Steven Pinker

September 26, 2012

Book: Them’s fightin’ words

Two events this week land at the crossroads of literacy and violence

Books are for nerds, librarians and kids? Take off your blinders — they’re also powerful weapons for all of us who want to see progress in the world and the guarantee of basic freedoms. This week in town there are two events that show intersections between literacy and violence.

First up is the recognition of Banned Books Week. This annual occasion often brings to mind school board shouting matches over Holden Caulfield’s language and Harry Potter’s ties to all things Wiccan. But this is a particularly good year to check in on the precarious position of freedom of expression. In some corners of the world, the King James Bible continues to get shoddy treatment, and in others, you’ll see abuse of the Quran. Meanwhile, this season will see the release of “Joseph Anton,” Salman Rushdie’s memoir of years under guard because he received a fatwa for writing “The Satanic Verses.”

On Sunday, Sept. 30, at 4 p.m., Carmichael’s Bookstore (2720 Frankfort Ave.) is hosting Jeremy Rogers, a local attorney with extensive First Amendment, privacy and defamation experience, in a talk on censorship co-sponsored by The Media Law Resource Center, the Kentucky Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, and the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression. Admission is free; call 896-6950 for more info … and while you’re at Carmichael’s, don’t forget to pick up and then proudly display a FREADOM button.

Steven Pinker is a Harvard University professor whose re-search on language and cognition has yielded fascinating results and thoughtful books on what shapes the way we treat each other in individual and social interactions. As part of U of L’s Kentucky Author Forum, he’s coming to town to discuss his latest volume, “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.” Pinker has good news about the rise of empathy in the world — and not just by taking the long view and comparing rates of violent death from barbaric ages and our modern world. One of the basic components of how he develops and defends this view is certainly shared by those who stand steadfast for free expression: As the author says, “Anything that makes it easier to imagine trading places with someone else increases your moral consideration for that other person.”

The main event for Pinker’s appearance on Tuesday, Oct. 2, will be an interview conducted by Neal Conan, known for his NPR show “Talk of the Nation.” But as attendees at previous Kentucky Author Forum events can tell you, there are options to immerse yourself and get to know much more about the individuals on both sides of the interview. The basic $20 ticket gets you into a wine and cheese reception at 5 p.m. and then the 6 p.m. KET/WFPL live recording of the interview. But for $110, you can sign up for an 8:15 p.m. dinner with the author and continue to draw out his ideas on modernity and human nature.

The Kentucky Center will be the site for all events of the evening with Pinker and Conan. Call 589-2884 for more info.