Oct 6, 2011

The two views on Violence

In his new book Stephen Pinker indicates that violence has been decreasing through time. A review of the book in www.amazon.com says:
[v]iolence has been diminishing for millennia and we may be living in the most peaceful time in our species's existence 
An article about Pinker's book in the Boston Globe Magazine claims:
Drawing on everything from archaeological findings and coroners’ reports to court records and official wartime casualty counts, Pinker combs through more than 5,000 years of death and suffering to make the bold and surprising claim that we are living through “the most peaceful era in human history.” Clearly we’ve been doing something right, Pinker argues, and his goal with “Better Angels” is to figure out what that something is--to identify the institutions, values, and intellectual trends that have made us more inclined towards peace and cooperation. The result is a hybrid of history and psychology that ends up being as much an argument about the complexity of human nature as it is the story of a species learning how not to self-destruct.
And what explains this transformation, according to Pinker:
“[If] reason, science, literacy, democracy, open economies, empowerment of women--all of these things--if you can actually show there are ways in which they’ve made life better,” Pinker said recently, “you remind people that, hey, these things haven’t always been there, and a lot of what we appreciate in life, we should thank these developments for.”
[By the way this is consistent with the evidence in a book I just finished: The Company of Strangers, I posted something about the book]. 

Well, in a recent article in "Prospect" the philosopher John Gray claims:
Pinker’s attempt to ground the hope of peace in science is profoundly instructive, for it testifies to our enduring need for faith. We don’t need science to tell us that humans are violent animals. History and contemporary experience provide more than sufficient evidence. For liberal humanists, the role of science is, in effect, to explain away this evidence. They look to science to show that, over the long run, violence will decline—hence the panoply of statistics and graphs and the resolute avoidance of inconvenient facts. The result is no more credible than the efforts of Marxists to show the scientific necessity of socialism, or free-market economists to demonstrate the permanence of what was until quite recently hailed as the Long Boom. The Long Peace is another such delusion, and just as ephemeral.
Is Pinker underestimating the victims of violence of recent conflicts as Gray claims? Or is Gray overestimating the importance of recent conflicts because they are closer to us? 

These are the two view on violence that [at least for me] bring more questions than answers.  

No comments:

Post a Comment