In distancing himself from Epstein, Pinker offers insight into relationship between some givers and “smart set”

Jul 24, 2019

Pretense, resentment, arrogance, and thus plausibility.

New York magazine has compiled a comprehensive list of those with whom registered sex offender and financier Jeffrey Epstein had various contacts over the years. “This project is meant to catalogue how Epstein’s secure footing in elite spheres helped hide his crimes,” according to its editors. “It includes influential names listed in his black book, people he flew, funded, and schmoozed, along with others whose connections to him have drawn renewed attention. Certainly, not everyone cited here knew of everything he was up to ….”

The lengthy, alphabetized list includes the ways in which some of those on it have tried to distance themselves from Epstein. The attempts, when they’re made, range from plausible to doubtful to outright silly, with a lot in between.

One such attempt, by famous Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker, caught my eye. It seems to me as if it may have some plausibility. Whether it does or not, however, it certainly offers an insight into the relationship between existing or would-be givers and those in the “smart set” of intellectuals whose company they seek.

Pinker says he was “involuntarily placed next to” Epstein “for a picture at Lawrence Krauss’s Origins Project’s annual conference in 2014,” according to New York’s Matt Stieb.

“If I had more wherewithal, I would not have indulged my friend in sitting with him,” Stieb quotes Pinker as saying.

Despite what various friends and colleagues all said about what a genius he was, I found him tedious and distasteful. Even before I knew about the criminality, I found it irritating to talk to him, all the more so because the reason he was in the conversation was because he had given money to these various projects. He likes schmoozing with smart and intellectual people, but he couldn’t really or had very little interest in exploring an issue. He’d wisecrack, change subjects, or get bored after a few seconds. He’s a kibitzer more than a serious intellectual.

The pretense of Epstein in that telling, if true, sure seems plausible—as does the resentment of Pinker at having to sit next to and humor the guy. Both the pretense and the resentment would be borne of arrogance, of course, which one can suppose might be a little more common overall in these elite circles. While perhaps unfairly so, at core, it’s really the arrogance which might make Pinker’s whole scene so plausible.

Maybe he’s right.