What is Robert Wright’s basic view?

Robert Wright is reliably vulgar. He shows us how it’s done in a throwaway little piece in The American Prospect – one that’s smug, thought-free and pandering all at once. Rather like a piece of political advertising.

He didn’t like nerds when he was in high school. (No, I bet he didn’t.) Then somebody told him about B F Skinner.

As intellectuals go, Skinner was pretty dismissive of intellectuals — at least the ones who blathered unproductively about “freedom” and “dignity,” the ones he considered insufficiently hard-nosed and scientific.

Look, he said, people are animals. Kind of like laboratory rats, except taller.

And I stopped trying to read it. What a cheap mind, what an impoverished vocabulary, what a stale way of writing and thinking.

He became “an ardent Skinnerian.” He would. If you don’t read many books or learn about many ideas, you’re vulnerable to bad ones. If he had known more nerds in high school he might be a less bumptious writer today.

He sums up with a punchy final paragraph.

I’ve held on to the essential spirit of Skinner — which, I now see, was also the spirit of my father. By that I don’t mean anti-intellectualism as much as a bedrock pragmatism. Got a problem? Analyze it as cleanly as possible, and then, having seen its roots, solve it. And don’t waste time dropping the names of any fancy French philosophers. This is still my basic view.

Good, isn’t it – he’s so pragmatic and so butch that he hasn’t got time for pronouns, but he does have enough time to sneer at the very idea of French philosophers – “fancy” ones at that. He sounds like a parody of Archie Bunker.

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