Are we living in the least violent times in history?

Discussion in 'Human Science' started by litewave, Mar 7, 2008.

  1. Cellar_Door Whose Worth's unknown Registered Senior Member

    We are as violent as we have ever been; we just have more laws.
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  3. Baron Max Registered Senior Member

    Yeah, but you forgot one minor little detail .....there's a helluva lot more us now!

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    Baron Max
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  5. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    No we're not. That's pure bullshit. Detailed examination of the skeletons of Mesolithic humans using modern instruments has revealed that more than half of adults were killed by other humans. In other words, more people were killed by other people than by all other causes combined. The link was posted here about a year ago.

    Fast-forward about eleven thousand years and we find Genghis Khan, who killed ten percent of the human population that could be reasonably reached with the transportation technology of the era. That's a major improvement over fifty percent, but it left a lot of room for improvement....

    ...which occurred. World War II was the high-water mark in the "modern" era, and it only killed three percent of the the world's population. (Everyone was reachable by then.)

    Today war is so passe that it isn't even among the top twenty causes of death. The unreformed curmudgeons have had to give up on war and expand their definition of "violence" to include the foibles of technology. Automobiles are the only technology with a death toll worth tallying, and it comes to a just about one percent of the population.

    So they keep expanding their definition and want to count tobacco, which kills off quite a few more of us than road accidents. (I'm not gonna look it up but it's something like 1%-3% depending on who's doing the counting.) But whoops! Tobacco was discovered in the Stone Age; we got it from the native North Americans, who were on the Mesolithic/Neolithic cusp. No way to blame that one on civilization.

    Game over. Civilization wins. Curmudgeons lose. These are the least violent times in history. There's no way to predict that we won't backslide again, but there's also no reason to doubt that the eleven-thousand-year trend will continue and in the long run the world will keep being a more peaceful place to live.
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  7. Zap Facts > Opinions Registered Senior Member

    The answer to the question posed at the start of this thread is 'Unknown', but we can infer a few things nonetheless. If 'times' is understood to mean more than a few years, but encompasses decades, then it is certain that we are not in the least violent times in history.

    To the poster above, Mesolithic times were pre-historic, and therefore not germane to the question.

    Matthew White, who has made a serious effort to study this, has concluded that the most violent century yet recorded was the 20th, in which 4-5% [1] of all the people who lived in that century died directly from war or oppression. The second-most violent was the 17th century, according to French scholar André Corvisier, in which 2% [2] of the non-military population of the earth died of war.

    In a monograph about the casualty figures of the Great War, B. Jongman & J.M.G. van der Dennen quote:

    If nothing else, we can at least say with some confidence that violence is distributed pretty freely throughout all history.

    [2] Ibid.
  8. fantasus Registered Senior Member

    It may be doubted if there has been a continuous long term reduction in human violence. Rather, if and were there has been such a reduction, it has come more suddenly, perhaps as if (relative) peace appeared at a signal (as if there came a shot or trumpet sound). One example may be Europe before and after 1945. I doubt if there has been a more peacefull period in the history (more than 25 centuries) of that part of the world than post 45 era - even including nasty (ex)Yougoslavian wars. What then about the Americas in the same period? Perhaps even that part of the world experienced a period that if violent were less so than earlier times? Scandinavia changed from one of the more violent areas to one of the least earlier, perhaps the start of century.
    So may wars soon be some exotic part of the past? We simply do not have any answer, which means we can see it as a possibility (those interested in the question should look for factors separating "violent" and "peacefull" regions of the world). Perhaps it has not so much to do with individual aggressivity in the population?
  9. At World's End Registered Member

    Yes, we are.
  10. kmguru Staff Member

  11. fantasus Registered Senior Member

    One may compare to even minor, long "forgotten" wars. Compare casualties from all such riots the last 50 years in western Europe, North America with one day, even hours in one of the minor wars of the past.
  12. swivel Sci-Fi Author Valued Senior Member

    Great thread. Wonderful speech by Pinker. His book "Blank Slate" is one of the best things I've ever read.

    What I love about this theory is that it makes the Naturalistic Fallacy, which is the bedrock of the extreme Left, look just as silly as the holy texts which form the anchor for the extreme Right.
  13. kmguru Staff Member

    I ordered the book "Blank Slate" from the library...hope it is as good as presented...
  14. swivel Sci-Fi Author Valued Senior Member

    It should be required reading.

    A large percentage of our failed social policies stem from the mistakes outlined in Pinker's book.

    Another good one is Judith Harris' "The Nurture Assumption"
  15. John Connellan Valued Senior Member

    I thought how the mind works by Pinker was great. Haven't read Blank Slate yet
  16. Ladicius Registered Senior Member

    If "At times of peace, prepare fore war, and at times of war preparefor peace." What is peace really? I should've started a thread with this question =/.....So I will.
  17. swivel Sci-Fi Author Valued Senior Member

    How the Mind Works was great. Blank Slate is even better. Put it high on your list.
  18. Girr Registered Member


    You bring that up frequently, and in response many people doubt that can be realistically measured. Are there not more modern examples of this - i.e. people which still live (or recently lived) in bands, tribes, etc? I've reached the point in Jared Diamond's Guns Germs and Steel where he begins talking about this, but haven't finished - you seem like the type of person who would know.

    Did you intend "evenly" in place of "freely"? Not trying to be nit-picky; just I have different contentions based on either of those.

    I also wonder why this is only argued in terms of current and past statistics - I would make the argument that one really has to decide if they believe that history can be interpreted in terms of progress. I interpret it that way (whether I'm correct or not aside) - I would argue that the trend in progressive societies is, though dotted with periods of violence, is towards non-violence.

    Whether "modern" societies are sustainable in the absence of third world countries is the more important point, I think, as if it can believed that all societies can conceivably become as structured as many of ours, then perhaps we are overall in the least violent times of history.

    Also - I think there is another important point of distinction between everyday violence and war. Both are violence, I'm not arguing that - just that the root cause of each may be and therefore should be examined with different criteria, even if side by side.

    And forgive me for nearly rambling here, but can anyone speak to the validity of these statistics? -

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    My post count isn't high enough to post a link... anyways I just googled "world murder rate" and the resulting link led me to:

    If so - the highest murder rate in the world is still under 1:1000??? That is amazing to me.
  19. charles brough Registered Senior Member

    seems to me it makes no difference how precise I define "early times" and "present" since there are no accurate statistics. A hundred a day dead now is tiny compared to world population, but we could have an atomic war in the future and the percentage would be big! Seems to me there is no way to tell.

    The world population is growing rapidly and experts predict we will be adding a few billion more in the next 20-30 years.

  20. sly1 Heartless Registered Senior Member

    I would have to agree with Lord and Bells. Life is no less violent now than it has ever been. Just now its far less obvious and so diverse alot of it people don't even consider or talk about. In fact just as a numbers game the opposite should be true. There should be MORE violence now than at any other time in human (known) history.

    If violence is a constant in human nature the world population would determine the violence level. And well 6 billion and counting.

    As far as the article goes its extremely optimistic which I don't particularly think = fact, its a cup is half full perspective on current world violence and a cup is half empty perspective of past world violence.
  21. charles brough Registered Senior Member

    Seems to me that we need to distinguish between societies/civilizations and individuals. Our human nature does not evolve change in a couple of centuries or even milleniua. Societies modify how our nature is expressed. Our present societies mostly stress tolerance of other peoples. So, we are restrained. We have had societies that idealized violence, barbarian societies, such as Nazism, Japanese State Shinto and even Bolshevism and East Asian Marxism which idealize violent over-throw of capitalist nations.

    We have now secularized the East Asian Marxist system, but that does not mean it won't turn violent later on. Also, we are swelling in numbers here on Earth while our resources dwindle. This means growing competition for those resources and, eventually deadly conflict.

    Perhaps what I am saying is that the question of this thread is sort of meaningless. . .

  22. Jethro Tull Registered Member

    Cool article, thanks for sharing. I think that we are living in the least violent times in history, and now is our window of opportunity to overcome the animal mind once and for all. We have created a situation where we can destroy ourselves with the pressing of a few buttons. Misguided people who give life to the beast within and nuclear weapons is a dangerous combination. We must embrace Oneness and overcome our own minds.

    The mind can't solve this problem like it usually does, because the mind IS the problem, and couldn't know it until now. We must change the mind from our controlling overlord to our technical consultant, the great deceiver into the most valuable tool for survival ever, the devil into our guardian angel.
  23. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Sorry I haven't checked this thread in a while. That article seems to reinforce my point. An entire nation (to speak hyperbolically) is angry over the killing of one person, someone who was not even a beloved public figure. What society could have afforded that level of focus on a single murder two hundred, five hundred, one thousand, two thousand, five thousand years ago? Furthermore, although these angry people reacted with violence, it was not deadly violence. The one death did not beget more deaths.

    I've regarded this thread as being about deadly violence, since there is some hope of recovery, restitution or other justice in cases of property damage or non-lethal injury. So as far as I'm concerned their ability to limit themselves to breaking windows or roughing up a few people without sending them to the intensive care ward is a quantum improvement over the past.

    This article also reminds us that since the Iron Age and probably the Bronze Age if not earlier, the overwhelmingly greatest contributor to the violent death rate--the one agent of violence that we fear the most--has been government. Wars--the epitome of government violence--often kill a two-digit percentage of the population in the region in just a few years. No other forms of human-on-human violence come close to that level. Even the Holocaust is often lumped in with the WWII body count because the Nazis acknowledged that they would not be able to get away with it without the "fog of war."

    And the rate of government violence has dropped precipitously since its second-highest water mark in WWII: three percent of the entire planet's population in less than ten years. (Genghis Khan holds the record with ten percent of the population reachable by the transportation technology of the era, and that was half a millennium ago.) Today we can afford to be outraged over six-figure death tolls or even five figures if it's people we like.

    Or one. The internet has made Neda the martyr for the whole human race.

    Anyway, war is no longer a major risk for people in vast sectors of the planet, and other types of death at the hands of our fellow man like terrorism, soccer riots and drive-by shootings just don't take up the slack.
    Sorry, there's no link there now.
    Huh??? What's your source for that? All articles I've read over the past ten years that make reference to the growth rate agreed that the second derivative of population has already turned negative. They predicted that the population will reach a peak before the end of this century without needing a tenth digit, and at that point it will start to decline. Credit is given to the fact that even in places where the birth rate far exceeds replacement level, it is still much lower than it was a generation ago. Where families used to have twelve children they now have eight, and where they had eight they have six. Prosperity is the best contraceptive and it's effective at even the meanest level.
    If the discourse is limited to deadly violence I think you're wrong. Certainly one-on-one violence is less visible than wars, ethnic cleansing, gulags and slave pens, but it's also less lethal.
    We have a good experiment handy to measure that rate of change in innate psychology. Wolves and dogs are a single species, but dogs began living with us about 15,000 years ago and since then have been subject to both natural selection and (since the technology of animal husbandry was discovered) deliberate breeding. Today there is a significant difference between the instincts and behavior of Canis lupus lupus and C. lupus familiaris.
    • Dogs are much more gregarious. In a feral setting they form much larger packs than wolves, and in domestication they exhibit a tolerance for the company of anonymous strangers that is more typical of a herd-social species than a pack-social one.
    • Dogs extend that social instinct to other species. A typical dog's pack may include more humans than dogs, as well as cats, parrots and the latest fashionable new rodent. You have to catch a wolf pup at a very tender age to get him reliably socialized with humans, and I'm not sure I'd trust him with a chinchilla.
    • This is partially explained by the dog's low incidence of the alpha instinct. Wolf packs seldom number ten members because at that size two would be fighting for leadership, whereas in many dog breeds only one in a hundred is determined to get the job.
    It is clearly possible for instincts to adapt to the environment, and those of our own species are surely doing so. But judging by the experience of the dogs, it is probably not a rapid process.
    Jung calls the expression of instincts archetypes. They may manifest as visual images in art, as faux-historical events retold as legends, as preprogrammed memories in our synapses that feel truer than acquired memories and become religions, or as behaviors.

    We have (or perhaps have developed) a modest ability to modify and redirect archetypal behavior. Our tribal instinct (hostility toward outsiders) comes down from the Mesolithic Era when there was no surplus wealth, so during hard times the only way for one tribe to survive was to steal from another, which generally required killing them. The technology of agriculture gave rise to an economy with surplus production, so it became not only feasible but necessary for people to live in harmony and cooperation with people outside their extended family. Civilization took this further and extended that harmony and cooperation to total strangers. Today our nascent global civilization makes possible and necessary harmony and cooperation with people on the other side of the planet who are mere abstractions to us.

    Until one shows up on our iPhone with a name. I think it's an indication of how far we've progressed that even though we Americans have been manipulated by propaganda and the occasional unfortunate incident to dislike and distrust Muslims, we all wept for Neda.

    But those Stone Age instincts are still there. Every now and then one of us loses his grip on civilization and regresses, committing an "antisocial" act against a stranger or someone outside our extended family. But as statistics show, the murder rate is actually surprisingly low. As unfortunate as any individual murder is, it's not our greatest threat to longevity--far more of us are killed by cars and tobacco, things we love.

    It's when a large group of people are exhorted by their political or religious leaders to act on their violent instincts in concert, that we have problems. And if we keep our fingers crossed, it's beginning to look like civilization is finally getting past that.

    We have developed other ways of channeling some of our Stone Age instincts. Team sports are such an obvious outlet for the warriors among us. For a couple of hours a huge segment of the population is "at war" with the team who's fighting their team, screaming at the TV and even throwing things... and the next day at the office we're all friends again.

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