:::this is the way the world ends:::

A Brief History of Violence

Thanks Ned for posting the Story of Stuff. I think that it is largely preaching to the choir (with emphasis on “preach”) on this blog but still it is good to know that there are people out there fighting the good fight. I’ve been thinking about these issues over the last few days. I hope to post a more robust response later this week.

So since I took twenty minutes of my time I ask you to take twenty minutes of your time to review this TED talk on A Brief History of Violence by Harvard linguist, Steven Pinker. Shotts if you are looking for an “popularized” science book, you can’t go wrong with anything by Pinker though I have only read The Language Instinct.

Anyway, this is sort of an evidenced based “feel good” story about how the chances of human being killed by another human have consistently dropped throughout history. Pinker talks about why we may believe that the opposite is true and what we may have done right in the last 400 years or so to make this possible. Please take time to view this. I think it’s really important.



  1. J.E.

    After I posted this I listened to a report on PRI’s “The World” concerning the use of rape as a weapon during the Congo civil war. I’m sure it would be cold comfort to these women and any individual victim of violence to know that violence is on the decline within the species. Clearly there will always be more work to be done.

  2. Ned

    I just watched your video. I can’t respond in length because I’ve been down for the count in a manner of speaking and sitting in this position is rather uncomfortable.

    The Story of Stuff was just something a friend sent me and so I passed it on. It’s difficult to respond, because I’m afraid that “bloggsphere” is jamming up my communication again, in that I can’t quite get a sense of how you’re actually responding.

    I sensed in your comment “heavy on preaching” and your subsequent post that you are somehow annoyed with me, or want to argue with me. Perhaps it all comes back to the idea that you feel I am trying to instill guilt or pass that feeling along and you don’t like that. I don’t know. Maybe none of that is there and we can chock it up to the “bloggsphere”.

  3. Ned

    I have a brief moment where I can respond a bit more at length.

    I appreciated the follow-up comment that you made J.E.

    It’s interesting that you bring up that specific place, since I know a man in the Congo, a Presbyterian minister, whose wife and two daughters were recently attacked and brutalized because they are perceived as being wealthy (though have have so much less than you or I).

    I think if Pinker’s idea is to investigate honestly why violence has decreased (if it actually has) then I applaud his efforts. I think the danger is that some people might pat themselves on the back and ignore the problems that yet plague us. I guess that is why his humor sometimes turned me off. It makes sense for the wealthiest nation in the world to argue that violence is down.

    I think the assertion that technology making attrocities more visible and therefore more unacceptable may hold some validity, though all the coverage of the Sudan genocide did not seem to stem the tide of violence. You can practically watch it transpire via internet. And, like Gould, I hesitate to try too hard to draw causation from correlation.

    National Geographic had an article on genocide, showing how the tendency for certain groups to try to wipe out entire other groups has grown steadily in the last four to five hundred years, or maybe it has merely been better documented, I don’t recall.

    Anyway, I regret if any religious content in the Story of Stuff turned you off. I will also be honest enough to say that Pinker’s smug shot at the bible being full of violence seemed distasteful to me, since it is old hat. In Thomas Cahill’s book, Gift of the Jews, Cahill offers a considerably erudite and alternate view to that passing comment. In this, he does not deny the violence, but he places it in its full context, which is enlightening.

    Finally, I would like to say that I am aware that I can often seem like a doomsday lover, bringing up all the ills of the world in a skeptical manner and not appreciating the good. I’m sorry if that is the perception, since at my core, I believe I am a hopeful person. And with two children, hope almost becomes obligatory.

  4. Shotts

    Ned, I appreciated The Story of Stuff, which I have now watched. While there may not have been anything extraordinarily new there–and I think that’s all J.E. meant by “preaching to the choir” on this blog–I think everything in the short video is more or less helpful in trying to see the problems of a linear system of consumption. Maybe it is a little preachy, as J.E. suggests, but I think the case is probably slightly exaggerated in order to elicit an actual response. I do think there is more awareness happening regarding the environment, waste, global warming…. I’m not sure at all that there’s enough going on to turn things around on a better course away from environmental crisis.

    I was listening to NPR yesterday, and there was a discussion about the change in attitude in this country. The example used was how in the early 1960s, John F. Kennedy stands up and says “We’re going to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade,” even when such a statement seemed nearly impossible. But sure enough, our government and NASA made that happen. And that was putting a man on the moon, which frankly, impressive as it is, is primarily a symbolic gesture, at least for now. The NPR program went on to ask why we don’t have a president or set of leaders stand up and say, by 2015 we will entirely cut our dependence on foreign oil. Or why not say, by 2015 we will have introduce a working, sustainable oil-free car in use on American roads. I think we all want a big statement and for that to be followed through on, and I think it’s possible–or at least as possible as it was in 1960 to say that a man would be walking on the moon by 1969. And there’s no question that we have much, much more at stake by caring for our planet than we do by going to the moon.

    I haven’t watched the PInker video yet, but am interested in what you’re both saying here…

  5. Ned

    I have heard and made similar comments about a president having a vision for where we should be in a number of years. I hesitate to say things so absolutely, but I would likely vote for any candidate who would stake such claims.

Leave a Reply

© 2024 The Hollow Men

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑