I answered nearly all of the example questions from Steve Pinker’s New York Times Magazine essay, “The Moral Instinct” the “wrong” way (example: Right or wrong? “A woman is cleaning out her closet and she finds her old American flag. She doesn’t want the flag anymore, so she cuts it up into pieces and uses the rags to clean her bathroom.”), so perhaps I lack the requisite nose for sniffing out moral truths, but the piece’s closing paragraphs still irritate me.
After several thousand words of genuinely curious, thoughtful investigation into the idea that humans may have some innate moral sense, he closes with the thought that what’s really important is… implementing a carbon tax.
Now, differing opinions about the usefulness of such a policy aside, the effect is rather like what one might expect if you let Oliver Stone and Robert Redford collaborate on the finale to a Stanley Kubrick film. Surely a conclusion could have been found that was not so quick to reach for easy political relevance. Wouldn’t it have been possible, and indeed more interesting, to write this essay without dragging global climate change into the room? Can we not simply investigate human nature without drifting into the territory of contemporary politics? Is all science journalism for the next decade doomed to this fate?
That it only appears in the final paragraphs makes it all the more annoying. If that were the primary subject of the essay, I would be far more forgiving — possibly even interested. But its placement feels forced and flat, intrusive and incurious, and just tired, like a brilliant grad student who clips his essay’s conclusion in favor of appeasing a small-minded adviser. Surely there’s more than this?