Steven Pinker: This Is History's Most Peaceful Time--New Study: "Not So Fast"

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tags: violence, war

The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, Harvard University psychologist and famed intellect Steven Pinker argues humans are now living in the most peaceful era in the history of our species.

At the time the U.S. was mired in two wars in the Middle East and Central Asia, the conflict in Darfur had just come to a close and terrorist insurgent group Boko Haram was setting off bombs across northern Nigeria. Such examples still abound years later. Last week violent incidents in New York City and Sutherland Springs, Texas, left many dead and injured. “The claim that we are living in an unusually peaceful time may strike you as somewhere between hallucinatory and obscene,” Pinker wrote. “I know from conversations and survey data that most people refuse to believe it.”

Yet there is plenty of evidence supporting Pinker’s claim. Most scholars agree the percentage of people who die violent war-related deaths has plummeted through history; and that proportionally violent deaths decline as populations become increasingly large and organized, or move from “nonstate” status—such as hunter–gatherer societies—to fully fledged “states.”

Still, there are many ways to look at the data—and quantifying the definition of a violent society. A study in Current Anthropology published online October 13 acknowledges the percentage of a population suffering violent war-related deaths—fatalities due to intentional conflict between differing communities—does decrease as a population grows. At the same time, though, the absolute numbers increase more than would be expected from just population growth. In fact, it appears, the data suggest, the overall battle-death toll in modern organized societies is exponentially higher than in hunter–gatherer societies surveyed during the past 200 years.

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