As the late, great Johnny Carson used to say while artfully feigning intense interest in some barnstorming author’s new book, “I did not know that.”
What I did not know in this case was that violence is in decline and has been for a long, long time–not a tidbit you’d infer from scanning the news about Pakistan, Afghanistan, Africa and Los Angeles. But when an esteemed thinker like Stephen Pinker says it’s so, it just might be so, and thus cause for cheer, because Pinker is known as a rigorously honest thinker. (He also has enviable hair.) Key quote re Pinker’s new book, The Better Angels of Our Nature.
Over the course of 802 pages, Pinker argues that violence has fallen drastically over thousands of years — whether one considers homicide rates, war casualties as a percentage of national populations, or other measures.
This may seem at odds with evolutionary psychology, which is often seen as an argument for hard-wired Stone Age behavior, but Dr. Pinker sees that view as a misunderstanding of the science. Our evolved brains, he argues, are capable of a wide range of responses to their environment. Under the right conditions, they can allow us to live in greater and greater peace.
A handy analysis of Pinker’s new book, running far less than 802 pages, is here.