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The Better Angels of Our Nature: A History of Violence and Humanity (edition 2012)

by Steven Pinker

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960289,024 (4.16)1 / 36
Member:peterveen
Title:The Better Angels of Our Nature: A History of Violence and Humanity
Authors:Steven Pinker
Info:Penguin (2012), Paperback, 1056 pages
Collections:Your library, History, politics, culture, misc., Science
Rating:****1/2
Tags:evolution, psychology, cultural history

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The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined by Steven Pinker

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Historical perspective and statistical analysis shed new light on trends in violence

Follow any major news media outlet (and most of the minor ones) and it's easy to get the impression that the world has become increasingly violent over the course of human history so that we are living in an era of unprecedented violence with things getting worse all the time. But to really understand where are are now and where we are heading requires taking a broad historical perspective. Pinker provides one in this book, taking us on a whirlwind tour in the first chapter of violence throughout history. Some of this is difficult to read, but it makes you appreciate how good we actually have it now and realize how rarely we directly experience in our own lives the kinds of brutality that were commonplace facts of life for the vast majority of people living before us.

In subsequent chapters, Pinker delves into various cultural trends, most of them quite recent (over the past few centuries or even decades), driving this decline of violence and their causes. I found the chapters on the humanitarian and rights revolutions particularly fascinating. Finally, he turns to an examination of the aspects of human nature and psychology inclining us toward violence (our "inner demons", among which his discussion of the rise of violent ideologies was especially interesting), and those inclining us away, underlying the various cultural trends discussed earlier (the "better angels of our nature" of the title, and perhaps the best chapter of the book).

This is a lot of material that I am just giving a capsule summary of here, and Pinker amasses a formidable array of evidence to back it up. His use of statistics is generally compelling, and even where I would quibble with some of the details they don't significantly undercut the force of his argument. Interestingly, this method of amassing data that Pinker brings to bear may itself explain some of the decline in violence, at least over the course of the past century or so when we really began trying to accurately measure these things, since the very act of measuring something you want less of goes a long way toward reducing it. On the whole, a compelling read and a persuasive case. I would also recommend Matt Ridley's The Rational Optimist as an excellent companion to this.

http://www.amazon.com/review/R3QO9DXPBNVERC ( )
1 vote AshRyan | Apr 14, 2015 |
Outstanding. Pinker's engaging style draws you in - in spite of offputting dense copy. Recounting the violence of the old testament is shocking but true. Debunks the Freakonomics guys, Levitt & Dubner re the cause of crime decline in 1990s was due to Roe v Wade - see pp 119-120. The Pacifist's Dilemma - p 679 - pacifism per se works only when the other country is also pacifist. But how tomove toward a pacifist goal? Several ways - the Leviathan - a strong state keeps violence under control - gentle commerce - trade makes war less appealing - feminization - women's are simply less inclined to violence - expanding empathy and reason - made more possible with education and connection via media.
  carolynjray | Jan 21, 2015 |
This is a mighty book about a very interesting and surprising piece of information - the decline of violence in almost all forms across most societies in the world.
Pinker piles up the data from an amazing range of sources until even the most sceptical reader must be convinced - levels of violence really have fallen, and to a quite amazing degree.
Then Pinker tries to go through causes and contributory factors. And there are many. The first is the role of an effective state in its "monopoly of violence". As Locke stressed in the Leviathan, man not living in an organised state lives in a state of war. Then there are many others to follow - a general "civilising process"; the enlightenment, the growth in empathy that flowed from the widespread consumption of fiction made possible by the printing process and the growth in literacy levels are key factors.
I think there is a shorter book in here, but that is not Pinker's style. And with such a great story to tell, it is hard to criticise.
Read October 2014. ( )
  mbmackay | Oct 31, 2014 |
Required reading for anyone who cares about the State and its relation to violence. The charts and graphs detailing the decline of violence are convincing. The proffered explanations less so, but Pinker isn't trying to be authoritative. They are intriguing and well developed, and give much to think about. A lot of neuroscience, psychology, evolutionary biology, and game theory.
4.5 stars on completion (oc)
After a few months: I find myself frequently using arguments from this book, to great effect. It remains a 4.5 star book. ( )
  starcat | Aug 11, 2014 |
Society is not broken, and the world is less scarred by violence than at any time in history. It's not a jungle out there. In fact, we're all getting nicer and nicer, except perhaps in a few marginal places, far from Harvard. Yes, Dr Pangloss is in the house, as the amiable Steven Pinker offers some perspective on our contemporary world. His thesis is fair enough, and indeed quickly stated - that law, government and rationalism have reduced much of the brutishness that previous generations suffered under. But he spins it out over such garrulous length that one is pretty much obliged to skim the book. It's always enjoyable to read despite the author's excesses of style, but in the end too Eurocentric, and has no special insight for predicting what will come next. Will we perhaps all go veggy or tolerate currently taboo sexual relations? No, no, all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds (or in the current rendering: "Everything is awesome, ..."). ( )
  eglinton | Apr 3, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 27 (next | show all)
But in its confidence and sweep, the vast timescale, its humane standpoint and its confident world-view, it is something more than a science book: it is an epic history by an optimist who can list his reasons to be cheerful and support them with persuasive instances.

I don't know if he's right, but I do think this book is a winner.
added by Widsith | editThe Guardian, Tim Radford (Nov 19, 2012)
 
The biggest problem with the book, though, is its overreliance on history, which, like the light on a caboose, shows us only where we are not going.
 
“The Better Angels of Our Nature” is a supremely important book. To have command of so much research, spread across so many different fields, is a masterly achievement. Pinker convincingly demonstrates that there has been a dramatic decline in violence, and he is persuasive about the causes of that decline.
 
While Pinker makes a great show of relying on evidence—the 700-odd pages of this bulky treatise are stuffed with impressive-looking graphs and statistics—his argument that violence is on the way out does not, in the end, rest on scientific investigation. He cites numerous reasons for the change, including increasing wealth and the spread of democracy. For him, none is as important as the adoption of a particular view of the world: “The reason so many violent institutions succumbed within so short a span of time was that the arguments that slew them belong to a coherent philosophy that emerged during the Age of Reason and the Enlightenment. The ideas of thinkers like Hobbes, Spinoza, Descartes, Locke, David Hume, Mary Astell, Kant, Beccaria, Smith, Mary Wollstonecraft, Madison, Jefferson, Hamilton and John Stuart Mill coalesced into a worldview that we can call Enlightenment humanism.”
added by atbradley | editProspect, John Gray (Sep 21, 2011)
 
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Epigraph
What a chimera then is man! What a novelty, what a monster, what a chaos,

what a contradiction, what a prodigy! Judge of all things, feeble earthworm,

repository of truth, sewer of uncertainty and error, the glory and the scum of

the universe. 

   — Blaise Pascal
Dedication
TO

Eva, Carl, and Erik

Jack and David

Yael and Danielle
and the world they will inherit
First words
If the past is a foreign country, it is a shockingly violent one.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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http://veja.abril.com.br/noticia/cien...

Estudo: humanidade está mais inteligente e menos violenta

Tese é defendida pelo renomado psicólogo canadense Steven Pinker, em artigo publicado na edição desta quarta-feira na revista 'Nature'
Comportamento
Estudo: humanidade está mais inteligente e menos violenta
 
Combatentes líbios: mesmo com guerras, humanidade está mais pacífica, diz o psicólogo Steven Pinker (Zohra Bensemra / Reuters) 
"Apesar de atualmente nos sentirmos constantemente rodeados pela violência, em séculos anteriores a situação era muito pior." — Steven Pinker, psicólogo canadense
"A afirmação popular de que o século XX é 'o mais sangrento da história' é uma mera ilusão que dificilmente pode ser apoiada em dados históricos."
A sensação de que nunca houve tanta violência como nos tempos modernos é ilusória e dificilmente resistiria à pesquisa histórica. Segundo um estudo publicado nesta quarta-feira na revista Nature, nunca houve, proporcionalmente, tão poucos assassinatos e tão pouca violência, de um modo geral. O defensor da tese é o renomado psicólogo canadense Steven Pinker. De acordo com ele, em termos históricos, as pessoas estão cada vez mais inteligentes, e em consequência disso, menos violentas.

Pinker argumenta que o aumento da inteligência, verificável em pontuações cada vez mais altas nos teste de raciocínio, é responsável pelo declínio da barbárie nos últimos séculos. Outros fatores são a alfabetização e o cosmopolitismo, que estimulam a troca de informações e a realização de acordos entre distintas sociedades. "Apesar de atualmente nos sentirmos constantemente rodeados pela violência, em séculos anteriores a situação era muito pior. Impérios em colapso, conquistadores maníacos e invasões tribais eram comuns", afirma Pinker.
Arte VEJA
 
Dados corroboram a tese — A arqueologia forense e estudos demográficos sugerem que antes dos Estados modernos em torno de 15% dos indivíduos morriam de maneira violenta, uma proporção cinco vezes maior à registrada no século XX, apesar de suas guerras, genocídios e crises de fome.
Nesse sentido, Pinker aponta que a afirmação popular de que "o século XX é o mais sangrento da história" é uma mera ilusão e não se apoia em dados históricos. Segundo ele, de um modo geral, a barbárie diminuiu não só com relação a conflitos armados, mas também a comportamentos sociais. "Nos últimos séculos, a humanidade abandonou progressivamente práticas como os sacrifícios humanos, a perseguição de hereges e métodos cruéis de execução como a fogueira, a crucificação e a empalação", diz o psicólogo.

No século XIV, na Europa Ocidental, 40 em cada 100.000 pessoas morriam assassinadas, enquanto atualmente essa taxa se reduziu a 1,3 pessoa. No Brasil, ainda há cidades que apresentam taxas de homicídios muito superiores aos da Europa medieval: Recife (PE), Vitória (ES) e Maceió (AL) têm taxas de 90,5; 87 e 80,9 homicídios por 100.000 habitantes respectivamente. Mas o estado de São Paulo, por exemplo, reduziu a taxa de homicídios de 35,27 em 1999 para 9,6 no primeiro semestre de 2011. A taxa nacional é de 25 homicídios por 100.000 habitantes.
Biblioteca
The Better Angels of Our Nature
 O título do livro foi pinçado de um discurso de Abraham Lincoln, presidente dos Estados Unidos durante a Guerra de Secessão. O polêmico e ambicioso livro (sem previsão de lançamento no Brasil) traz essencialmente a mesma tese defendida no artigo da Nature, ratificada por mais dados e explicada minuciosamente.

Autor: PINKER, STEVEN
Editora: VIKING PRESS
Moral? Não, mais inteligência — Pinker atribui essa evolução ao aperfeiçoamento da racionalidade e não a questões morais, que, argumenta, já serviram para legitimar todo tipo de castigos sangrentos. "A propagação de normas morais tornou frequentes as represálias violentas por faltas como a blasfêmia, a heresia, a indecência e as ofensas contra os símbolos sagrados", afirma.

O estudo ressalta que com o tempo o ser humano foi refreando a agressividade, presente desde os primeiros Homo sapiens. "A racionalidade humana precisou de milhares de anos para concluir que não é bom escravizar outras pessoas, exterminar povos, encarcerar homossexuais e iniciar guerras para restaurar a vaidade ferida de um rei", diz o psicólogo.

O autor do estudo apoia sua tese sobre o aumento da inteligência em pesquisas anteriores, que mostram como o Quociente Intelectual (QI) médio aumenta a cada geração. "As empresas que vendem testes de inteligência têm que normalizar seus resultados periodicamente. Um adolescente médio de hoje em dia marcaria um QI de 130 se voltasse a 1910, enquanto uma pessoa daquela época não passaria da pontuação 70 atualmente", explica Pinker.
(Com Agência EFE)
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We've all asked, "What is the world coming to?" But we seldom ask, "How bad was the world in the past?" In this startling new book, cognitive scientist Steven Pinker shows that the past was much worse. Evidence of a bloody history has always been around us: genocides in the Old Testament, gory mutilations in Shakespeare and Grimm, monarchs who beheaded their relatives, and American founders who dueled with their rivals. The murder rate in medieval Europe was more than thirty times what it is today. Slavery, sadistic punishments, and frivolous executions were common features of life for millennia, then were suddenly abolished. How could this have happened, if human nature has not changed? Pinker argues that thanks to the spread of government, literacy, trade, and cosmopolitanism, we increasingly control our impulses, empathize with others, debunk toxic ideologies, and deploy our powers of reason to reduce the temptations of violence.--From publisher description.… (more)

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Editions: 1846140943, 0141034645

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