I'm going to post occasional impressions, as I read Steven Pinker's new book Better Angels of Our Nature (acclaimed by Peter Singer here). The first chapter is about violence through ages, with the evidence drawn partly from literature. There's all the ghastly violence in Homer, the bible, and Shakespeare, for example.
I had no problem with this sort of evidence-gathering until I went to a movie on Sunday and sat through 20 minutes of previews depicting scenes of horrific carnage. Let's hope nobody in 1000 years digs up our movies and draws any conclusions about what we were like. If they did, they'd be wrong. Couldn't it be that the violence in the literature of 2500 and 500 years ago was hyped up for entertainment purposes? After all, these poor souls didn't have movies to go to when they wanted to watch people slaughter each other. (Why do we enjoy that so much?)
The problem of using literature as evidence is particularly obvious in the case of the bible. After an amusing recital of horrors, Pinker says something like "but never fear, none of this ever happened." Alright, then why bring it up if you're writing a history of violence?
Now about Contagion (which wasn't as good as I was expecting)-- There's a scene in there I found baffling, and I'm hoping someone saw the movie and can explain. The CDC guy, played by Laurence Fishburn, finally gets some vaccine and gives it to the janitor's son and to his fiance. I gather we are to believe he doesn't take any himself. Nevertheless, he puts on the "I've been vaccinated" bracelet, sending a false message to others that he's "safe". Any CDC chief would understand that this is a total breach of ethics. So ... did I miss something? Did he actually get himself vaccinated? Thank you for your kind assistance, if you know the answer.