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The Golden Age is at hand; let's not screw it up,
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This review is from: The Better Angels of Our Nature: The Decline of Violence In History And Its Causes (Kindle Edition)This is a very big and dense book, and you'll need time and energy to get the most out of it, but it's well worth the effort. Don't believe the dismissive reviews by conservative romanticists and sectarian anthropologists; they've either not read it or are incapable of persuasion. In the first half, Pinker undertakes a monumental survey of the available evidence concerning the rates of violence (war, genocide, assault, murder, judicial killing, etc.) and exclusion (slavery, disenfranchisement, discrimination, etc.) from prehistory to the present, and across most parts of the globe. The tide of statistics tells a consistent, overwhelming and frankly uplifting story of progressive and accelerating improvement. As a tiny example, homicide rates in Europe have declined steadily by 100-fold over the last seven centuries, are continuing to decline rapidly, and are estimated to have been orders of magnitude higher in earlier millennia. World Wars, industrial genocide and regional famines notwithstanding, the trend that we are all likelier - much likelier - to live socially and economically engaged lives and die naturally in our beds than were each of the preceding generations. Clearly, as we individuals age, we tend to reminisce and view the present as a nastier world than the one we grew up in. But the data just as clearly show that this is a subjective error. In the second part of the book - and indeed, previewed repeatedly during the historical section - Pinker attempts to assemble an explanation of the processes that have driven this trend. He is at pains to point out that none of his explanations suggest that the process is irreversible, and that we cannot shirk our responsibility to hand on a better world to the next generation. The factors he implicates include the ever-consolidating and regularizing forces of the state, whose monopoly on violence tends to extinguish local skirmishes and vendettas, increasing cognitive sophistication across the globe (as evidenced by ever-increasing scores in components of IQ tests), and the intensification and spread of technologies to enhance communication between individuals who might previously have been ignorant of each other's situation or thoughts. I can forgive him his one piece of hubris: he seriously proposes that appreciation of the writings of social psychologists by the masses has been a significant factor in improving their behaviour! The Kindle edition is well prepared for its format, and makes it a physically, if not intellectually lighter task to learn from this book.
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Initial post: 5 Feb 2013 12:04:38 GMT
Mr. S. Lawless says:
A tour de-force but mainly as a compendium of other people's work. There is no doubt that violence is decreasing from the evidence. His own contributions to the work are rather inaccurate and this detracts. In his section on Zeros where he is claiming that imperialism is dead, he says that Israel has lost land since 1948. Even rabid Zionists could not agree with this rediculous assertion. Israel has continuosly settled Palestinian land and carried out ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in contravention of the international law that Pinker commends. This is pure imperialism. He quotes another source which quotes Wikileaks on the number of civilian deaths in Afghanistan as 5,300. The Wikileaks figure is in excess of 40,000 civilian deaths. He disparages themes of peace in popular songs and then extensively quotes the very same songs as evidence of a cultural shift. Most worrying, he cites neoliberalism as one of the major contributors to the Long Peace due to the reduction of trade barriers. There is no weighing of the extensive research which shows that neolibralist governments have been carrying out enconomic imperialism, very much at the cost of poorer communities and of lives in the Third World. As with The Blank Slate, which fails to even mention research of identical twins that does not support his propositions, this is a biased and scientifically non rigorous piece of work which pursues his own political agenda. If it is read in that light it makes an interesting read. At least it should be used as a signpost to some of the better works that he has sourced such as Barbara Tuchman's excellent account of the middle ages. This book covers a fascinating subject extensively but beware the hidden agendas.
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