Saw an interesting article today via a Joe Rogan retweet. The article was an interview with Steven Pinker, who has just released a new book called The Better Angels of our Nature. Steven is an American experimental psychologist, who besides being an author is also a professor at Havard University.
Steven took a look at violence committed throughout history, comparing casualties per capita for each event. The reason is because he had heard so many times people complaining that society today is so violent. He decided to check it out, and discovered that actually we are living in the most peaceful period in all of human history. He states:
I was struck by a graph I saw of homicide rates in British towns and cities going back to the 14th century. The rates had plummeted by between 30 and 100-fold.
His article links to an interactive graph of the 20 worst things that people have done to each other through history Interestingly the most violent recent incident in our lives, the Second World War, only ranks as 11th on the list.
So why are we living in peaceful times?
I don’t think there is a single answer. One cause is government, that is, third-party dispute resolution: courts and police with a monopoly on the legitimate use of force. Everywhere you look for comparisons of life under anarchy and life under government, life under government is less violent.
He also states that naturally we are all rather myopic in our world view, since we are all focused on the here and now and don’t have any comparisons readily at hand to violence in the past. Also, we have much better reporting now, so everyone hears of each incidence of violence as “blood sells” in the media, as he puts it.
Also the human mind loves to learn about violence. Blood sells. The media don’t report that yesterday in Buenos Aires several hundred people died peacefully in their sleep, but if five of them were blown up, that would be news.
However there was one section in the article that really got me thinking. He was discussing the reasons why violence is so much reduced in modern society, and stated:
Feminisation is another reason for the decline. As women are empowered, violence can come down, for a number of reasons. By all measures men are the more violent gender.
For some reason that really hit home. He is absolutely correct that by all measures, men are the more violent gender. So I thought, why do we put men in charge of making critical decisions regarding outcomes that involve violence? The majority of leadership positions in the armed forces, and political leaders, are men.
I love to imagine. Just imagine if there was some worldwide rule that everyone agreed to and followed, that only women were permitted to take the very top (decision making) positions in the armed forces and in government. What kind of world would we have? I would hazard a guess that it would be much more peaceful and fairer than what we have today. Or perhaps women, once they got all those positions would prove to make decisions that resulted in just as much violence as we have today? Absolute power absolutely corrupts, and all that.
I’d be willing to take that risk.