History of Violence

This isn’t terribly new, but I just read it:

Steven Pinker on “the noble savage”

This doctrine, “the idea that humans are peaceable by nature and corrupted by modern institutions—pops up frequently in the writing of public intellectuals like José Ortega y Gasset (“War is not an instinct but an invention”), Stephen Jay Gould (“Homo sapiens is not an evil or destructive species”), and Ashley Montagu (“Biological studies lend support to the ethic of universal brotherhood”),” he writes. “But, now that social scientists have started to count bodies in different historical periods, they have discovered that the romantic theory gets it backward: Far from causing us to become more violent, something in modernity and its cultural institutions has made us nobler.”

He goes on to ponder what it is about civilization and Western Civilization in particular that has this effect. Much of Pinker’s work involves human evolution, but in this case that process doesn’t happen fast enough to explain. Nature doesn’t select for meekness, so the meek inheriting the earth would take too long to account for the rapid change.

Food for thought.

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