David Bentley Hart here; a kind reader forwarded me Hart's review, and that was the spark that actually got me to read the whole doorstop. "But there is also something exhilarating about this fideist who thinks he is a rationalist." Great stuff, the whole of it.
I found myself asking the same question I find myself asking whenever I come across the old IQ-surveys-prove-niggaz-iz-stupid brigade, which is: to what end, this knowledge? I mean, even presuming against all evidence, for the sake of argument alone, that the bullshit is true. Black people are dumb as a demographic which validates that their subordinate position within the body of our society is no one's fault but their own eugenic heritage ergo oh well let them play basketball what are you gonna do it could be worse? Sure World War II sucked but would you rather get raped by a Mongol? It attempts, I suppose, to run a subtle epistemological alchemy whereby Hobbes is transmuted from philosophy into scientific theory, the sort of project that has the flinty odor of a crackpot undergrad fresh from the latest Timothy Ferris joint trying to explain to his comp lit cohort that string theory proves Derrida correct. Why go to all this trouble tying the modern state up in a sac with a duck, a rat, a witch, and a viper and tossing it in the drink just to see if it floats? Perhaps in a more ancient time that sort of thing would be admissible in court; to us, it's just a bit of kooky antiquity.
The answer, I think, is in rearranging our own critical faculties, you'll pardon the expression, to see Pinker's writing within the proper context, which is to say: industry writing. It isn't exactly apologia, and it's not quite panegyric; it belongs to the same genre that arrives in your office, printed on that weirdly too-thick glossy stock, bearing articles with titles like "How Joe Zlotknik of Bumnass Industries Is Revolutionizing the Way You Think about Industrial Lubricant" or "Kineticrux ASGD CEO Viktor Baffleman on the Seventh Sigma"--it all has a certain PowerPoint coherence, a set of texts and images dutifully assembled and carefully put together in a slideshow, the language a slightly deranged adaptation of Journalese, studious objectivity overlaid with the manic desperation of a fading line of cocaine. This shit is churned out by the long ton each year by our universitarians and their pop-sci counterparts, but usually you just ignore it or toss it in the office recycling bin. Oh, is that Jared Diamond telling me not to cut down all the trees on my island? Yeah, I'm gonna go pretend that I'm waiting for a fax for an hour or two. But Pinker, man, he's pulled off the real trick. That smiling face on the cover of Electronic Catheter Quarterly is your own asshole CFO; that glowing company profile, that's your bullshit company, where you work . . . and you feel, though you hate this fucking job, hate these assholes, goddamnit, fucking Janet in Finance and that bitch Louise in HR and Chuck, that fat jag who never cleans out the microwave in the kitchenette, you feel, inexplicably, a kind of vicarious, joyful pride to belong.