Comments about Hank Schlinger's Article "The Almost Blank Slate."
Mayne, Andrew, Ellestad, M. H., Schlinger, Henry, Skeptic (Altadena, CA)
Shooting Blanks at Steven Pinker
Henry D. Schlinger's criticisms of Steven Pinker and his book The Blank Slate in SKEPTIC Vol. 11 No. 2 left me a little confused. The book and the ideas he addressed bear little resemblance to the book I recall reading and discussing with others.
As I understood it, the main theme of The Blank Slate is that there is a significant measurable variation and correlation in behavior that cannot be accounted for by the nurture argument. This is based upon exhaustive research into twin studies and other research that shows the differences among individuals as measured by standard personality tests and the correlation with genetics.
Schlinger's criticism makes no mention of the twin studies or the use of a standardized behavior metric. Schlinger confuses the discussion blurring the line between the differences in cultural and behavioral traits. He creates straw man arguments and makes numerous non-sequiturs in his attempt to say that Pinker is wrong because nurture is important and real--a point Pinker never disputed.
Schlinger spends most of his time illustrating ways in which nurture influences behavior without getting to the heart of the matter. In the ten pages dedicated to debunking Pinker's claims, Schlinger only gives us two direct statements from Pinker; one that Schlinger agrees with and the other from an entirely different book than The Blank Slate. Where The Blank Slate was an attempt to give us a history of the debate and to objectively measure the difference between nature/nurture, Schlinger uses a vague version of the book's theme as a launching pad for his defense of nurture in the already "tedious" nature/nurture debate.
The Blank Slate has very important social ramifications that Schlinger ignores while he claims that the nurture argument is the real underdog and nature the new status quo. He overlooks how the nurture argument still unduly influences thinking on dug treatment, violence, intelligence and other important social issues. In his own refusal to grok what the book was about, Schlinger shows us that nature has a long way to go before its influence is fully appreciated.
The Blank Slate challenged many of the notions I held about who we are and how we come to be as individuals. I welcome a serious critical analysis that deals with the issues and research that underlies Pinker's claims. Schlinger's attempted criticism falls so short of that it actually bolsters Pinker's work in my estimation. If that's the best his critics can come up with, then maybe Pinker has it all figured out.
Andrew Mayne, Ft. Lauderdale, FL
Out Group Enmity Ingrained on our Nature
I would appreciate Henry Schlinger's explanation of the rejection of the "out" group. In today's enlightened environment them should be more acceptance of cultural and racial differences. We do give lip service to the concept and have made discrimination against others a sin or politically incorrect, but worldwide it seems as prevalent as ever. It is of interest that genocide, first documented in the Old Testament when God told Joshua to murder every man, woman, child, and animal in Jericho, is still practiced today. Recent examples include Saddam Hussein's murder of the Kurds in Iraq, the Palestinian's persistent murder of Jews, the recent Rwanda genocide and the radical Muslims everywhere who attack "infidels." There seems little doubt that this was a survival mechanism from when family groups were the only defense against other primitive men. Could it be that this trait is programmed into our genes? We are all aware of the fact that in most animals, and certainly in humans, anxiety is created when things don't conform to the familiar. Familiar things generate security. It seems to me that we may in time be able to learn not to murder those we don't agree with, but it's not going to be easy. Inscribing platitudes on a blank slate won't do it. …