Steven Pinker in his new book argues that far from the bloodiest period in human history, ours is a time when violence has decreased. Here he explains how mankind turned away from the brutality
Steven Pinker is one of those
Wunderkinder the elite American universities seem to specialize in production. Born in Canada in 1954, is currently professor of psychology at Harvard, but since his arrival in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1976, was bouncing like a tennis ball high IQ between Harvard University and its neighbor to the prestigious MIT (a teacher in the two institutions). Occupation is an experimental psychologist who began to do research on visual cognition, but eventually moved to study the language, language acquisition, especially in children. You probably know more about the use of verbs of humanity, especially the distinction between regular and irregular that. No other man, dead or alive is also a prolific author of books and popular bestsellers on the subject, which has led some researchers to describe it as cruel "man who thinks Malcolm Gladwell," which is unfair because Pinker, in contrast to Gladwell, is a distinguished researcher, in fact, the only characteristics that he and the New Yorker
writer have in common are great hair and a flowing enviable, resulting in a history of the publication, as long as your arm. Assault
Pinker on the common drive began in 1994
Language Instinct , an accessible introduction to the idea that humans are "language animals "biologically wired for language communication. In 1997 he publishedHow
that went beyond language to offer a similar picture of the rest of the mind, the vision and rationale for the emotions, humor and art. In 1999, she returned to the question of the language words and rules: the ingredients of language , which was based on his research on regular and irregular verbs as a way to explain how language works in general. And in 2002 he published Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature
, which is essentially an attack against what Pinker considers three major misconceptions about human behavior: the idea that the mind is a tabula rasa, a blank slate that is completely determined by its environment, the concept of "noble savage", the idea that human beings are basically good, but it is distorted by the company, "Ghost in the Machine "theories that postulate the existence of a non-biological in the brain that can alter human nature at will. the better angels of our nature: The decline of violence in the history and causes
(Allen Lane) is the last book and more ambitious Pinker. The title comes from a phrase of Abraham Lincoln. In it, Pinker challenges one of our deepest assumptions, but look - that current and recent times have been the most violent in human history. As proof, we cite contemporary homicide rates, the Holocaust, the deaths of two world wars and genocide orchestrated adventures Stalin, Mao and other tyrants. But Pinker argues that this view is fundamentally wrong. Violence within and between societies - both in the murder and war - reduced from prehistory to today. We are, he says, and much less likely to die at the hands of another person than ever. Even the horrible carnage of the last century, when seen in the annals of history, is part of this trend.
is a great idea if ever I saw one, and requires a huge volume (700 pages, plus footnotes) to deal with. First, Pinker has to locate, analyze and explain the empirical data and other supporting his thesis: that, however measured, the past was not only a different country, but also more and more violent. And then they have to offer some explanation of long-term reduction of violence that occurred. This goes far beyond their own professional territory - in forensic archeology, philosophy, politics, intellectual and social history, population dynamics, statistics and international relations. It identifies a number of forces that have been key factors in reducing the capacity of mankind for the lack of humanity: the slow emergence of states that can play the role of Hobbes' Leviathan, "pacify the impact of trade and commerce behavior, the impact of the Enlightenment in the way people think about others, changing notions of the label on the form of print literacy for centuries and expanded the "circle of empathy" beyond the immediate family of the people the importance of women in human civilization and the "long peace" that followed World War II.
the better angels
book is a long, absorbing and terrifying at the same time, because, to establish its case Pinker to live in a certain length, not only in the barbarism of the past, but on the way to the brutality and cruelty was - until recently - is taken for granted. If you want to know about medieval forms of torture, or the favorite tools of the Inquisition, or how the troops of Timur exploited, then you will find a lot of material here. The ingenuity of human barbarity has no limits. Which is still healthy, however, is the realization that all is not so long since people always hung, drawn and quartered in England, or were keelhauling flogging and methods of routine maintenance of discipline in the Royal Navy no person under the whipping look at children as 1950.
In a sense, it is also a book of comfort, as described in the journey of humanity from barbarism imaginable to increase security and more "civilized" state. Critics would describe as an example of the Whig interpretation of history - that is, an account of the inexorable progress. But that's not how I read it. Pinker suggested that what the great cultural historian Norbert Elias has called the "civilizing process" has been a long and arduous struggle, whose long-term results were never insured. And the recent increase of violence - such as increasing the number of homicides in the 1960s in the United States, or the chronic violence that disfigures now much of Latin America - suggest that n ' is not yet assured. Perhaps the wisest thing we can say about the trajectory described by Pinker is a man who jumped from the 50th floor, said when he was spending the day at 25:. So far so good As with all his previous books,
the better angels been taken seriously by critics and trucks, in general, arrived with a much applause. Writing in the
, for example, Cambridge political philosopher David Runciman praised him as a "brilliant, mind-altering book." In his
New York Times Princeton Review philosopher Peter Singer has described as "an extremely important book. Having the command of the investigation and widespread in areas as different, a masterly achievement. Pinker convincingly demonstrates that there had a dramatic drop in violence, and is convincing on the causes of this decline. "
Clive Cookson , the
the publisher of science, which are repetitive passages concerned that "readers are disgusted with a provision feel that you have a detailed description of several murders and tortures through the ages in an effort to illustrate how the brutality upon a time in the fabric of everyday life. "But overall, I thought Cookson the better angels
was" a wonderful synthesis of science, history and storytelling. " In the Wall Street Journal
, James Q Wilson found the book "a masterful effort to explain what Mr. Pinker considered one of the biggest changes in history human: we kill each other less often than before, "but believes" this project to give maximum effect, has a book to write a short note that the links now an argument in 800 pages and prevents some issues on which M . Pinker has not made a thorough investigation. "
The dissent leader in this chorus of praise belong to the political philosopher John Gray, who was impressed by Pinker's claim is that the Enlightenment was a key factor in civilized humanity. Writing in perspectiveMagazine
, gray attacks what he considers the identification of Pinker "Enlightenment" with a carefully selected group, but not necessarily representative of thinkers. "These are very different thinkers," says Gray, "and it is far from clear that any coherent philosophy could have" merged "their ideas are often incompatible. The problem is amplified if Pinker, including Marx, Bakunin and Lenin , which may fall within the extended family of intellectual movements that were part of the Enlightenment, but omitted from the list. Like other proponents of these days of "Enlightenment values" Pinker chooses to ignore the fact that many Enlightenment thinkers were doctrinally anti-liberal, although a few have promoted the widespread use of political violence of the Jacobins, who emphasized the necessity of terror during the French Revolution, Engels who welcomed a world war in which the Slavs - "Aborigines in the heart of Europe" - will be removed. "
Intrigued by these reactions, I contacted the Harvard professor Pinker in his den and exchange a few emails with him. Here is the log of our conversation.
Steven Pinker and John Naughton: exchange
JN: How to start this huge project? Was it really a Ted Gurr study found homicide rates in several English towns between 1200 and 2000?
: This fall little known fact in my mind when I read it, along with other observations he had made several times - that tribal war was proportionately deadlier than the wars of our world that many barbarous customs, such as slavery and the burning of heretics, has changed nothing exceptionally odious and never once defended over the Soviet empire disappeared in a cloud of smoke, with little violence. But it is only after these repeated observations in an Internet forum, and receive emails from a number of scientists who said there were many more historical evidence of a reduction of violence in I quote, I realized something was happening systematically. Several experts said that all European countries, not only in England, had benefited from a decline in homicides since the Middle Ages, the number of wars and died in the wars had fallen in recent decades and even as domestic violence and children has decreased. I realized that someone was trying to link these events together.
JN: George Bernard Shaw once asked to publish one of his books that he wrote a famous book long because he said it was n ' was not smart enough to write a short. After reading my way through its 800 pages and a few I came to the conclusion that Shaw got that backwards. Indeed, the thought that came to mind is that better angels feels like the kind of thing that used in Britain for royal commissions - is ie large-scale survey of the major questions of the expert committees that are supported by small armies of intelligent servants. However, his book is clearly the product of a unique intelligence, so I am curious to know how it was in production. Have you had a small army of research assistants? And how long did it last?
: I was a research assistant, who made the study of graphs, spreadsheets and tighter Internet. Even with these, I looked at the raw numbers to make sure nothing crazy was going on with my data sources, such as wars that have been counted twice (eg the Second World War in Europe compared the second World War in general) or reject as an artifact of a change in the criteria for inclusion.
I spent a little over a year doing nothing but reading, myself in the fields of education has not been formed - in particular the relationship criminology, history and international. Writing very intense 14 months. I had a sabbatical at Harvard University, moved to our home in Cape Cod, and I worked day and night, seven days a week, taking the time to exercise and spend time with my wife, novelist and philosopher Rebecca Goldstein.
: Believe it or not, violence is down for long periods of time, and you can live in the moment the most peaceful existence of our species. The decline was constant, the violence has not reduced to zero, and no guarantee of continuity. But it is a persistent historical development, visible on the scales of thousands of years, world wars and genocides of the beating of children and the treatment of animals.
The fact that violence is everywhere in history, but can still be reduced, says that human nature has an inclination toward violence and inclinations toward peace - what Lincoln called " the better angels of our nature "- and that historical changes have fostered over our angels better. These changes include the development of the government, trade, literacy, and the mix of ideas and people that encourage people to inhibit their impulses , increase empathy, to throw their parochial views and address violence as a problem to solve and not a contest to win.