R and R

2002-10-30

In my spare moments of late, I've been reading Steven Pinker's new book The Blank Slate. Fascinating stuff. It's a big book and I've got it out on loan from the Denver Public Library, so I'm not sure I'll finish it before my three weeks are up (I'm sure that others have requested it, so I doubt I'll be able to renew it). Pinker really lays into those who persist in thinking that human beings are infinitely malleable -- a blank slate on which can be written anything that society desires. Interestingly from my perspective as a Rand scholar, Ayn Rand had a lot in common here with leftist utopians: she loved to say that "man is being of self-made soul" and approvingly quoted the old Jesuit maxim "Give me a child for the first seven years, and you may do what you like with him afterwards." This would make a great topic for an essay about Rand. Maybe I'll write it someday -- it's just the kind of gadfly writing that I enjoy.

Speaking of Rand scholarship, I recently rewrote one section of my forthcoming paper on Zamyatin and Rand, inspired by my recent reading of the book Human Nature in Utopia: Zamyatin's We by Brett Cooke. Cooke looks at the genre of dystopian novels from the perspective of evolutionary psychology, and argues that major commonalities between novels like Zamyatin's We, Orwell's 1984, Huxley's Brave New World, and Rand's Anthem derive not from artistic emulation but from universals of human behavior and society. For example, in general human beings like to choose their mates, raise their own children, and share food with close relatives. Yet all dystopian novels violate these in-born preferences by portraying societies that enforce eugenics programs, state rearing of children, and communal eating arrangements. Such novels are highly symbolic, and the symbols they use hit some major evolutionary hot buttons for human beings. Cooke's perspective is intriguing and well-argued, and it ties in well with the subject of Pinker's book. So I brought a bit of this into my Zamyatin-Rand paper, which is forthcoming in next spring's number of the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. I may also have a short comment on Rand and progressive rock in that issue. And my paper comparing Abelard and Rand on the theory of concepts is in this fall's issue.

No, I'm not a scholar, but I play one on TV. :)


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