Posts Tagged ‘beliefs’

Can’t Believe It

In the flurry of reviews – and comments on the reviews – of Stephen Pinker’s recent book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, I spy a frequent complaint. (Here is my own analysis of Pinker, in the Boston Review.) The book’s central claim is that rates of killing, attacks, brutality, and war have — even given the 20th century’s world wars and genocides — sharply declined over human history. He must be wrong, the critics assert. He has miscounted, or used sleight of hand, or willfully ignored what is obvious to all, they say: that violence is up.


Why are such critics so intent on, so earnest in, defending the view that our time – this decade, the past century, the modern era – is the most violent time? The historical record is clear, as I noted in an earlier post, that rates of violence – and sadism and physical abuse – are at the lowest ever, at least in the West. And violence has been in a long, although unsteady, decline even in the United States (see here). This is not a controversial conclusion among scholars. Why do so many people nonetheless disbelieve?


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