In his own words, a very crude and primitive thesis from Steven Pinker. Maybe OK for purely “scientific” prose, but woeful on classic communication – rhetoric reduced to rules – Objective truth, you know, your reader doesn’t. Wonder what Pirsig would make of that?
(Strange critique of Strunk & White. Good rules – simple heuristics – always have paradoxes and exceptions – to be interpreted by wise people, not implemented by foolish automata.)
His Catch 22 – talking as if clear objective model and facts, without caveats, qualifiers or hedges is fine so long as your audience does indeed understand the headlines are just slogans and not actually objective facts. Cross-culture this can be deadly. Scientist to scientist – OK, contingency is built in. But, economist to policy maker ? The headline may be catchier, but the caveats matter. Similarly “the curse of knowledge” is the opposite of treat your reader as an equal – you always have to put yourself in the mind of your audience.
Some good points – the serial interface of language in relation to the semantic web of ideas. Ordering of subject before new / key information emphasis to finish. Lovely that he stumbles on is own words, recognising that the passive voice point is simply one of balance. ie Rules are good, just don’t apply them all the time. Rules are always flouted by the best writers – tacit evolving conventions, as he says.
The Q&A are very telling too. People are sceptical about the rules, they know quality is more than this. And, as he admits, simply evidence of caring counts for a lot. This is pure Pirsig.