Wednesday, October 19, 2011


World Getting less Violent Says Stephen Pinker

I find it oddly reassuring that Stephen Pinker the Havard polymath, tells us we are possibly living in the mot peaceful era ever. Given the two world wars, the Holocaust, civil wars and terrorism, this seems counter intuitive but his 700 page tome, The Better Angels: the Decline of Violence in History brings a formidable amount to research to back up his claim:

"The medieval rate of homicide was 35 times the rate of today, and the rate of death in tribal warfare 15 times higher than that. Collapsed empires, horse-tribe invasions, the Crusades, the slave trade, the wars of religion, and the colonisation of the Americas had death tolls which, adjusted for population, rival or exceed those of the world wars. In earlier centuries the wife of an adulterer could have her nose cut off, a seven-year-old could be hanged for stealing a petticoat, a witch could be sawn in half, and a sailor could be flogged to a pulp. Deadly riots were common enough in 18th-century England to have given us the expression “to read the riot act,” and in 19th-century Russia to have given us the word pogrom. Deaths in warfare have come lurchingly but dramatically downward since their postwar peak in 1950. Deaths from terrorism are less common in today’s “age of terror” than they were in the 1960s and 1970s, with their regular bombings, hijackings, and shootings by various armies, leagues, coalitions, brigades, factions and fronts."

Feel just a tad more optimistic? I did. The world is pretty bad right now but it is sort of reassuring to discover it was so much worse in earlier centuries.

I'm with the optimists on this topic. In my own, admittedly limited, experience there seems to be far less casual violence around me now than there was in the 1960s. For example, as someone recently pointed out, we have bouncers at pubs nowadays not because the threat of violence has gone up but because we've become far less tolerant of it.

When I was a lad on the mean streets of Croydon and South London, no Friday or Saturday night was complete without several fairly serious brawls at closing time.

Now they're rare enough to make it into the local papers. And that's probably why so many people fret that there's more of it around now than there was.

One of my golden rules - if you read about "it" in the papers there's almost certainly not much of "it" around (see also the reporting of fatal rail crashes re ditto of car dittos)...
I feel sure this is true too and would echo the views of Hughes. Yesterday Greater Manchester Police tweeted that there was an attempted burglary in Salford Quays. 'Only an attempt?' I thought. Implies, as Hughes suggests, that there is not as much of it about as we might think.
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