Good News You Won’t Believe

Violence is on a long downward slide, and is at record lows.

See, I told you you wouldn’t believe it.

Look at the news from recent days. A cop shot and killed by a bank robber. Syrian forces kill dozens of unarmed demonstrators. African militants rape fleeing women. Three-year-old killed in gang crossfire. Mexican drug cartels dump severed heads on a highway. It never stops.

But that’s the news media. Only the sensational makes the news. Nobody ever reports a non-murder, but the non-events are where the real news is at. When you study the actual numbers about violence, a very different picture appears. It’s just that these numbers never appear in the news, and the numbers tell us that violence of every sort has been declining for a long, long time.

This is not news to social scientists. Take Steven Pinker, the Harvard psychologist whose most recent book is The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. Pinker takes six long chapters, 481 pages to be exact, to show us that, in fact, violence has declined, in spite of everything we thought we knew about the topic. He used up all this ink because he knew we wouldn’t believe it.

But it’s true. Those 481 pages have dozens of graphs showing the best estimates of violence of every sort, and every single one of them forms an irregular downward slant to the right, past to present, everything from huge interstate wars to violence against animals. Any kind of violence you choose to consider shows the same downward trend. This includes wars, genocide, cruel punishments, homicide, superstitious killing, terrorism, domestic violence, child abuse, animal abuse—anything and everything you can imagine.

Now, I realize that this is not exactly on topic according to the name of this blog, but it is so surprising, and so thoroughly documented, and so completely contrary to what we all believe—not to mention so completely encouraging—that everyone should hear the good news, and be urged to understand that it is real. Humans are actually doing something right!

But why has this happened? Pinker deals with that question in the 215 pages that follow.

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Published in: on 2011/11/23 at 9:53 am  Leave a Comment  
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