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Violence Advocates Buck Historical Trends

okanogen's picture

Stephen Pinker's recent book "The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined" examines the statistics of violence finding that contrary to popular belief, violence rates of all kinds have declined through determinable human history.

Black Bloc and their enablers cite the sporadic violence associated with the Arab Spring as necessary, ignoring that the Egyptian protests were significantly less violent than the Iranian Revolution for example. In many ways, the Occupy movement in general has been a repeat of frustration with the inequality, unemployment, and economic injustice that was a major part of the urban riots of the 1960's except this time without the widespread violence. Black Bloc wants to take us back to those thrilling days of yesteryear, defying history.

No thanks.

Huge hat tip to OnViolence.

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okanogen's picture
Submitted by okanogen on

He doesn't consider deaths from economic violence e.g. hunger or diseases due to deficiencies in micronutrients (36-40 million/ year) tobacco (6 million/yr) obesity (2.6 million /yr), car accidents (1.5 million/yr) work related death (2.5 million/yr) etc.

All that's missing is peanut allergies.

In terms of "violence" Pinker includes murder, rape, child abuse, assault, war casualties, etc.. Apparently this is controversial because he doesn't include tobacco or car accidents.

What. Ever.

Submitted by Lex on

Please explain Pinker's reasoning and why his argument is solid.

I haven't, though i might now. I'm skeptical. Not because i want him to be wrong but because from my quick research (interviews, etc.) it appears that he may be arguing backwards from an assumption he would like to be true.

I'm a touch perturbed by statements like the one below from Pinker:

"Nor has the Long Peace turned us into a civilisation of selfish wimps. However traumatic 9/11 may have been to some small number of people, it didn't stand in the way of heroic rescues, the rapid clearing of Ground Zero, and (for better or worse) a quick and successful invasion of Afghanistan."

So he's saying that we're becoming less violent by becoming more efficiently violent in our "quick and successful invasion of Afghanistan." Last time i checked, we were still there committing violence and the State that he's very clear about being a reason for lessening violence doesn't bother to count the bodies from the violence it inflicts.

The Independent

From the same interview, he makes broad claims about "violent death" in tribal societies and then admits that he's extrapolating from a handful of archeological sites and anthropological studies. I'd be most interested to know if he differentiates the possible means of "death from violence." For example, we now know that the mummy found frozen in the Alps with the arrow wound was not on the run and died from an wound. His stomach was full and the wound was healing. Evidence of violence in prehistoric people could be the result of an enemy bashing a head in or a fall on a rock that bashed the head in.

I wonder if he counts workplace fatalities in the early 20th Century from machinery accidents in his numbers. These are, after all, violent. Furthermore, they're caused by the "gentle commerce" he credits with being a pillar of the reduction of violence.

Also, he's comparing the percentage that died "violently" with modern percentages that die violently. I'm unaware of any archeological finds with tribal census data carved into stone. Furthermore, more total violent deaths will obviously be a smaller percentage in a larger population. That doesn't prove anything except an ability to massage statistics.

I guess i'll have to read the book to find out. Which i may well. But until i do, i'm not going to say that i agree with him just because i'd like him to be right.

okanogen's picture
Submitted by okanogen on

Will do when it shows up in the cheap bin.

I think there is plenty there to hate. He also credits the end of religious pogroms like the Crusades and Inquisition. From the NPR interview I first meant to link:

FLATOW: The atheist pundits, Christopher Hitchens, Bill Maher, just to name a couple, like to point to religion as a force for violence. Is there a strong connection there, with the Crusades and all kinds of religious warfare?

PINKER: There is a connection. I would say that there's - that any kind of ideology that is demonizing, that is, holds out some group of people as an obstacle to a better world and that posits a utopia, are extremely dangerous. And so I would lump militant religions in with ideologies like communism and Nazism in that regard. The problem being, that if you imagine a utopia, then - which is infinitely good forever - then no matter how violent the means of getting there, you're still ahead of the game. You've still done more good than harm.

Also anyone who opposes your utopia is infinitely evil, and you're justified in wiping them out. The result is that not so much recently but in past centuries, Christianity was indeed a very dangerous force. The Crusades killed perhaps a million people, which proportionally was about the same as the Nazi Holocaust.

The European wars of religion were more deadly than the First World War, proportionally speaking, and in the range of the Second World War in Europe. The Inquisition, the persecution of heretics and infidels and witches, they racked up pretty high death tolls.

nihil obstet's picture
Submitted by nihil obstet on

unless people whose views I respect say it's good. I read How the Mind Works some years ago. The science of perception was presented fairly, but then he extrapolated from how we physically see, for example, into "just so" stories to prove common beliefs. I've seen him do the same thing on interview shows. The criticisms cited here are pretty much the way I felt about his earlier book, so reading another one doesn't strike me as a good use of my time.