You are here'Better Angels' Reveals Humanity's Most Peaceful Era
'Better Angels' Reveals Humanity's Most Peaceful Era
Do you ever get the feeling that life today is getting more and more violent by the day? Well, that sense may not be completely accurate. In "The Better Angels of Our Nature," author Steven Pinker presents a powerful case demonstrating that life today is actually less violent and more peaceful than at any time in human history.
The New York Times, "Is Violence History?" reviews the book that will give optimists reason for hope:
The central thesis of “Better Angels” is that our era is less violent, less cruel and more peaceful than any previous period of human existence. The decline in violence holds for violence in the family, in neighborhoods, between tribes and between states. People living now are less likely to meet a violent death, or to suffer from violence or cruelty at the hands of others, than people living in any previous century.
Pinker assumes that many of his readers will be skeptical of this claim, so he spends six substantial chapters documenting it. [...]
Pinker begins with studies of the causes of death in different eras and peoples. Some studies are based on skeletons found at archaeological sites; averaging their results suggests that 15 percent of prehistoric humans met a violent death at the hands of another person. Research into contemporary or recent hunter-gatherer societies yields a remarkably similarly average, while another cluster of studies of pre-state societies that include some horticulture has an even higher rate of violent death. In contrast, among state societies, the most violent appears to have been Aztec Mexico, in which 5 percent of people were killed by others. In Europe, even during the bloodiest periods — the 17th century and the first half of the 20th — deaths in war were around 3 percent. The data vindicates Hobbes’s basic insight, that without a state, life is likely to be “nasty, brutish and short.” In contrast, a state monopoly on the legitimate use of force reduces violence and makes everyone living under that monopoly better off than they would otherwise have been. Pinker calls this the “pacification process.”
It’s not only deaths in war, but murder, too, that is declining over the long term. Even those tribal peoples extolled by anthropologists as especially “gentle,” like the Semai of Malaysia, the Kung of the Kalahari and the Central Arctic Inuit, turn out to have murder rates that are, relative to population, comparable to those of Detroit. In Europe, your chance of being murdered is now less than one-tenth, and in some countries only one-fiftieth, of what it would have been if you had lived 500 years ago. American rates, too, have fallen steeply over the past two or three centuries.
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