Wednesday, March 18, 2015

steven pinker is wrong about violence and war

guardian |  For an influential group of advanced thinkers, violence is a type of backwardness. In the most modern parts of the world, these thinkers tell us, war has practically disappeared. The world’s great powers are neither internally divided nor inclined to go to war with one another, and with the spread of democracy, the increase of wealth and the diffusion of enlightened values these states preside over an era of improvement the like of which has never been known. For those who lived through it, the last century may have seemed peculiarly violent, but that, it is argued, is mere subjective experience and not much more than anecdote. Scientifically assessed, the number of those killed in violent conflicts was steadily dropping. The numbers are still falling, and there is reason to think they will fall further. A shift is under way, not strictly inevitable but enormously powerful. After millennia of slaughter, humankind is entering the Long Peace.

This has proved to be a popular message. The Harvard psychologist and linguist Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature: a history of violence and humanity (2011) has not only been an international bestseller – more than a thousand pages long and containing a formidable array of graphs and statistics, the book has established something akin to a contemporary orthodoxy. It is now not uncommon to find it stated, as though it were a matter of fact, that human beings are becoming less violent and more altruistic. Ranging freely from human pre-history to the present day, Pinker presents his case with voluminous erudition. Part of his argument consists in showing that the past was more violent than we tend to imagine. Tribal peoples that have been praised by anthropologists for their peaceful ways, such as the Kalahari !Kung and the Arctic Inuit, in fact have rates of death by violence not unlike those of contemporary Detroit; while the risk of violent death in Europe is a fraction of what it was five centuries ago. Not only have violent deaths declined in number. Barbaric practices such as human sacrifice and execution by torture have been abolished, while cruelty towards women, children and animals is, Pinker claims, in steady decline. This “civilising process” – a term Pinker borrows from the sociologist Norbert Elias – has come about largely as a result of the increasing power of the state, which in the most advanced countries has secured a near-monopoly of force. Other causes of the decline in violence include the invention of printing, the empowerment of women, enhanced powers of reasoning and expanding capacities for empathy in modern populations, and the growing influence of Enlightenment ideals.


makheru bradley said...

"The DOJ report shows not just a racist criminal justice system, but one in which the very act of being alive has been made a crime, and in which nearly every resident is wanted by the law at every moment of every day." Yet Eric Holder couldn't find a single official to charge. He can't hide behind Screws on this.

Constructive_Feedback said...

My dear friend CNu:

Being that Ferguson MO is a city of only 22,000...................

There are more Black people in the whole of West Philly and SouthWest Atlanta with burglar bars upon their windows because of the salient threats in their community AND with the local Police Department on Speed Dial in the event that their defense are penetrated.

Why does HuffPo seem to feed you with what you desire but always seems to be askew to the proportional threat that most average Black people suffer?

(PS: I have an audio recording from the "Bev Smith Radio Show" that used the claim about the "Pre-Release Twitter Feed" that preceded the two cops being shot in Ferguson. When her show guest's claims fall to the ground, Ms Smith's skepticism about the police shooting goes unchanged.)

CNu said...

The local NPR affiliates have been a hoot this past couple of weeks. This past weekend, a local community activist, Bro. Ron McMillan called in to "guess who's coming to kansas city" which show featured our mayor's son and colleague, labor relations attorneys in the employ of the mayor's own law firm. Bro. Ron asked the two lawyers, "what now", what do we do next in order to keep the ball rolling?

Crickets....., the very fact that Bro. Ron was utterly without a clue, and that the two attorneys didn't give him a reasoned response spoke volumes. The mayor's son is not going to say, set up a kickstarter or a gofundme with specific plaintiffs claims and start raising $$$ to hire the most ruthlessly ass-kicking attorney(s) you can find to sue these many and sundry hamlets into oblivion. That wasn't going to happen.

Bro. Ron is no Hosea Williams, and so of course he was sincerely without any concrete notions about what to do next.

Then this morning, they had local flavor on Central Standard live and in person from STL. Some preacher from Ferguson who's been hogging the mic. I've sincerely never heard anybody say as many words as this __________ said and still ain't said a dayyum thing! It was genuinely like Oswald Bates meets Creflo Dollar - and just loves to hear himself talk in public. I'm putting up that podcast tomorrow as soon as it's available.

The DOJ has done yoeman's work. Now it's up to the people to take that template, articulate specific structural claims that can successfully be litigated pursuant to the "rule of law" standard and game that's being played and catastrophically won by these Valkanvanian tribesmen.

CNu said...

I'm going to go with "because I'm staggeringly intelligent and professionally constrained from speaking my whole and complete mind on this topic". The Red State article that Ken posted the other day, as well as its counterpart National Review Online article in which conservatives were called to task for not accepting the DOJ report as a principled call-to-arms - were most instructive to me about the hopeless severity of the notsee pathology reflected in the howls of protest in the comments attendant to those articles.

Much like I view your incessant and off-base chatter about street piracy and black on black criminal inferiority and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah...., none of which has a dayyum thing to do with the issue of illegitimate police violence and criminality, unless of course you're prepared to address the living memory historical extent to which the moron war-on is a primary causal factor in the exponential increases in violence in the hood witnessed over the past 40 years - a la this very illuminating story that was on NPR just yesterday afternoon.

John Kurman said...

If/when WWIII, I hope I'm next to Pinker. "HAH!"

CNu said...

Problem for that argument is that it's not that deep. Murderous North Atlantic tribesmen of the most depraved and violent sort get captured, while hostile/assaultative adolescent black males get extrajudicially executed in the street.

All conservatives may not be racist, but all racists are pretty much guaranteed to be conservatives. That is a fact. So long as that fact prevails, there is no strategy around which conservatives can aggregate because their insurmountable racism will always trump the "values" to which they pay lip service.

Everything else is conversation...,

Tom said...

Yeah, to my mind the Southern Democrats were conservatives. But they took a (calculated) stand against racism, so they're "liberals" now. "Communists" as far as the GOP is concerned. Carter was much more fiscally conservative than Reagan -- there's no comparison -- but Carter was the "communist."

There's not much mystery about what "communist" really means.

ken said...

Everything else is conversation.... except of course your concepts of what is conservatism. Take your link to this white supremacist guy, what does individualism and freedom of thought and personal responsibility have to do with submitting yourself to the hierarchy of a white supremacist or neo nazi group? Certainly, belonging to groups like this is a step beyond communism, due the stronger mind control tactics of the group.

I think it would be almost fair to say your argument you are attempting to make is about as useful as Sean Hannity trying to make an issue of Obama not saying Islamic extremism. The only difference, which makes your argument more unfair, is taking the concepts of freedom and individualism and personal responsibility to the extreme might lead to people without care or concern for others around him, but I can't see a person becoming more individualistic, more intense with personal responsibility and freedom of thought leading to neo nazism or white supremacy. Its a pretty big stretch even for the staggeringly intelligent.

CNu said...

The red state conservative whose article you linked here the other day - may qualify as a principled conservative. Judging from the comments there, and at the National Review Online to a similarly objective review of the DOJ report on Ferguson, I'd say that Dixiecrats (what Tom referred to above) outnumber principled conservatives 500-to-1 under that GOP big tent.

So no, it's not a few bad apples that make your notsee barrel rotten, rather, the majority of that barrel is rotten to the core on and on its margins, when presented with overwhelming and insurmountable evidence, an apple or two are willing to have the scales fall - at least temporarily - from their otherwise notsee eyes.

Not only is my characterization fair, it's true as well. As for your individualism, freedom, and personal responsibility delusion, well, there's no kind way to say it besides "you believe in a lot of bullshit"

ken said...

"I'd say that Dixiecrats (what Tom referred to above) outnumber principled conservatives 500-to-1 under that GOP big tent." If so, there would have been no reason for the dixiecrat party to dissolve, they would have the numbers to have their own party and be a power themselves, not to mention of course to even make your numbers even more whopper stylish, most dixiecrats went back to the democrat party, which would make the dixiecrat party huge. So this is a pretty flimsy argument for your not so few bad apple argument.

To restate, I called your characterization useless, like Hannity's constant droning that Obama say radical Islam, saying it was fair to make the comparison, except yours being even more useless to solving any of today's issues.

CNu said...

lol, now that criminal just-us and rule-of-law have been shown to be racist and corrupt to the bone, I have no "issues" in need of solving. I've known and asserted these truths all along. You, on the other hand, have been a steadfast notsee in deepest denial of my stance wrt criminal just-us and rule of law for the better part of a decade.

AFAIC, this downward spiral can continue unchecked because it leads to a violent end for the bad apples you want to reform and who I simply want gone. You should have put those racist dogs on a tight leash a very long time ago. Now that you've opporunistically laid down with them instead, you find yourself covered and deeply afflicted with fleas. Not my problem, not my issue.

Racists are predictably and reliably stupid. Though the arc of justice is loooooong, it is inevitable and as Thomas Jefferson noted wrt your pathological tribesmen “Indeed I tremble for my country
when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep

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