Tag Archives: Steven Pinker

The World is Becoming Safer

Source: Ali Wyne, nonresident fellow, the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security, and a security fellow with the Truman National Security Project, in The New York Times, September 5

Extract from the op ed article titled “Don’t Conflate Greater Complexity With Greater Danger”

…Largely owing to the carnage that continues to engulf the Middle East, the worldwide rate of wartime deaths increased from 0.3 per 100,000 people in 2011 to 1.4 in 2014; even this latter figure, though, is far lower than the average that prevailed in the Cold War. While the period between the end of World War II and the disintegration of the Soviet Union may have been a “long peace” at the highest level of analysis – policymakers managed to avert a third world war – but it witnessed numerous civil wars and genocides, and the nuclear sword of Damocles came close to dropping on many occasions. The Carnegie Endowment’s Rachel Kleinfeld, author of a forthcoming book that examines how certain countries have overcome extreme violence, contends that recent years represent “a blip in a much longer trajectory” toward greater world peace.

While we are inundated with graphic accounts of the Islamic State’s latest attack, we read surprisingly little about the momentous conclusion of a 52-year-old civil war in Colombia that claimed 220,000 lives and displaced over six million others. Unfortunately, in an era of increasingly powerful and pervasive social media, we hear far more about isolated instances of barbarism than about enduring signs of hope. This asymmetry persuades us not only to overstate present dangers, but also to wax nostalgic for a past whose horrors vastly exceed those that are occurring today.

The psychologist Steven Pinker and the president of Colombia recently noted that “we inhabit a world where five out of six people live in regions largely or entirely free of armed conflict.” That achievement is a powerful testament to human agency: however much it may appear that we are prisoners of forces beyond our control, incapable of grounding ourselves amid ubiquitous upheaval, we can bequeath to posterity a world of greater dignity.

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“The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence has Declined”

The reason, according to the Montreal-born psychologist Steven Pinker’s massive book with that title, is, above all, the civilizing effect of governments and cities.

From Elizabeth Kolbert’s review in the New Yorker (October 3): “The homicide rate in New Orleans last year was 49 per 100,000, roughly what Amsterdam’s was six hundred years ago. St. Louis’ murder rate in 2010 was about 40 per 100,000, around the rate of London in the fourteenth century.”

According to Steven Pinker’s book, continuing racism in the American South has made low-income blacks “effectively stateless.” Therefore, the whole region is several steps behind the Northeast, to say nothing of Europe.

Kolbert: “If, fifty years ago, someone had predicted that the Soviet Union would dissolve peacefully, that the Europeans would adopt a common currency, and that a reunified Germany would terrify no one, that person would have been viewed as a kook….”

On the relative calm of the last half-century in Europe, Steven Pinker quotes Winston Churchill, who said in 1955:

“It may well be that we shall by a process of sublime irony have reached a stage in this story where safety will be the sturdy child of terror and survival the twin brother of annihilation.”