions were occupied by women.)
Issues like these arose at my first academic job because my college had made national news for revamping its core curriculum based on the book, Women’s Ways of Knowing: The Development of Self, Voice, and Mind. (It was an all women’s college.)
I was somewhat skeptical of some of the book’s claims because I doubted that the cognitive differences between men and women were great enough to justify different curriculums. Instead, it seemed to me that men and women were relatively equal in this regard, both relying on their sensory and cognitive apparatuses in order to understand the world. I also worried that young women might negatively interpret this supposed unique way of learning. I don’t know if I was correct about any of this and I didn’t investigate the issue in detail, but I found that expressing doubts about these issues among my colleagues was taboo. The ideas in the book were sacrosanct at my institution.
On the other hand, there are so many people who want to do and say whatever they feel like doing and saying, no matter how rude or noxious or ignorant they are. So the emphasis on being correct highlights that people should just stop being assholes. Moreover, as a reader pointed out,
“The cancel culture works both ways. We have a president who fires and then ruins anyone who disagrees with him. A football player takes a knee to demonstrate his disappointment in a broken system and gets blackballed from the NFL We have a religious movement that would cancel the entire LGBTQ community if they could get away with it. Not to mention white supremacists and their plan to cancel a whole race of people.”
I couldn’t agree more.