Steven Pinker: A brief history of violence

TED is one of my favourite websites which provides videos of presentations at its conferences on (as it says) Ideas Worth Spreading. I highly recommend you take time to explore TED if you haven’t already discovered it.

On a recent visit to TED, I came across the following video of a presentation by Steven Pinker: A Brief History of Violence, in which Steven argues that the perception that we live in violent times is all wrong.

Stephen Pinker charts the decline of violence from Biblical times to the present, and argues that, though it may seem illogical and even obscene, given Iraq and Darfur, we are living in the most peaceful time in our species’ existence.

About jrbsays

Just a regular married father of three type of guy. Writer of Haiku, founder of and other bits and other bobs.
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6 Responses to Steven Pinker: A brief history of violence

  1. Sainter says:

    Thx for posting this, J, i’ve been vacillating over the question of decreased violence for some time. There are fors and against the proposition and plenty of interpretations as to what violence includes. I’ll watch the vid tonight. What do you think? – Wayne

    • jrbsays says:

      Like you, I’m unsure what to think. IMO we should be better placed to record incidence of violence (as we are most things), but do we? On a macro level, I feel we live in a far less violent world than our forbears did – we do seem to have (in most cases) evolved a preference for negotiation before violence and whilst 1st world countries posses ‘weapons of mass destruction’, we have also developed weapons of (apparent) devastating accuracy which thankfully, are the ‘weapons de jour’.

      On a micro level I wonder if, as we experience less and less actual physical violence in our lives and enjoy more and more ‘virtual violence’, this is increasing the levels and severity of violence when it happens. Enacting violence on PS3 (etc.) is painless no matter how severe, but bringing those same levels of violence into a real world violent episode may be causing far more damage? If we haven’t experienced the consequences of these levels of violence, how do we know what levels are ‘acceptable’? I’m not suggesting that any levels of violence are acceptable, but (for example), there will inevitably be violent incidences as long as there are testosterone fuelled males out together. It also seems to me that there are more reported incidents of violence amongst females than I recall – but again I cannot verify this.

      Anyway, I eagerly await your thoughts after you’ve watched the video and read my ramblings.


  2. Sainter says:

    I pretty much agree with what you’ve said. It seems to me that the human proclivity for violence hasn’t abated it’s just been transferred or expressed in less obvious ways – sport and video games have something to do with this. It begs the question ‘how civilized are we really?’ I sense the attitude change of men in particular and what is now acceptable behaviour in modern society is a veneer that hides base instincts that simply won’t go away. To change may mean in a strange way becoming less human; that is by supressing the urge to physically conquer we lose a bit of the drive that brings about good in other ways. I think the chimp in us all is far too ingrained to expect 6,000 years of civilization as opposed to millions of years of evolution is going to make much difference. We are still babes in the woods in terms of social evolution.

  3. Sainter says:

    BTW, this would make a great discussion. Maybe we can revisit it later on. 🙂

  4. Pingback: Hans Rosling’s 200 Years in 4 Minutes | JRB Says

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