Seems incredible, but that’s the conclusion of psychologist Steven Pinker. Pinker uses the ‘Big Picture’ view of human history to arrive at this conclusion, and he makes a good point regarding the dramactic change in attitudes that started during the Age of Enlightenment and resulted in the founding of the United States and its constitutional form of democracy that protected its citizens against the power of the government, enshrined the rights of individuals, and made rulers temporary and subject to the will of the people at a time when monarchy and the ‘divine right of kings’ was the prevalent form of government in the world. These days, democracy is the prevailing type of government, and even most of those countries that still retain a monarch usually have some limiting parliamentary control over the power of the king or queen. For proof of this, compare the powers of England’s King Henry the VIII to the UK’s current Queen Elizabeth II. If we can get the obscene profits out of war-making, I can see a new Age of Enlightenment in the 21st century where diplomacy replaces armed aggression as the way to settle disputes between nations, just as most people find a way to resolve personal disputes without resorting to violence. Some believe that the human tendency toward violence is immutable, a permanent part of our DNA, but they are trapped in a prison of their own creation. Others, like Pinker, have seen the change in human nature over the centuries and know that psyches are malleable and, sometimes, in the long run, most of us opt for the right decision, although we may take a painfully round-about path to get there. As H.G. Wells once wrote: “If we don’t end war, war will end us.” It’s possible, in the near future, humanity will decide to think and survive.
Many believe the 20th century represents the pinnacle of human violence, but psychologist Steven Pinker argues that the opposite is true.
January 13, 2012
Humanity’s lust for violence has undergone a long, precipitous decline at every level of social interaction, from domestic abuse to violent crime to interstate wars. That’s the sweeping and somewhat counterintuitive thesis of psychologist Steven Pinker’s new book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. The pacification of humanity, says Pinker, is “a fractal phenomenon, visible at the scale of millennia, centuries, decades, and years.”
Pinker writes that the “very idea invites skepticism, incredulity and sometimes anger.” He sets out to overcome that barrier by surveying a broad swath of data, from examinations of ancient bones unearthed in peat bogs and on long-forgotten battlefields, to homicide statistics based on European coroners’ inquests and local records dating back 800 years, to databases of modern interstate conflicts and civil wars.
Does Pinker’s research validate his thesis? And if so, what forces might explain such a profound shift in human society?
Read the entire article here.