How Steven Pinker became a target for his tweets
The Society of Linguists, like many academic and nonprofit organizations, recently issued a sweeping statement calling for more diversity in the field. He also urged linguists to confront how their research “could reproduce or fight racism”.
John McWhorter, professor of English and linguistics at Columbia University, has thrown the controversy over Pinker at a time when, he said, progressives look with suspicion on anyone who does not embrace identity politics. racial and cultural.
“Steve is too big for this kerfuffle to affect him,” Professor McWhorter said. “But it is depressing that a wise and reasonable scholar is seen by many intelligent people as an undercover monster.”
Because this is a fight involving linguists, it has certain expected elements: intense arguments over imprecise formulations and underhand intellectual denigration. Professor Pinker may have ignited matters when he suggested in response to the letter that his signatories lack stature. “I only recognize one name among the signatories,” he tweeted. Such an argument, wrote Byron T. Ahn, professor of linguistics at Princeton, in his own tweet, amounted to “a sort of indirect ad hominem attack.”
Linguists insisted they were not trying to censor Professor Pinker. Rather, they intended to show that he had been deceptive and used racial dog whistles, and therefore was a disreputable representative of linguistics.
“Any action resulting from this letter can make it clear to black academics that the LSA is sensitive to the impact that tweets of this type have on maintaining structures that we should be attempting to dismantle,” wrote Professor David Adger of the Queen Mary University of London. on its website.
This argument left Professor McWhorter, who signed the letter in Harper’s, exasperated.
“We’re in this moment that feels like a collective mic drop, and civility and common sense are coming out the window,” he said. “You just have to cry racism or sexism, and that’s it.