This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

If you are a user of my textbook and would like to suggest a blog post idea, please email me at:

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Violence Isn't Dead, But It May Be Dying

History would suggest that violence has always been an unfortunate but integral part of human society. A book just out by Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker suggests, however, that it is actually on the decline. The Associated Press recently interviewed Pinker and two other authors, Andrew Mack and Joshua Goldstein, who have written on the same topic.

In his book, Pinker writes: "The decline of violence may be the most significant and least appreciated development in the history of our species."
And it runs counter to what the mass media is reporting and essentially what we feel in our guts.
Pinker and other experts say the reality is not painted in bloody anecdotes, but demonstrated in the black and white of spreadsheets and historical documents. They tell a story of a world moving away from violence.
In his new book, "The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined," Pinker makes the case that a smarter, more educated world is becoming more peaceful in several statistically significant ways. His findings are based on peer-reviewed studies published by other academics using examinations of graveyards, surveys and historical records:
• The number of people killed in battle — calculated per 100,000 population — has dropped by 1,000-fold over the centuries as civilizations evolved. Before there were organized countries, battles killed on average more than 500 out of every 100,000 people. In 19th century France, it was 70. In the 20th century with two world wars and a few genocides, it was 60. Now battlefield deaths are down to three-tenths of a person per 100,000.
• The rate of genocide deaths per world population was 1,400 times higher in 1942 than in 2008.
• There were fewer than 20 democracies in 1946. Now there are close to 100. Meanwhile, the number of authoritarian countries has dropped from a high of almost 90 in 1976 to about 25 now.
The key here is that not that absolute number of violent acts is necessarily going down, but that as the population has grown dramatically over the past two hundred years, violence has not kept up. Why not? At root the answer takes us back to the Enlightenment and the increase in literacy over the past two hundred years. This is all associated with an increase in democratic governments and a global interest in reducing violence everywhere. 
Pinker said looking at the statistics and how violent our past was and how it is less so now, "makes me appreciate things like democracy, the United Nations, like literacy."
Goldstein says there's a turn on a cliche that is apt: "We're actually going from the fire to the frying pan. And that's progress. It's not as bad as the fire."
He and Goldstein believe it's possible that an even greater drop in violence could occur in the future.

No comments:

Post a Comment