Steven Pinker on America’s Place in the World
Steven Pinker is an experimental psychologist who conducts research in visual cognition, psycholinguistics, and social relations. He grew up in Montreal and earned his BA from McGill and his Ph.D. from Harvard. Currently Johnstone Professor of Psychology at Harvard, he has also taught at Stanford and MIT. He has won numerous prizes for his research, his teaching, and his nine books, including The Language Instinct, How the Mind Works, The Blank Slate, The Better Angels of Our Nature, and The Sense of Style. He is an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences, a two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist, a Humanist of the Year, a recipient of nine honorary doctorates, and one of Foreign Policy’s “World’s Top 100 Public Intellectuals” and Time’s “100 Most Influential People in the World Today.” He is Chair of the Usage Panel of the American Heritage Dictionary, and writes frequently for The New York Times, The Guardian, and other publications.
His tenth and most recent book is 05 February, 2009 Question: What is America’s role in the world? Leaders can’t say that there’s something uniquely special about the United States because it’s the United States,
Pinker: If the United States has some role in spreading the values that we associate with the enlightenment – like tolerance, and reason, and skepticism and so on – then it clearly can’t hold itself as a . . . as exceptional. It can’t say that there’s something uniquely special about the United States because it’s the United States and _________ anyone else to take that seriously. In doing so, that would be immediately contradicting the very idea that it would be nice to spread – namely that no entity is special by virtue of being that entity. It’s got to make its case to other entities that ________ are considered to be equal partners in the conversation. So while I think it’s okay to say for the United States and other liberal democracies to say, “We found a system that works. Here’s why it works. Here’s what’s good about it,” they can’t do it by virtue . . . by saying, “We’re going to impose it because we’re us and we can do that.” Those two ideas are in contradiction. The whole advantage of liberal democracy is that you make your case not because of who you are, but because you’ve got a good case and you can persuade others. And you don’t privilege your own vantage point over theirs.
Question: What is America’s role in the world?
Leaders can’t say that there’s something uniquely special about the United States because it’s the United States,
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