Thursday, June 1, 2017

- A Few Words, On Words

So much of our political discourse these days is about the definition of words. What’s a Nazi? A Nazi, according our nation’s wordmeisters, is any one of the tens of millions of people who voted for Donald Trump. By an extension that no doubt seems reasonable much of the media, the Russian government who was in some vague way complicit in getting Trump elected, are also Nazis. Go figure.

What is violence? Violence in 21st century America not only includes all it’s previous definitions as acts, but now also includes saying anything to a liberal that they might disagree with. Knowing that they disagree with it isn’t a requirement, so you can commit accidental verbal violence. Whacking innocent people on the head with steel bike locks however, is not considered violence so long as you think the people you’re whacking are Nazis.

I can go on and on of course, and I don’t want to get too deep in the weeds here. What I wanted to talk about was Milton Friedman.

Dr. Friedman’s contribution to Economics won him a Nobel Prize, so I don’t want to belittle it. But I don’t think that was his really big contribution. His big contribution in my view, was that he was a brilliant marketer of his ideas. He sold those ideas to the American people, just when they needed to hear it, in a way that I don’t think anyone else could have. His elven charm and clarity of thought was what made him a celebrity (which no economist expects) and his celebrity was what made his ideas stick in the American mind.

So I’m kind of hoping that in this age where we can’t seem to agree on what words mean, it’s going to be Steven Pinker’s day in the sun.

Dr. Pinker is a Psychology professor at Harvard, and I see in him, a bit of the same cheerful optimism that Dr. Friedman exhibited. And his big issue is language.

He’s one of those academics that can say the most controversial things in ways that would get more polemic speakers like Larry Summers or Charles Murray fired from their jobs and chased through the streets by angry mobs. And like Dr. Friedman, the truths he speaks to are backed by careful reason and mountains of supporting data.

And if those things aren’t your cup of tea, (hiya 4chan) he’s even gotten a positive book review from the Derb.

Non academics can’t fix academia. They won't let us. They’ll only shout us down and whack us with bike locks. But an academia can. And I hope a time comes very soon, when Steven Pinker is one of the guys we look to for that salvation.

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