Max Gerber] I am often asked whether I agree with the new group selectionists, and the questioners are always surprised when I say I do not. After all, group selection sounds like a reasonable extension of evolutionary theory and a plausible explanation of the social nature of humans. Also, the group selectionists tend to declare victory, and write as if their theory has already superseded a narrow, reductionist dogma that selection acts only at the level of genes.
According to historian Norman Davies, "[T]he spectators, including kings and queens, shrieked with laughter as the animals, howling with pain, were singed, roasted, and finally carbonized.
This change in sensibilities is just one example of perhaps the most important and most underappreciated trend in the human saga: Violence has been in decline over long stretches of history, and today we are probably living in the most peaceful moment of our species' time on earth.
In the decade of Darfur and Iraq, and shortly after the century of Stalin, Hitler, and Mao, the claim that violence has been diminishing may seem somewhere between hallucinatory and obscene. Yet recent studies that seek to quantify the historical ebb and flow of violence point to exactly that conclusion.
Some of the evidence has been under our nose all along. Conventional history has long shown that, in many ways, we have been getting kinder and gentler. Cruelty as entertainment, human sacrifice to indulge superstition, slavery as a labor-saving device, conquest as the mission statement of government, genocide as a means of acquiring real estate, torture and mutilation as routine punishment, the death penalty for misdemeanors and differences of opinion, assassination as the mechanism of political succession, rape as the spoils of war, pogroms as outlets for frustration, homicide as the major form of conflict resolution—all were unexceptionable features of life for most of human history.
But, today, they are rare to nonexistent in the West, far less common elsewhere than they used to be, concealed when they do occur, and widely condemned when they are brought to light.
At one time, these facts were widely appreciated. They were the source of notions like progress, civilization, and man's rise from savagery and barbarism. Recently, however, those ideas have come to sound corny, even dangerous. They seem to demonize people in other times and places, license colonial conquest and other foreign adventures, and conceal the crimes of our own societies.
But, now that social scientists have started to count bodies in different historical periods, they have discovered that the romantic theory gets it backward: Far from causing us to become more violent, something in modernity and its cultural institutions has made us nobler.
To be sure, any attempt to document changes in violence must be soaked in uncertainty. In much of the world, the distant past was a tree falling in the forest with no one to hear it, and, even for events in the historical record, statistics are spotty until recent periods.
Long-term trends can be discerned only by smoothing out zigzags and spikes of horrific bloodletting. And the choice to focus on relative rather than absolute numbers brings up the moral imponderable of whether it is worse for 50 percent of a population of to be killed or 1 percent in a population of one billion.
Yet, despite these caveats, a picture is taking shape. The decline of violence is a fractal phenomenon, visible at the scale of millennia, centuries, decades, and years.
It applies over several orders of magnitude of violence, from genocide to war to rioting to homicide to the treatment of children and animals. And it appears to be a worldwide trend, though not a homogeneous one.
The leading edge has been in Western societies, especially England and Holland, and there seems to have been a tipping point at the onset of the Age of Reason in the early seventeenth century. At the widest-angle view, one can see a whopping difference across the millennia that separate us from our pre-state ancestors.
Contra leftist anthropologists who celebrate the noble savage, quantitative body-counts—such as the proportion of prehistoric skeletons with axemarks and embedded arrowheads or the proportion of men in a contemporary foraging tribe who die at the hands of other men—suggest that pre-state societies were far more violent than our own.
WHY ACADEMIC WRITING STINKS BY STEVEN PINKER THE CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION® AND HOW TO FIX IT MICHAEL C. MUNGER 10 Tips on How to Write Less Badly HELEN SWORD Inoculating Against Jargonitis RACHEL TO0R Becoming a ‘Stylish’ Writer THERESA MAC PHAIL The Art and Science of Finding Your Voice © by The ChroniCle of higher . Steven Pinker. Photograph: Roger Askew Photography/Rex P eople often ask me why I followed my book on the history of violence, The Better Angels of Our Nature, with a writing style manual. Why Academics Stink at Writing By Steven Pinker ogether with wearing earth tones, driving Priuses, and having writing is presentation, and its motive is disinterested truth. Most academic writing, in contrast, is a blend of two styles. The.
It is true that raids and battles killed a tiny percentage of the numbers that die in modern warfare. But, in tribal violence, the clashes are more frequent, the percentage of men in the population who fight is greater, and the rates of death per battle are higher.
According to anthropologists like Lawrence Keeley, Stephen LeBlanc, Phillip Walker, and Bruce Knauft, these factors combine to yield population-wide rates of death in tribal warfare that dwarf those of modern times. If the wars of the twentieth century had killed the same proportion of the population that die in the wars of a typical tribal society, there would have been two billion deaths, not million.
Political correctness from the other end of the ideological spectrum has also distorted many people's conception of violence in early civilizations—namely, those featured in the Bible. This supposed source of moral values contains many celebrations of genocide, in which the Hebrews, egged on by God, slaughter every last resident of an invaded city.
The Bible also prescribes death by stoning as the penalty for a long list of nonviolent infractions, including idolatry, blasphemy, homosexuality, adultery, disrespecting one's parents, and picking up sticks on the Sabbath.
The Hebrews, of course, were no more murderous than other tribes; one also finds frequent boasts of torture and genocide in the early histories of the Hindus, Christians, Muslims, and Chinese. At the century scale, it is hard to find quantitative studies of deaths in warfare spanning medieval and modern times.
Several historians have suggested that there has been an increase in the number of recorded wars across the centuries to the present, but, as political scientist James Payne has noted, this may show only that "the Associated Press is a more comprehensive source of information about battles around the world than were sixteenth-century monks.
Meanwhile, for another kind of violence—homicide—the data are abundant and striking. The criminologist Manuel Eisner has assembled hundreds of homicide estimates from Western European localities that kept records at some point between and the mids.
In every country he analyzed, murder rates declined steeply—for example, from 24 homicides perEnglishmen in the fourteenth century to 0. On the scale of decades, comprehensive data again paint a shockingly happy picture: Global violence has fallen steadily since the middle of the twentieth century.
According to the Human Security Briefthe number of battle deaths in interstate wars has declined from more than 65, per year in the s to less than 2, per year in this decade. In Western Europe and the Americas, the second half of the century saw a steep decline in the number of wars, military coups, and deadly ethnic riots.
Zooming in by a further power of ten exposes yet another reduction.
After the cold war, every part of the world saw a steep drop-off in state-based conflicts, and those that do occur are more likely to end in negotiated settlements rather than being fought to the bitter end.Steven Pinker Uses Theories from Evolutionary Biology to Explain Why Academic Writing is So Bad in Education, English Language, Harvard, Psychology | July 4th, 1 Comment k.
Steven Pinker. Photograph: Roger Askew Photography/Rex P eople often ask me why I followed my book on the history of violence, The Better Angels of Our Nature, with a writing style manual.
Steven Pinker’s new book, Enlightenment Now, moves along quickly and lucidly, as one expects from a practiced popular speaker and timberdesignmag.com larger thesis merits the attention of anyone who wants to think properly, and with some historical perspective, about life on earth today.
THE THIRD CULTURE. A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE By Steven Pinker SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER By Denis Dutton UNIVERSE REVEALING OUR MODERN MYTHOLOGY By Jonathan Harris.
There’s a decent chance you’ve read Steven Pinker’s provocative essay on why scholarly prose tends to be so convoluted. (More than , people have already done so.) But you can probably.
Sep 26, · Why Academics' Writing Stinks Why Academics Stink at Writing Scott Seymour. By Steven Pinker An editorial cartoon by Tom Toles shows a bearded academic at his desk Author: Steven Pinker.