Cognitive psychologist, Steven Pinker talks to NEW SCIENTIST:

What got you interested in the history of violence?
I was struck by a graph I saw of homicide rates in British towns and cities going back to the 14th century. The rates had plummeted by between 30 and 100-fold. That stuck with me, because you tend to have an image of medieval times with happy peasants coexisting in close-knit communities, whereas we think of the present as filled with school shootings and mugging and terrorist attacks.

Then in Lawrence Keeley’s 1996 book War Before Civilization I read that modern states at their worst, such as Germany in the 20th century or France in the 19th century, had rates of death in warfare that were dwarfed by those of hunter-gatherer and hunter-horticultural societies. That too, is of profound significance in terms of our understanding of the costs and benefits of civilisation.

Isn’t this topic a departure for you? Your earlier books focus on how the mind and brain work…
Two of my earlier books, How The Mind Works and The Blank Slate, were not about language or even cognition, narrowly, but about human nature. In them I talked about violence, for example, the abolition of barbaric customs such as torturing people to death for religious heresy, to reinforce the point that human nature comprises many components, some of which incline us toward violence, some of which pull us away from it. The fact that violence has declined and what this implied for human nature were spelled out in both books, but I decided that those paragraphs deserved to be expanded into a book of their own.

— Read the full interview with Steven Pinker…

7 thoughts on “Are humans less violent than ever?

  1. I feel we are not necessarily less violent now perhaps more sophisticated in the way that we are violent, if we are indeed less violent then the media is helping to spur the violent tendencies in man…no good news stories or if there are they are sandwiched between the sad ones.

  2. I think we are still a bit violent but few lessons of late seems to suggest that we are moving forward though slow but serious change WILL end the VIOLENT and GREED nature in US. This bring to light the current trends Arab SPRING now spreading to the most advanced Nations it’s call OCCUPY WALL STREET. I think it’s a bit interesting reading through information around the world. SOMETHING IS REALLY HAPPENING AROUND THE WORLD. IF ALL HUMAN CAN FREE IT”S MIND WE CAN OVERCOME THE GREEDY NATURE…..

  3. While we all probably welcome a reduction in violence we might also be delighted to see a return of the Hangman’s Noose or the Rack to deal with the epidemic in numbers of drug users. There would be no place for the greedy opportunist drug seller, if there were no buyers.
    By getting serious we might reduce crime even more and also eliminate the greatest global problem facing mankind today.

  4. I loved his conclusion that “we are living the most peaceful time in our species’ existence”.
    I loved his talks in 2007, on TED. This is a must see.
    I have a question: if indeed we are living the most peaceful time in history, why media show us a different reality? What is the purpose?

  5. Mr Pinker seems to disregard the effect of technological development when managed by violent minds. I dare say that it would have taken several centuries in the Middle Ages to come up to the number of casualties that the Iraq War alone has caused. And an incomparably longer recovery period…

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