[Video Link] Ted Balaker produced this video interview with Harvard experimental psychologist Steven Pinker, author of such books as The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature and, most recently, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.
Pinker tackles everything from the fallacy of the blank slate to the psychology of indecent proposals and why he's catching flack for arguing that violence is decreasing.
In one particularly interesting bit he makes the case for defending the rights of dissenters as a way to help avoid "collective delusions," such as Hilter's Germany, Stalin's Soviet Union or the European witch hunts which tortured to death 150,000 woman who were suspected of causing ships to sink and crops to fail by casting spells.
"You look at them retrospectively and you wonder, 'How could everyone have been so mad?' On top of being evil these ideas seem patently ludicrous. How can you have a collective delusion overtaking an entire society? And it looks like one of the answers is that if dissenters are punished and can anticipate they're going to be punished, then you might have a situation where no one actually believes something, but everyone else believes that everyone else believes it. Therefore no one is willing to be the little boy that says the emperor is naked. And this 'pluralistic ignorance' as it's sometimes called is easily implemented when you have the punishing or censoring of unpopular views."
Mark Frauenfelder is the founder of Boing Boing and the editor-in-chief of MAKE and Cool Tools. Twitter: @frauenfelder. Come and hear Mark speak at the ALA conference in Chicago on July 1.