The Decline of Violence

Neuroscientist Steven Pinker on the triumph of peace and prosperity over death and destruction

(Page 2 of 5)

Pinker: Well, millions died in centuries before the 20th. People confuse a data point with the trend. They remember the horrific episodes of violence in the 20th century, but one occurrence is not a trend. And despite universal predictions that World War I to World War II was just the beginning of a sequence where World War III would be even worse, World War III didn’t happen. And in fact, from the spike of the Second World War, there’s been a historically unusual period of peace among developed countries. 

reason: Let’s go through some of the reasons and processes by which the world became less violent. It began with what you call the pacification process, which involved the creation of states.

Pinker: The first states seemed to have in their wake a massive reduction of death in tribal raiding and feuding, basically because it’s a nuisance to the overlords. So you have things like the Pax Romana, the Pax Islamica, the Pax Sinica, in China, where the emperors would much rather have the peasants alive to stock their tax rolls and armies, and be slaves or serfs. So they had a selfish interest in preventing too much internecine feuding among their subject peoples and basically kept them from each other’s throats. Not that it was a life that we would consider particularly pleasant. You’re substituting a lot of violence among tribes and villages and clans for a lesser amount—but still a brutal form of violence—from the state against its citizens. 

The next transition, after you have the government preventing people from committing violence against each other, you now have the problem of preventing the government from committing violence against its own peoples. And that was, basically, the advent of democracy and the various reforms of the Enlightenment.

reason: The next reduction in violence occurred as a result of what you call the civilizing process.

Pinker: It’s a term that I borrowed from the German sociologist Norbert Elias, in his book by that name, where he figured out—even in the absence of quantitative data —that Europe had become a less violent place in the transition from the Middle Ages to modernity. We now know that he was right, now that historical criminologists have gathered the quantitative data. But he had noticed it just from narrative accounts of what daily life was like. Just people cutting off each other’s noses, stabbing each other over the dinner table in response to an insult—there seems to be less now than there was then. He had an immediate explanation and an ultimate explanation. The immediate explanation was a psychological change. Namely that people exercise more self-control and more empathy. They counted to 10 and swallowed their pride rather than lashing out with a dagger when they’d been insulted. They tried to get inside the heads of other people in general, to figure out what they wanted. 

Now that just begs the question of why would there have been this psychological change. He identified two exogenous factors, his first being the consolidation of kingdoms. Instead of a patchwork of little fiefdoms and duchies and principalities and baronies, you had kingdoms where criminal justice was nationalized, and that allows justice to be reckoned by a more disinterested third party, and it keeps warlords from cycles of vendetta and feuding. [This occurred] together with the expansion of the infrastructure of commerce, both the physical infrastructure in the form of roads and wagons and carts and mills, and also a financial infrastructure: currency that could be recognized throughout a kingdom once the king had established control, and enforceable contracts, tilting the incentive structure from conquest to exchange. 

The intermediate link was that in order to get ahead during this transition, you no longer had to be the baddest knight in the land. You had to basically take a trip to the king’s court and kiss up to his various minions and bureaucrats. That required inhibiting various impulses—not blowing your nose into your hand and then shaking someone else’s hand, or not gnawing on a bone and putting it back into the serving dish—that weren’t appropriate to the king’s court. So there was a whole set of manners involving self-control that we call courtesy, from the word for court. According to Elias, this habit of self-control—and also empathy, because in an economy based on commerce, you’ve got to keep the customer satisfied, you’ve got to anticipate demand of your clients and customers—[meant that] people exercised what psychologists call today “theory of mind,” an ability to get into other people’s heads. The whole causal chain is government and commerce, [which lead] to self-control and empathy, [which lead] to less impulsive violence.

reason: But with regard to violence, government has been a big problem. It was the solution to tribal warfare, but governments have developed their own more efficient ways of killing people. 

Pinker: Yes. Although probably in fewer numbers, because in no period of history would you have, say, 25 percent of the population killed by their government, which you could easily have in tribal warfare in hunter-horticulturists. 

(Interview continues below video.)

reason: What accounts for what you call the “humanitarian revolution” in the 17th and 18th centuries?

Pinker: My best guess was that it was because of literacy. The first industry to show advances in productivity prior to the Industrial Revolution was bookmaking. Paper got cheaper. Printing is cheaper than handwriting, both because it’s faster and because you can squeeze more text on a given amount of paper. Bookbinding, distribution, all of that increased in the 17th century. There were also ships that could move people around as well as ideas. The first post office. 

So you have the republic of letters. You have pamphlets going viral. You have many more books being published. You have higher literacy, so more people can read them. Once you don’t live in a pokey little village, where all of your ideas come from the priest or from the elders, you’re exposed to a whole world of ideas. And you’re allowed to talk about them; you’re not burned at the stake for talking about them. You can get together in pubs and coffeehouses and salons, and hash things out. The discussion’s going to go in some directions rather than others. It’s unlikely that everyone’s going to be persuaded, “Hey, the kings rule by divine right. Isn’t that obviously true?” It’s more likely that a bunch of minds exchanging ideas will maybe see a wee problem in that doctrine.

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  • Feral Politician ||

    Sounds like the sheeple have lost the will to resist.

    Arbeit Macht Frei.

  • Ice Nine||

    Didn't we just do this?

  • Paul||

    and why you are much less likely to get knifed in the face these days.

    What about getting raped in the face?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xFeNzaKypp0

  • Realist||

    How many times are you going to run this shit.
    Isn't it time to run another article on legalizing drugs or openingn the borders to everyone???

  • Real Realist||

    Pinker uses too many big words and this intimidates me.

    I'm going to hide my confusion and shame behind mockery of his ideas.

  • Realist||

    Hey dickwad you talking to me???
    I wasn't mocking Pinkers ideas. I was mocking Reason and their science correspondent who knows very little about science.
    Let's have another article on AGW Ronnie.

  • Sevo||

    "I was mocking Reason and their science correspondent who knows very little about science."
    Really? Cite?

  • Realist||

    If you have read his articles and can't see his science ignorance, then you too are a science illiterate.

  • the bilover||

    If you can read the internet and you can't see trolls, then you too are a troll.

  • H man||

    Yes but this doesn't say anything about the rampant microagressing or othering.

  • New Meme?||

    microagressing

    What the

  • Sevo||

    It was a link in a thread.
    I means causing someone discomfort that's too small to measure, but not too small to gripe about.
    I'm sure it'll be a major in our public universities in not too long.

  • CaptainSmartass||

    Trying to push new memes is an excellent example of microagressing.

  • New Meme?||

    causing someone discomfort that's too small to measure...

    Ah, so!
    Like "griefing"!

    ...but not too small to gripe about.

    What the

  • Rev. Blue Moon ||

    Here you go. Do not say we did not warn you.

    Here's a new favorite (right at the top!):

    On Facebook, my ex posts about being “your average hardworking young professional with a mental disorder.” A friend of hers jokingly replies, “Better than a lazy, not working person with a mental disorder!”

    I’m unemployed and struggling with depression and anxiety. Made me feel worthless, mocked, less.

    Only a really sad hysterical sack would think that saying "working is better than not working" is an insult.

  • Audrey the Liberal||

    Only a really sad hysterical sack would think that saying "working is better than not working" is an insult.

    You should examine your not hysterical sad sack privilege.

  • Marian Kechlibar||

    Although not a native speaker, the site that you linked to ... makes me creative with English. For it defies simple naming.

    Even "whiny bitchfest" seems not to express the sentiments gathered there in the entirety.

    Unfortunately, histrionic people like those now drive various hate-speech legislations and shrill-snotspill-right commissions with Orwellian powers.

  • Realist||

    "I means causing someone discomfort that's too small to measure,...."?????

  • Marian Kechlibar||

    Ah, Schrödinger's discomfort! When you try to measure it, it changes!

  • jellydonut||

    Statist drivel. Disappointing.

  • ||

    Just. Utter. Bullshit.

    Don't look at the hundreds of millions buthcered by the state in the last 150 years.

    Its just a data point.

  • Buthcered by the State||

    the hundreds of millions buthcered by the state in the last 150 years

    I, like most of the crackpotariat, cannot be bothered to read the article, but I sense that the author cited is referring to the present, not the past.

  • ||

    Like the hundreds of thousands killed in the last few years by the USSA?

    How about the millions incarcerated for drug offenses?

    How about the millions who have been groped and grabbed at the airport?

  • Buthcered by the State||

    USSA? I feel your pain. Perhaps a public forum is not the best place to address and treat your neurosis.

  • Rev. Blue Moon ||

    Like the hundreds of thousands killed in the last few years by the USSA?

    Can I get a cite on that number? I'll give you the last ten years. Just remember, though, these are deaths directly attributable to the United States, not second- and third-order effects that may have happened regardless of United States involvement. So, I want to see at least 200,000 directly killed by the United States. I'll give you six years, since you said "few".

  • Rev. Blue Moon ||

    Ah, damn. Ten years, LM. Go!

  • Marian Kechlibar||

    These are serious problems, but you still seem to underestimate the scope of killings in previous centuries.

    Most of the people discussing here are probably males over 25. In the 18th century, with the constant wars, many of us would be already killed.

    My paternal family stems from the Balkans, and even in the 19th century, many young males were lost to warfare.

  • Marian Kechlibar||

    LM, think of this comparison:

    The entire body count of American military forces from Afghanistan and Iraq over the last DECADE is less than the losses which the British had on the first DAY of the Battle of the Somme, 1916.

    Can you imagine, say, the entire young population of a mid-sized city wiped in a single freaking DAY?

  • ||

    Libertymike: Perhaps you should consider looking at the copious amount of evidence Pinker provides. Or do you just know that he is wrong?

  • Ashlyn||

    Evidence is the last refuge of a weak personality. Or so Newt Gingrich tells me.

  • ¢||

    If the Nazis had won WWII, that's what Yanni would look like.

  • 0x90||

    If you want war, prepare for war.

  • Tibet||

    And if you wanna get assfucked by your neighbor, don't prepare for war.

  • rsi||

    Si vis pacem, para bellum.

    Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus

  • Marian Kechlibar||

    This is half the truth.

    If you want war, prepare for war. But if you want peace, prepare for war, too.

    In toto: Just prepare for war, m'kay?

  • Silly ol' Bear||

    We humans/hominids have been around fro at least 3 million years or more. We evolved from some primal fish thing that had a reptilian brain. That will always be a part of us. We will always hunt and kill, it is what we are. There is the milk of human kindness and I think everyone has a bit of it, but revenge, or hatred, or ignorance will never be eliminated.

    I greatly fear that this is just a lull. There are so many extremist groups that want to change everything.

    On a completely statistical level, his proposition is inaccurate. the same number of people are getting killed, but since we are around 7 billion now, obviously, the stats drop.

  • Ashlyn||

    On a completely statistical level, his proposition is inaccurate. the same number of people are getting killed, but since we are around 7 billion now, obviously, the stats drop.

    .... What?

  • Robert||

    Please provide the data Pinker uses to reach this conclusion. When his work first appeared back in 2007 the data he used was extremely flawed and misleading. I posted the following comment on this story when it was covered many months ago on a different blog:

    Pinker is deeply mistaken and uses false and misleading data to support his claim. I've recently read a book titled, Sex at Dawn, by Doctors Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha and in addition to casting serious doubt on many things we think we know about human nature (such as being innately violent) the author's address Steven Pinker's claims specifically.

    I notice the chart used in the WSJ times article refers to "Battle deaths" I am extremely curious to see the methodology behind that. Based on the blatant lies and falsehoods made by Mr. Pinker during his 2007 TED speech on this same topic, I would not be surprised to see that "battle deaths" do not include millions of deaths that occurred violently, yet did not fall into the "battle death" classification.

    It is also worth mentioning that prehistoric man comprised of 95% of the time homo sapiens have been around for. Prehistoric man was decidedly less violent than modern man when agriculture was discovered. The theory that with agriculture came property and thus something worth fighting over seems reasonable. Obviously the authors flesh it out much more thoroughly in their work. The point being when Mr. Pinker makes claims like "Why has violence declined so dramatically for so long? Is it because violence has literally been bred out of us, leaving us more peaceful by nature?" it assumes we are violent by nature, which there is no supporting evidence for. And in fact, the scientists engaged in the study of human nature find evidence for the opposite. And secondly it indicates violence is falling, while Mr. Pinker uses narrowly defined misleading statistics to document a decline in military deaths or battles etc. In his TED speech he presented an extremely similarly misleading graph as the one visible in the WSJ piece, regarding the tiny bar of violent deaths in that graphs, Dr. Christopher Ryan remarked:

    "To make matters even worse, Pinker juxtaposed these bogus mortality rates with a tiny bar showing the relatively few war-related deaths of males in 20th century US and Europe. This is misleading in many respects. Perhaps most important, the twentieth century gave birth to 'total war' between nations, in which civilians (not just male combatants) were targeted...so counting only male mortalities is meaningless.

    Furthermore, why did Pinker not include the tens of millions who died in some of the most vicious and deadly examples of 20th century warfare? In his discussion of 'our most peaceful age', he makes no mention of the Rape of Nanking, the entire Pacific theater of WWII (including the detonation of two nuclear bombs over Japan), the Khmer Rogue and Pol Pot's killing fields in Cambodia, several consecutive decades-longs wars in Vietnam (against the Japanese, French, and Americans), the Chinese revolution and civil war, the India/Pakistan separation and subsequent wars, or the Korean war. None of these many millions are included in his assessment of 20th century (male) war fatalities." - Sex at Dawn pg. 334

    He goes on for a bit longer, and has a much stronger issue with Pinker's demonstrably false data used to suggest the idea that humans are inherently violent. The past 5,000 years represent less than 5% of our time here on Earth, the previous 95% in which we were sans agriculture, represent a starkly different idea of human nature than those like Hobbes or Dr. Pinker continually insist to be the case with. It is telling that they either have zero supporting data or can only resort to the use of extremely misleading pieces of data to verify such claims. It's just bad science.

  • Silly ol' Bear||

    I agree completely except on one point.

    We know apes, specifically chimpanzees, our nearest relatives go to war between groups on a regular basis. Surely if they make war and and capture females (let's be honest here) for breeding, or for food, or for territory, I doubt very seriously our ancestors were less different.

  • Robert||

    You might really enjoy Sex at Dawn. Bonobos are genetically as close to us as are chimpanzees and are much less violent than chimps.

    Further, the book highlights just how weak the evidence that has concluded chimps are "innately violent", is.

    Chimps in captivity, chimps disturbed by human invasion etc. may be contaminated data that does not perfectly represent the natural state of chimps...etc.

  • Ashlyn||

    Bonobos have not been studied nearly as thoroughly as chimps. Optimistic scientists told us for decades that chimps were peaceful, cooperative, harmonious little hippies too.

    This is not to say that our current knowledge of bonobos is wrong, only that I wouldn't give it this much weight in an argument about the innate violence of primates.

    Chimps in captivity, chimps disturbed by human invasion etc. may be contaminated data that does not perfectly represent the natural state of chimps...etc.

    It's been pretty firmly established that violence is part of a chimp's behavioral repertoire; as with humans, it simply depends on the situation. It seems odd to me to say that they've been "contaminated" by... well, by the rays of evil emitted by sinful humans, I suppose. If the presence of humans is a stressor, all that means is that chimps can respond to stressors by warring with each other, killing each other's young, and ambushing lone enemies and tearing them apart. Not exactly a mark in the "peaceful" column.

  • Sevo||

    "Perhaps most important, the twentieth century gave birth to 'total war' between nations, in which civilians (not just male combatants) were targeted...so counting only male mortalities is meaningless."
    Further picking of nits:
    Nope. The US Civil War has that distinction. See, oh, Sherman.

  • ||

    See also, "Thumbing".

  • LarryA||

    Or you could go back to Troy. Or any of several campaigns in the Bible. "Salting the earth" has a long history.

  • Ashlyn||

    Yeah, from prehistory onward it was common practice all over the world for the victors in war to kill the enemy's men, rape the women, enslave the children, and steal all their stuff.

    But William Tecumseh Sherman invented "total war."

  • ||

    Robert: All of those data are included in the book.

  • Ashlyn||

    Please provide the data Pinker uses to reach this conclusion.

    You mean... the book? You want a free copy of the book?

  • Marian Kechlibar||

    "Prehistoric man was decidedly less violent than modern man when agriculture was discovered."

    Hmm. I do not see the causality to be so simple.

    The hunter-gatherers could not sustain population density high enough for inter-tribal warfare. The agricultural societies could.

    On the other hand, hunter-gatherers practiced (and continue to practice) infanticide regularly, because they often cannot feed the extra children.

    Finally, even some of the tribes are viciously violent. I have read a first-person description of constant warfare among the Yanomami (Indian tribes of Orinoco forest) in the 1950s; the girl who described it lived with them for 20 years. Scarcely a guy died from anything else than an enemy's arrow.

    The scary thing about inter-tribal warfare is that it takes a single guy who assassinates someone to start a full-fledged war expedition. This is the cycle of revenge that Pinker writes about.

    And, Robert, if a hunter tribe of 30 people gets wiped out completely, the archeological record is small and probably overlooked. If an agricultural settlement of 300 people is, the traces are much more pronounced.

    So don't count on absence of evidence as evidence of absence.

  • Mouth Breather||

    But Kevin Drum at MoJo read one study on this issue and now knows that decreasing levels of lead poisoning are behind the decrease in violence: http://motherjones.com/kevin-d.....less-crime

    The first commenter on that page reminds us that lead poisoning is just another example of why Ron Paul is out-of-touch and wants children to die of lead poisoning. Atypically for the MoJo commentariat, the Koch Bros are spared of blame in this matter.

  • Sevo||

    "Atypically for the MoJo commentariat, the Koch Bros are spared of blame in this matter."
    Give 'em time.

  • ||

    you are much less likely to get knifed in the face these days.

    But curb stompings are up a staggering amount!

  • ||

    Seems the Pentagon and the powers that be in the Republican Party are a little behind the curve on this one...

  • Sevo||

    You left out a guy name of Obama.

  • Tony||

    The only group that has a higher body count under Obama than Bush is al Qaeda.

  • Sevo||

    Assuming this is a spoof, it's even less understandable than shithead's normal bullshit.
    Do you mean al Qadea killed more since Obama has been president than they did while W was?

  • Tony||

    I'm not gonna dignify your inability to read English with an explanation.

  • Sevo||

    Well, shithead, I'm not going to 'dignify' your inability to write English by asking any further.

  • ||

    The war drums can be heard not so far off. The "Arab Spring" is becoming the Islamist Winter and they are arming themselves.

    Violence is down in America because the incarceration rate is breaking all records.

  • wareagle||

    Violence is down in America because the incarceration rate is breaking all records.
    ----------------------
    wouldn't that mean that the most likely perpetrators of violence are no longer free to harm others?

  • Ashlyn||

    Violence is even further down in Western Europe, and they don't imprison people at appalling rates for nonviolent offenses.

  • Marian Kechlibar||

    The question is:

    * how many others, unlikely perpetrators of violence, are no longer free "just in case"? *

    It is appalling to hear that you can get 20 years in prison for messing with evidence even prior to any investigation (Sabanes-Oxley). This kind of punishments used to be reserved for the Nazi war aggressors or regular murderers.

    Why should any non-violent felon get more than, say, 8 years in the pen? The society won't be better off keeping him behind bars year after year.

    Even Madoff, disgusting character as he is, should already be on the street and working his ass off to support himself and pay taxes. Instead, he is a taxpayer's parasite, fed and housed by Uncle Sam.

  • Almanian||

    Shorter Pinker:

    "Ah! Now we DON'T see the violence inherent in the system!"

  • Almanian||

    Also:

    The rise of states 5,000 years ago dramatically reduced tribal conflict.

    Injun Blanco - Mr. Pinker. Mr. Pinker - Injun Blanco.

    I'll leave you alone - I'm sure you two have a lot to talk about.

  • ||

    I think it will be love

  • Tony||

    You guys love talking about how random human interaction causes good outcomes to naturally emerge. Why is "statism" not one such innovation? In the darwinian competition between less and more unified societies, the states seem to be winning.

    Moreover, capitalism is what is causing increased interconnectedness. It does tend to function more efficiently when rules across groups of people align.

  • ||

    All the societies we know of which have both agriculture and metallurgy seem to produce states, without any central planning to make this happen. Funny how Hayekians don't want to talk about that sort of spontaneous order.

  • ||

    Up to a certain, minimal, level, you could probably call a proto-state an example of spontaneous order.

    Above that level, though, you have a state which is actively expanding, and is no longer spontaneous.

    There's a difference, you know, between a NORK-style Total State and a minarchy.

  • Edwin||

    "Why is "statism" not one such innovation? In the darwinian competition between less and more unified societies, the states seem to be winning."

    I don't think non-aanarchist libertarians would disagree.

    "Moreover, capitalism is what is causing increased interconnectedness. It does tend to function more efficiently when rules across groups of people align."

    Even here, no disagreement for the general idea. Even some non-anarchist libertarians would probably agree, depending on how you define "rules" (i.e., are the definitions of property rights part of those rules.)

    Not that I am a libertarian...

    But overbearing, economy-wide rules can be massively damaging, such as when they needlessly promote a bubble in a nation that was stupidly apt to create it through the cult of the single-family-picket-fenced-house. If we didn't have a central banking system and fannie and freddie, and had a REAL free market, nobody would even buy a mortgage. It doesn't even make sense, it's the mortgage that's supposed to make money, why would someone sell that except for really huge houses in special, exceptional growth situations?

  • Sevo||

    Tony|1.11.12 @ 8:08PM|#
    "Why is "statism" not one such innovation?"
    Shithead, because unless it's checked by such a document as the Constitution, it gives unlimited power to those who chose to use it.
    Is that clear, shithead?

  • Tony||

    The constitution is a check against statism? A document whose primary purpose was creating a state?

  • ||

    The constitution is a check against statism?

    Well, that was the plan anyway, until some clever statists figured that the Commerce Clause is elastic enough to provide justification for almost any federal power.

  • Tony||

    Some of us think its flexibility is a good thing--a document that forced us to stay in an 18th century technological and economic paradigm would have to have been scrapped long ago.

  • Sevo||

    Tony|1.11.12 @ 8:37PM|#
    "Some of us think its flexibility is a good thing"

    Translation from shithead:
    'Some of us are happy to coerce others under the least excuse we can find'
    Got it, shithead.

  • Tony||

    Like you thinking people should be coerced off the rich man's property with guns? And your excuse for this government violence is a piece of paper?

  • Brother Grimm||

    That statement came from a world of stupid few people ever visit.

  • Marian Kechlibar||

    "Flexibility" is provided for by the Constitution. It is called the Amendment process, and it was performed successfully 27 times, so it is obviously a functional model.

    Ignoring the Constitution or interpreting it as non-binding isn't "flexibility", it is abuse.

  • Sevo||

    Tony|1.11.12 @ 8:23PM|#
    "The constitution is a check against statism? A document whose primary purpose was creating a state?"

    Shithead, there are ignoramuses, really stupid ignoramuses and then there's you.
    Yes, shithead, it was specifically aimed at limiting the power of the state. Until shitheads like you found loopholes.

  • Tony||

    Sounds like a pretty flawed document then. Why don't you worship it some more?

  • Sevo||

    Tony|1.11.12 @ 8:38PM|#
    "Sounds like a pretty flawed document then."

    Yes, shithead, it is far from perfect. And shitheads like you grabbed every hole you could find to coerce others.

  • Tony||

    The argument is your chance of dying is much reduced the closer you get to the present. That has as much to do with population growth as anything. You don't have to take it for more than it's worth... but sorry if it challenges some infantile golden age nostalgia you guys hold.

  • Tony||

    Though, of course, population growth is the same thing as fewer people dying.

  • ||

    your chance of dying is much reduced

    Nope, it is still 100%.

    What you left out is dying in a violent manner.

  • Tony||

    Right, and smaller proportions of the larger populations are dying violently. Statism is an obvious contributor to decreasing violent deaths, even though it may take steps backward with the occasional world war.

  • Sevo||

    Tony|1.11.12 @ 8:36PM|#
    "Statism is an obvious contributor to decreasing violent deaths, even though it may take steps backward with the occasional world war."

    No, shithead, the deaths from wars pale by comparison with those caused by states to their own populations. The stronger the state, the more the deaths:
    ""...Communist regimes...turned mass crime into a full-blown system of government". He cites a death toll which totals 94 million, not counting the "excess deaths" (decrease of the population due to lower than-expected birth rates)."
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T....._Communism
    As horrible as those stats are, they have been 'corrected' upwards several times since the book was published. The number is probably well over 150,000,000, all caused by the state.

  • Tony||

    I think you'll find totalitarianism to be the culprit more so than any economic system, though many totalitarian economic schemes were awful.

    I'm 100% certain you mean this to imply that more socialism means more violent deaths, like in the hellscape of modern Europe.

  • Sevo||

    Tony|1.11.12 @ 8:51PM|#
    "I think you'll find totalitarianism to be the culprit more so than any economic system, though many totalitarian economic schemes were awful."

    Shithead, you attempt a distinction without a difference.
    --------------------------
    "I'm 100% certain you mean this to imply that more socialism means more violent deaths, like in the hellscape of modern Europe."

    Shithead, the Euros have yet to engage in mass murder; they're trying mass poverty first.

  • ||

    Mass poverty in the EU? Check out their per capita incomes, life expectancies and overall health indices. Hardly poor by any standard.
    And why the use of epithets? If rightwingers have such a great philosophies of life, why are they so bitter?

  • Tony||

    Or those notorious rapers and pillagers the Canadians.

  • Sevo||

    Tony|1.11.12 @ 8:54PM|#
    "Or those notorious rapers and pillagers the Canadians."

    Oh, look! Shithead tries misdirection! How surprising!
    Have you watched what Canada is doing? It's dismantling the socialist systems, shithead.

  • Tony||

    Just in time, they were about to completely implode into violent chaos.

  • Sevo||

    Tony|1.11.12 @ 9:17PM|#
    "Just in time, they were about to completely implode into violent chaos."

    No, shithead, they figured it out first. You might take a look, shtithead.

  • ||

    Statism is an obvious contributor to decreasing violent deaths

    The State has monopoly on violence; as everything else, it is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it does contribute to the falling rates of interpersonal violence (at least we all seem to agree on that), but on the other hand it centralizes the means of deploying (armed) violence against the populace (externally or internally), and that in itself is a heavy price to pay. The $64,000 question is: how can be the former utilized without providing the opportunity for the abuse which the latter entails?

  • Tony||

    Strongly democratic government with lots of checks and balances in place. Might not work, but any government is better than no government so the saying goes.

  • ||

    Might not work

    That's a pretty cavalier attitude.

    any government is better than no government

    Victims of governmental political violence disagree.

  • Tony||

    It seems to have worked as well as anyone can expect. Even nondemocratic states have contributed to the world's population boom--maybe especially.

    Victims of random violence on the street might be pissed off about their situation too but they're not gonna want the state to go away.

  • Tony||

    I don't know of many victims of political violence who are begging for someone to come unstate them. It's usually other states they appeal to.

  • ||

    I don't know of many victims of political violence who are begging for someone to come unstate them.

    Syrians are not begging but rather fighting against their statists, ie. Assad and his Alawite ilk who oppress them under the Baath ideology.

  • Sevo||

    Tony|1.11.12 @ 9:19PM|#
    "Strongly democratic government with lots of checks and balances in place."

    But, shithead, that wouldn't allow you to use government thugs for your fave causes.

  • Tony||

    Exactly like you. Are you an anarchist? No? Then you think government guns should be used for certain purposes, paid for collectively.

    Your defense of this blatant hypocrisy? A piece of paper says it's OK. Except it doesn't, you're just making that part up. That piece of paper allows a welfare state--as evidence I cite the existence of the welfare state.

  • Alpheus||

    "...but any government is better than no government so the saying goes."

    Is it, really? Granted, Somalia with no government isn't all that great a place, but they are doing better than they were when they were under the Communists.

    So while the case can be made that government is better than anarchy, there's at least one counter-example to the claim "any government is better than no government".

  • ||

    I think the state just hides it's violence better than individuals.

  • Sevo||

    For your amusement:
    Tony|1.11.12 @ 8:26PM|#
    "The argument is your chance of dying is much reduced the closer you get to the present."
    Yep, shithead, since, oh, 1955 most people don't die.

  • Occupy Wall Street VPS||

    Occupy the Language: How the 1% manipulates our language to stile debate
    ---------------------------------------

    I am in the process of getting this published in an Occupy Journal The manipulation of language is serious and prevents us from engaging in serious dialogue.

    In 1946 George Orwell wrote
    Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it. Our civilization is decadent and our language -- so the argument runs -- must inevitably share in the general collapse. It follows that any struggle against the abuse of language is a sentimental archaism, like preferring candles to electric light or hansom cabs to aeroplanes. Underneath this lies the half-conscious belief that language is a natural growth and not an instrument which we shape for our own purposes
    Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely.
    "From Politics and The English Language 1946.

    Now, in 2012, we of the 99% have witnessed one thousand fold a manipulation of our language Mr. Orwell, in his worst nightmares would have never imagined. This manipulation exists for sole purpose of stifling debates, deciding outcomes and, preventing rational and persuasive arguments from ever being presented. The purpose of this article is to create a public acknowledgement that our language has been taken over for political purposes and collectively address solutions that would allow for a greater and more inclusive dialogue.

    Webster defines “language” as the words, their pronunciation, and the methods of combining them used and understood by a community. The problem with identifying these manipulations is complicated, often being confused with the evolving nature of language. This evolution, outside of political manipulations, is often the result of adaptions to technology: For example, in 2012, phrases such as “texting ”and “IMMING” have become quite common. We no longer speak of telegraphing” or “wiring” as these phrases refer to technology that is outdated and no longer in use. Orwell spoke of “aeroplanes” and “hansom cabs”; peculiarities of British English that never existed in the American dialect.
    American English is also evolving as a result of Demographic changes where an ever increasing Latino population has introduced “Se Habla Espano”; “Piñata”, and “dinero”; into commonplace conversation.

    The greatest challenge we face in the Occupy Wall Movement is to differentiate the political manipulation of language from the evolutionary developments exemplified above. Here are some of the examples of political manipulation:

    Support the Troops
    This phrase should imply a dedication and commitment to the men and women who serve in our armed forces. However, its political manipulation is to justify or stifle debate concerning a military intervention (or war) without any discussion of the plight of our armed forces personnel during or after military service. The manipulation is strongly inferred “if you don’t support the war, you don’t support the troops” No one, especially a politician, wants to go on record as “not supporting the troops” As a result of this manipulation, perpetual wars ensure, persistent conflicts and an ever increasing military budget that the United States neither needs or can afford but will never be challenged as the language prevents the debate from proceeding.
    The political phrase “Support the Troops” is an extension of previous manipulations such as “Soft on Terror previously “Soft on Communism” when the Soviet Union was classified as “The Evil Empire”

    Big Government

    Americans report they fear Big Government but enjoy and support Medicaid and Social Security (two of the biggest components of the Federal Budget after the Military). Paradoxically, they, overwhelmingly oppose privatization and/or cuts these programs Like “support the troops” “Big Government” is a term without a specific meaning: A phrase designed to generate a “Visceral Response” that cuts off any further discussion. This termination of any discussion allows for terrible consequences
    For example, Americas’ bridges and tunnels are in disrepair as reported by the American Society of Civil Engineers. The repairs would require significant public investment that could help struggling local economies and municipalities. However, little progress is made as this could be interpreted as “Big Government” and politicians of both parties avoid the issue.

    In conclusion, if the Occupy Movement is to be a major cultural and political force in this country, we must “take command of our language”
    We must, as Orwell advocated over 60 years ago, speak precociously, using words and phrases that the community understands and universally interprets. Avoid using long words when short ones will do; and refrain from scientific jargon (with the exception of Peer Reviewed Journals)
    We must never allow the 1% to define our words and never let their catch phrases go “undefined”
    This is our language not theirs. The tyranny of our politics will never cease until the manipulation of our language is halted.

  • Sevo||

    "The repairs would require significant public investment that could help struggling local economies and municipalities."

    "Investment" doesn't mean what you think it does and the rest of this sentence is:
    A) Wrong (see Bastiat)
    B) A non-sequitur
    C) A false dichotomy
    ---------------------
    And then we get:
    "In conclusion, if the Occupy Movement is to be a major cultural and political force in this country, we must “take command of our language”"

    Yeah, like making up whatever definition of a word your propaganda requires.
    Golf-clap: You're getting close to beating shithead in the 'how wrong can you be?' competition.

  • Tony||

    Your arguments are always so compelling.

  • Sevo||

    Tony|1.11.12 @ 8:47PM|#
    "Your arguments are always so compelling."
    Must be shithead. You've yet to *factually* counter a single one.

  • Tony||

    How do you counter a list of terms from a freshman logic text followed by name-calling?

  • Sevo||

    Tony|1.11.12 @ 8:55PM|#
    "How do you counter a list of terms from a freshman logic text followed by name-calling?"

    Shithead, you might actually counter the comments, but freshman logic is probably beyond you, shithead.

  • anon||

    He's not just talking about the arguments between you two; I've never seen you counter an argument effectively between anyone. It's always reduced to some bullshit appeal to emotion, then you quit posting.

  • Tony||

    I doubt many would agree with you that I don't post enough.

    I am one of the least emotional people I know, so I know I'm not appealing to emotion all the time. Relative to sociopaths, perhaps.

    But I gather you think appealing to morality and fairness is the same as appealing to emotion. I really do understand--you want all the government guns for your purposes, and fuck everyone else because life isn't fair. I get it.

  • anon||

    But I gather you think appealing to morality and fairness
    fairness

    Fairness to whom?

    Right, the person you *feel* has been wronged, completely subject to *your* whims.

  • Tony||

    Like property owners your hearts bleed for?

  • Sevo||

    Tony|1.11.12 @ 9:24PM|#
    "Like property owners your hearts bleed for?"

    Shithead, define "fair", shithead.
    Property owners are not asking for 'fairness', shithead, they're asking for A5 to be enforced.
    Exactly as that document was written, shithead.

  • Tony||

    Why should anything be enforced for you? Suck it up, life isn't fair. Why don't you stop crying.

  • Sevo||

    Tony|1.11.12 @ 9:36PM|#
    "Why should anything be enforced for you?"

    That document, shithead? That's why, shithead.

  • Sevo||

    Tony|1.11.12 @ 9:15PM|#
    "I doubt many would agree with you that I don't post enough."

    Shithead, this is *exactly* typical of your stupidity.
    If you're too ignorant to get the point of anon's post, I'm sure not going to help.

  • anon||

    Yeah I like how he ignored nearly every word before "then you quit posting."

  • Sevo||

    "Yeah I like how he ignored nearly every word before "then you quit posting.""

    Shithead wiggles, squirms and tries every logical fallacy in the book to defend his ignorant positions.
    Outside of the *one* time he defended SSM, he has *never* engaged in anything approaching an honest discussion.
    It's not for nothing I use the term shithead; the man's attempts at various forms of dishonesty are insulting.
    He deserves any and all approbations.

  • Sevo||

    Oops:
    Disapprobations.

  • wulfy||

    "We must never allow the 1% to define our words"

    Dude, you are so fixated on envy, you can't think straight. The "1%" are the investor class that makes business financing decisions. They don't make operational business decisions, they don't obsess about how great it is that their house has 3500 sq ft and yours has 2000. They INVEST. Or they RUN BUSINESSES all damn day.

    You need to get a fuckin life before your little head explodes.

    The article is about the decline of violence. That decline is mainly due to property rights enforcement, which enables a business meritocracy. Just because you are shitty at running businesses, you think you got a raw deal. Why don't you focus on what you are good at, and go fuckin do it, get paid middle class wages, and shut the fuck up about your envy complex.

    There HAS to be a 1% in a market economy. Without it, you have anarchy, and tribal warfare. Or a totalitarian North Korea. But even they have a 1%. Think a minute, you fuckin statist douche, and you'll understand.

  • ||

    they RUN BUSINESSES all damn day...

    How does externalizing costs and liabilities into the public, driving hidden "negotiations" to extract subsidization, planning the deliberate causation of "collateral damage" and direct harm figure into your view of "RUN BUSINESSES" ?

    Is it possible that a whole whack of successful gaffers who happen to coordinate sufficient concentrative activity to enable them to pile up a bunch of toys via corporate accounts envy those truly in the 1% whose "BUSINESS" activity is almost purely extractive (i.e. produce no net value) ?

    If you're not fractionating, hypothecating, fraudulently selling junk paper, on-the-corporate-welfare-military-dole, and any other forms of thievery in which you extract more value than you create, aren't you just a little-leaguer, a 1% wannabe ?

  • Sevo||

    "If you're not fractionating, hypothecating, fraudulently selling junk paper, on-the-corporate-welfare-military-dole, and any other forms of thievery in which you extract more value than you create, aren't you just a little-leaguer, a 1% wannabe ?"

    Nice rant, bozo. Try English next time.

  • wulfy||

    OK, SOME of the 1% create worthless derivatives off of some murky combination of enterprise stocks and/or crap property loans. But the vast majority of them create real value with investments in real products, and sophisticated financial and operational analysis and ecisions. To say the 1% are all corrupt is to not understtand why you can talk on a cell phone while driving a car that can go 100k miles without breaking down. What is corrupt is the banking system, which has been effectively nationalized by incompetent Keynesian looters. It needs to be broken up, and the Fed neutered by hard currency and a balanced budget amendment.

  • Marian Kechlibar||

    I am no lover of the OWS movement, but the crony capitalism of "privatizing the profits, but bailing out the losses" makes me sick from the stomach.

    This is not an American thing, it demonstrates itself all around Europe.

    I am not really sure what and whether anything can be done about it.

  • Sevo||

    For your amusement, shithead posts the following:
    Tony|1.11.12 @ 9:35PM|#
    "I don't know of many victims of political violence who are begging for someone to come unstate them. It's usually other states they appeal to."
    No kidding, shithead! When a state is involved in mass murder, who you gonna call? Superman?
    Way to go, shithead!

  • Michael S. Langston||

    The follow-up question, though I'm not inclined to pose it to Tony is - really? How many victims of political violence who are still living in the same state with the same fear of more political violence do you know?

    Which is cheap really considering all the open wholes one can punch into what such a statement makes towards human nature and how completely and utterly wrong it is... but with the Tonys of the world, simple is usually easier.

  • ||

    It is a person'als place where you can meet success'ful rich men, classy mature women, rich women looking for marriage, or just meet beautiful friends and singles. Good luck! :)------S.u.c.c.e.s.s.f.u.l.m.i.n.g.l.e . ℃ ⊙ M--

  • jester||

    Thanks, Ron. I always enjoy reading Pinker's books. I have this latest one but haven't got to it yet.

    Funny how the comments all seem to think Pinker wrote this book to cover up the atrocities of modern totalitarian governments. I guess they've never heard of Suleyman, the Spanish Inquisition, the Crusades, etc.

    To me he's saying the world's a better place in spite of recent past scoundrels like Mao and Stalin and Hitler and it's getting better. How that's an endorsement of the Obama Administration is beyond me. Were other people reading the same article?

  • Ashlyn||

    I loved this one. Even with all the numbers and graphs and discussions of Poisson whatsits. Hope you find time for it soon!

    Funny how the comments all seem to think Pinker wrote this book to cover up the atrocities of modern totalitarian governments.

    Pinker's just saying what libertarians say all the damn time - "Government is a monopoly on the legitimate use of force." Then he points out that this arrangement has its advantages, at least as compared to pre-state societies with rates of violence we fluffy 21st century bunnies couldn't even imagine. He doesn't neglect to mention its disadvantages.

  • LarryA||

    Liberalism is not an ideology. It is a way of approaching the world and trying to find out what works, what is true.
    Unfortunately the "liberals" in D.C. no longer bear any resemblance to the above. Libertarians are much closer.

  • Ashlyn||

    Pinker actually points this out in the book.

  • ||

    "PEACE is the absense of
    ALLLLL dissent."
    -V I Lenin
    -Leon Trotsky
    -Josef Stalin
    -H G Wells
    -Lord Bertrand Russell

    KEY to remember, the State,
    worldwide, exterminated 200 MILLION
    last century ---most of those in
    'peacetime'.

    Just a little REALITY CHECK on
    this, the again 'overlooked',
    60th Anniversary of the awesomely
    relevant-------KOREAN WAR---------.

    AMEN

  • Copernicus ||

    I came to these comments with an internal over/under of 20% re comments on Pinker's hair. Instead, you guys spend all your time debating the topic!! WTF!!

  • 20% Warmer||

    What is more violent, a world with a population of two billion in which six million are killed, or one with ten million in which a hundred thousand are killed?

    It's frightening how libertarians seem positively discouraged by the news that violence is decreasing. Pre-state tribes had death rates over 60% (deaths by violence that is, all societies have an overall death rate of 100% it seems.)

    If the world went that violent tomorrow the death toll would be 11,400,845,000 (1,900Nz or 144Cm.)

  • 20% Warmer||

    Sorry, got my percentages the wrong way round; the death toll would be a mere 4,104,304,200: 684Nz or 41Cm. Still quite a few more than the most violent of the violent. Forty one times more to be exact (if we assume the communists killed a hundred mil.)

  • EasyPeasy||

    The quiet before the storm.

  • Guest-1||

    1. To people who are pointing out the (admittedly terrible) deaths from the past century. I don't think Pinker is necessarily saying things now are good, just that they used to be worse.

    2. I wonder if he addresses the argument that one reason people are less likely to initiate violence now is because living is a much better, less painful, and longer experience (e.g. less death from disease) than it used to be so the opportunity cost for starting something that might get you killed is much higher.

  • Ashlyn||

    2. I wonder if he addresses the argument that one reason people are less likely to initiate violence now is because living is a much better, less painful, and longer experience (e.g. less death from disease) than it used to be so the opportunity cost for starting something that might get you killed is much higher.

    He does, actually. I think in the same chapter in which he talks about how trade makes our neighbors more valuable to us alive than dead.

    In fact, he addresses pretty much every objection that's been made here. The ones about his statistics and the ones about his ultimate conclusions. (It's a thousand page book; he was very thorough.)

  • ||

    IQs are also rising -- the Flynn effect -- and research shows that higher IQ societies have less violence. Mandatory, public-funded education may not be favored by people on this message site, but it clearly is a factor in the rise of literacy, IQs and and the reduction of violence.

  • Anonymous||

    This just looks like more of Pinker’s usual half-baked, politically-correct string of errors and ill-considered chains of cause and effect.
    By piling partial arguments on top of each other “intellectuals” like him create the illusion that some kind of logic is being used whereas all that is really happening is a foregone conclusion is pushed with cherry-picked and poorly-contextualised statements.

  • ||

    Has the spread of government reduced violence?

    Tribal societies had govt and waged perpetual war. As govts have expanded, so did the scope of war. WW1 and WWII made tribal warfare look mild.

    What has changed is the concept of MAD because of nukes, prosperity which has softened our nature, and an increase in information, which has diminished the power of govts to lead countries into war.

  • the bilover||

    Things ARE less violent now, and I'll kill anyone who says otherwise!

  • ||

    Pinker was deservedly spanked for this silly claim by Berlinski in "The Devil's Delusion." Berlinski pointed the millions killed by Marxist goverments in recent times. Pinker is betting most readers here are as ignorant as he is.

  • ||

    "in no period of history would you have, say, 25 percent of the population killed by their government, which you could easily have in tribal warfare in hunter-horticulturists."

    Well, Cambodia in the 1970s would be the exception which proves the rule.

  • Marian Kechlibar||

    Not just Cambodia.

    Paraguay under Lopez (mid 19-th century) lost similar, if not larger, percentage of population in a fruitless war against its neighbors.

  • دردشه عراقية||

    Thanks

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