Friday 14 December 2012

The surprising decline in violence

“Everything you know is wrong,” says psychologist Steven Pinker in a lecture for TED.

Conventional wisdom says that the modern era, with its technological warfare, genocide and violent crime, is uniquely violent. Our tribal ancestors, meanwhile, lived in communal harmony.

“In fact,” says Pinker, “our ancestors were far more violent than we are, violence has been in decline for long stretches of time, and today we are probably living in the most peaceful time in our species’ existence.”

You can see the whole lecture here:

This lecture was recorded in 2007 and Pinker subsequently expanded his theory into the book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.

Note that Pinker is not claiming that there is no violence today, rather that there is a lot less of it compared with most of human history. If, having watched the lecture, you still disagree with Pinker, read the comments thread here, where your points may already have been raised and answered.

Meanwhile, consider the question Pinker raises at the end of his lecture. The decline in violence should force us to ask not just “What are we doing wrong?” but also “What have we been doing right?”

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