In an age when we are all aware of the violence taking place in various parts of the world, Steven Pinker points out that, contrary to what we may think, violence has actually declined with the advent of modernity. In The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, he gives us many examples of how human beings have become more peaceful with the passage of time and theorizes as to why this may be so.
Pinker points out that, among prehistoric humans, the rate of death by violence was 15%, but, since people started living in state societies, it has fallen drastically. In the modern world, the rate of violent deaths has not exceeded 3% of the population. He uses statistics to show that this decline in violent deaths is not only applicable to war but also to murder. Even in peaceful tribal communities like the Kung of the Kalahari Desert, the rate of death via murder is much higher than it is in state societies.
So the development of a state society in which people have a government and a judiciary system leads to a decline in violence. In such a society, people are less inclined to take matters into their own hands and mete out vigilante justice. He points out that violent deaths are more common in the South because Southern culture has a system of honor in which individual retaliation is more acceptable than it is in the North. So the societal norms of a group of people influence the extent to which they accept the state's authority and this influences how violent or peaceful they tend to be.
Pinker is influenced a great deal by the thinker Thomas Hobbes whom he believes to be underrated. As Hobbes points out, without society, life would be "nasty, brutish and short." Pinker also believes that, besides the development of the state society and economic improvement, the human capacity for reason is what has led us to obeying "the better angels of our nature" (a quote taken from Abraham Lincoln's inaugural address). This is why the Age of Enlightenment, which emphasized reason over emotion, led to an increase in our awareness of human atrocities and a resultant decrease in violence.
The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined is a positive look at humanity in the present day, but it is also much more than that. It's an examination of how exactly we got to this point and what we can do to keep moving towards progress. Pinker makes a sophisticated study of human nature, taking into account reason, emotions, history and culture.
Steven Pinker was born in Montréal, Québec, Canada and graduated from McGill University with a Bachelor's in Psychology. He then attended Harvard University where he got his doctorate in Experimental Psychology. He has taught at MIT, Stanford and Harvard and written several books, some for an academic audience and some for a general audience. He was engaged in a well-publicized debate with Malcolm Gladwell and has received numerous awards, including the George Miller Prize from the Cognitive Neuroscience Society and the Henry Dale Prize from the Royal Institution of Great Britain. He is currently married to novelist and philosopher Rebecca Goldstein.
We've all had the experience of reading about a bloody war or shocking crime and asking, What is the world coming to? But we seldom ask, How bad was the world in the past? In this startling new book, the best-selling cognitive scientist Steven Pinker shows that the world of the past was much worse. In fact, we may be living in the most peaceable era in our species' existence.
Evidence of a bloody history has always been around us: the genocides in the Old Testament and crucifixions in the New; the gory mutilations in Shakespeare and Grimm; the British monarchs who beheaded their relatives and the American founders who dueled with their rivals; the nonchalant treatment in popular culture of wife-beating, child abuse, and the extermination of native peoples. Now the decline in these brutal practices can be quantified.
With the help of more than a hundred graphs and maps, Pinker presents some astonishing numbers. Tribal warfare was nine times as deadly as war and genocide in the 20th century. The murder rate in medieval Europe was more than thirty times what it is today. Slavery, sadistic punishments, and frivolous executions were unexceptionable features of life for millennia, then suddenly were targeted for abolition. Wars between developed countries have vanished, and even in the developing world, wars kill a fraction of the numbers they did a few decades ago. Rape, battering, hate crimes, deadly riots, child abuse, cruelty to animals - all substantially down.How could this have happened, if human nature has not changed? What led people to stop sacrificing children, stabbing each other at the dinner table, or burning cats and disemboweling criminals as forms of popular entertainment? Was it reading novels, cultivating table manners, fearing the police, or turning their energies to making money? Should the nuclear bomb get the Nobel Peace Prize for preventing World War III? Does rock and roll deserve the blame for the doubling o... Download and start listening now!