December 4, 2011

Good tidings: Violence at all-time low

How does this sound for entertainment: Your date asks you out to the theater to watch a live cat slowly lowered into a fire and burned to death, howling with pain as it is singed, roasted, and finally carbonized?

If that isn't your idea of a good time, don't hop into the next time machine heading back to medieval Europe.

In 16th-century Paris, throngs –- including kings and queens -- flocked to watch such gruesome spectacles, shrieking with laughter as cats and other animals were tortured to death on stage.

"The Catherine Wheel"
Torture and violence were woven into the fabric of life, from the sexualized sadism of London, where elaborately designed and decorated torture devices were the pinnacle of artistic creativity, to the widespread practice of hacking off the nose of anyone who disrespected you (the source of the strange idiom, "to cut off your nose to spite your face").

In contrast, whether we know it or not, we are now enjoying the most peaceful period in all of human history. Indeed, the precipitous decline in violence of all types may be “the most significant and least appreciated development in the history of our species,” argues Steven Pinker, a renowned professor of psychology at Harvard University, in an epic tome, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.

"The Judas Cradle"
Given the tenor of the daily news headlines, Pinker knows his claim sounds far-fetched. But in 800 pages of research and analysis, augmented by hundreds of charts and tables, he convincingly establishes that violence is indeed heading in one direction: down.

The decline is drastic across-the-board, in both state-sanctioned and individual violence: International wars, civil wars, terrorism (an obsession far out of proportion to its prevalence), slavery, sexual violence, child abuse, infanticide....

Click HERE to read my full Amazon review of this recommended text. If you appreciate the review, please click on "yes."