Sunday, June 23, 2013

Steven Pinker

Steven Pinker's 2011 book is The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.

From his Q & A with Clint Witchalls at the Independent:

Clint Witchalls: You say that, over the centuries, violence has been declining, yet most people would view the last century, with its pogroms, death camps and nuclear bombs, as the most violent century. Why was it not?

Steven Pinker: You can't say that a particular century was the most violent one in history unless you compare it with other centuries.

The supposedly peaceful 19th century had one of the most destructive conflicts in European history (the Napoleonic Wars, with 4 million deaths), the most destructive civil war in history (the Taiping Rebellion in China, with 20 million), the most destructive war in American history (the Civil War, with 650,000), the conquests of Shaka Zulu in southern Africa (1-2 million), the most proportionally destructive interstate war in history (the war of the Triple Alliance in Paraguay, which killed perhaps 60 per cent of the population), slave-raiding wars in Africa (part of a slave trade that killed 37 million people), and imperial and colonial wars in Africa, Asia and the Americas whose death tolls are impossible to estimate. Also, while the Second World War was the most destructive event in human history if you count the absolute number of deaths, if instead you count the proportion of the world's population that was killed, it only comes in at ninth place among history's worst atrocities.

I think few people would disagree that the medieval times were tortuous and bloody, yet most imagine primitive tribes living in Edenic bliss. But you claim that these tribes are far from the noble savages portrayed by Rousseau. How homicidal were they?

Steven Pinker: Tribal groups show a lot of variation, but on average around 15 per cent of people in nonstate societies die from violence. This is the average I got from signs of violent trauma in skeletons from 21 prehistoric archaeological sites, and from eight vital statistics from eight hunter-gatherer tribes.

Hunter-horticulturalists and other tribal people have...[read on]
See Steven Pinker's list of five books on the decline of violence.

The Better Angels of Our Nature is one of Fareed Zakaria's six favorite books.

--Marshal Zeringue