14 February 2010
Nicholas Kristof's latest essay in the New York Times falls into both socio-biological and brain-centered fallacies. Like George Lakoff and others, Kristof seems to endorse a naturalizing understanding of politics and the brain. While Kristof is subtle enough not to fall into the trap of making one political position normal and the other pathological, he nevertheless embraces the new cultural discourse that centers knowledge of the brain and the nervous system as preeminent. The similarity in this language with older Eugenic language, the inferences that it allows "thoughtful people" to draw, the metaphors and analogies it offers up as concrete facts, and the complexity it belies, make articles like Kristof's extremely ill-advised. Both politics and the brain are subjects too complex to reduce to reflex patterns or functional-MRI images.