A friend of mine uses the verb “to Rumsfeld” to describe physically forcing something.  The back story is apparently an interview with Donald Rumsfeld’s father in which he described his then teenage son’s tendency to solve mechanical problems around the house with brute force and will.

With that as inspiration, what might it mean “to Pinker” something?  In a recent post at The Atlantic Steven Pinker cites findings about the relative effectiveness of non-violent v violent dissent to produce one or more dissident goal, and then “Pinkers” the Arab Spring:

The Arab Spring bears this out: consider the more or less nonviolent movements that ousted the leaders of Egypt, Tunisia, and Yemen (together with the violent one needed in Libya).

What is Pinker’s error?  Taking sound theory and evidence (in this case, due to Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan’s book Why Civil Resistance Works), then making sloppy use of specific cases to illustrate why that theory / evidence is sound.  In this case, his facts are simply wrong: in Egypt the SCAF shortcut a popular rebellion by ousting Mubarak in a coup, then promising to hold elections and transition to civilian government.  Perhaps SCAF will do so, but there is more than a bit of reason to be concerned.  That Yemen, which has had on-and-off again civil war for more than a decade might be construed as a successful non-violent inspired transition (Pinker is sufficiently vague that I’m not sure what he considers success) is sufficiently mysterious that I don’t know how to engage it.

Lest this post be misunderstood, Pinker’s sloppiness does not undermine, negate, or challenge Chenoweth and Stephan’s findings.  Indeed, they did not “Pinker” it.

About Will H. Moore

I am a political science professor who also contributes to Political Violence @ a Glance and sometimes to Mobilizing Ideas . Twitter: @WilHMoo
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