Steven Pinker has penned a fascinating review of “man’s inhumanity to man”. Be prepared to read some encouraging information about violence.
Properly so, we are alarmed with daily reports of murder, rapes, assaults and cruelty, especially to infants and children. Television’s “Breaking News” and The Tabloids, extract great profit from the unrelenting drum beating and crashing cymbals with every report. The reports of these crimes are often accompanied by editorial judgments which imply that this inhumanity is increasing in its frequency and is a growing problem. Each day as I watch the news, I am appalled at the atrocities reported. It is not only “over there”, it seems to become the “new normal” across our country.
Pinker documents evidence of a bloody history that has always been in the history of human events as far back as recorded history. Archeology reveals evidence preceding recorded history. The genocides in the Old Testament and the crucifixions in the New; the gory mutilations in Shakespeare and Grimm; the British monarchs who beheaded their relatives and the American founders who dueled with their rivals, what the Europeans did to the natives of the new world and torture and murder in a distortion of religion are reviewed.
Literature is replete with nonchalant treatment of a culture of wife-beating, child abuse, and the extermination of native people. Not long ago, executions were village entertainment. The author reports that some villages without prisoners would pay another village to “rent-a-prisoner” to hang publicly for the enjoyment of their own citizens!
Pinker makes a strong argument, that without being complacent with our present crime rate, that we can be encouraged that our persistent efforts to attempt to eradicate cruelty can yield a more civilized society. There has definitely been a steady decline in these brutal practices and Pinker has quantified this improvement. The author believes that the key to explaining this decline of violence is to understand the “inner demons that incline us toward violence, such as revenge, sadism, and tribalism”. He believes humans have “better angels that steer us away” from cruelty.
Thanks to the spread of government, literacy, trade, and cosmopolitanism, we increasingly “control our impulses, empathize with others, bargain rather than plunder”. We debunk toxic ideologies, and deploy our powers of reason to reduce the temptations of violence. Pinker will force you to rethink your deepest beliefs about progress, modernity, and human nature. This gripping book is sure to be among the most debated of the century so far.
Refer: 2011 Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature, Viking, , NY, NY, 2011, also Brilliance Audio, Inc. and Kindle.
Charles Clanton Rogers Revision January 13, 2016 , Originally posted in July, 2015