The Science of Happiness. Register Today
   
 

Is Violence on the Decline?

By Rodolfo Cortes | October 4, 2007 | 0 comments

Last March, noted psychologist Steven Pinker delivered a talk in which he argued that violence is, and for long has been, declining in human societies. Presenting archaeological, ethnographic, and historical evidence that the "ancestors [of modern humans] were far more violent" than their descendants, Pinker vigorously concluded that "today we are living in one of the most peaceful times in our species' existence."

He offered multiple hypotheses as to how such a situation might have arisen. Notably, Pinker presents the argument set forth by philosopher Peter Singer in his book The Expanding Circle that perhaps, evolution itself has

"bequeath[ed] humans with a sense of empathy – an ability to treat other people's interests as comparable to one's own. Unfortunately, by default we apply it only to a very narrow circle of friends and family. People outside that circle were treated as subhuman and can be exploited with impunity. But over history the circle has expanded . . . from village to the clan to the tribe to the nation to other races to other sexes and . . . other species."

If this line of argument were validated and if the process it describes would continue, surely we might be led to believe that world is a much better place than it was just a couple of centuries ago. Although that observation is probably true, Pinker may be over-stating the case – although severe physical punishment in Medieval Europe could often result from crimes that would in modern times merit no more than an infraction (as Pinker points out,) is it truly the case that such violence was characteristic of day-to-day life in Medieval Europe for the majority of its population? And what about other cultures? Has violence declined in non-Western societies? Pinker does not offer an explicit answer to that question in this talk.

Nevertheless, Pinker is entirely correct in encouraging us to focus not only on what we are "doing wrong but also on what we are doing right." In spite of the seemingly endless series of misfortunes in this world, much is right and for us to ignore what is right is undoubtedly wrong.

Tracker Pixel for Entry
 
 
 
  

Like this article?

Here's what you can do:

Donate
 
  
 
blog comments powered by Disqus
 

Most...

  
  

Greater Good Events

Joshua Wolf Shenk on Creativity and the Powers of Two
Hillside Club
September 25, 2014


Joshua Wolf Shenk on Creativity and the Powers of Two

Author Joshua Shenk in Conversation on creativity and dynamic duos with cofounder of Mother Jones, Adam Hochschild


» ALL EVENTS
 
 

Take a Greater Good Quiz!

How compassionate are you? How generous, grateful, or forgiving? Find out!

» TAKE A QUIZ
 

Watch Greater Good Videos

Jon Kabat-Zinn

Talks by inspiring speakers like Jon Kabat-Zinn, Dacher Keltner, and Barbara Fredrickson.

Watch
 

Greater Good Resources

 
 
» MORE STUDIES
 
 
» MORE ORGS
 

Book of the Week

29 Gifts By Cami Walker Walker’s life is in a downward spiral until she takes unusual advice from a friend: to give away 29 gifts in 29 days.

» READ MORE
 
Is she flirting with you? Take the quiz and find out.

Dr. Christine Carter's blog on the science of raising happy kids.

» READ MORE
 

Sponsors

The Quality of Life Foundation logo Special thanks to

The Quality of Life Foundation for its support of the Greater Good Science Center

 
"It is a great good and a great gift, this Greater Good. I bow to you for your efforts to bring these uplifting and illuminating expressions of humanity, grounded in good science, to the attention of us all."  
Jon Kabat-Zinn

Best-selling author and founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program

thnx advertisement