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The Better Angels of Our Nature
The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined | Steven Pinker
Selected by The New York Times Book Review as a Notable Book of the Year The author of The New York Times bestseller The Stuff of Thought offers a controversial history of violence. Faced with the ceaseless stream of news about war, crime, and terrorism, one could easily think we live in the most violent age ever seen. Yet as New York Times bestselling author Steven Pinker shows in this startling and engaging new work, just the opposite is true: violence has been diminishing for millennia and we may be living in the most peaceful time in our species's existence. For most of history, war, slavery, infanticide, child abuse, assassinations, pogroms, gruesome punishments, deadly quarrels, and genocide were ordinary features of life. But today, Pinker shows (with the help of more than a hundred graphs and maps) all these forms of violence have dwindled and are widely condemned. How has this happened? This groundbreaking book continues Pinker's exploration of the essence of human nature, mixing psychology and history to provide a remarkable picture of an increasingly nonviolent world. The key, he explains, is to understand our intrinsic motives- the inner demons that incline us toward violence and the better angels that steer us away-and how changing circumstances have allowed our better angels to prevail. Exploding fatalist myths about humankind's inherent violence and the curse of modernity, this ambitious and provocative book is sure to be hotly debated in living rooms and the Pentagon alike, and will challenge and change the way we think about our society.
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jdtchicago

Golden Arches theory: no two countries with a McDonald‘s have ever fought in a war.

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jdtchicago

James Payne notes a perverse sign of progress. Today‘s Holocaust deniers at least feel compelled to deny that the Holocaust took place. In earlier centuries the perpetrators of genocide and their sympathizers boasted about it.

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jdtchicago

Once you start rummaging around in the realm of the unverifiable there is considerable room for creativity, and accusations of sorcery are often blended with self-serving motives. Tribal people, anthropologists have shown, often single out despised in-laws for allegations of witchcraft

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jdtchicago

A great principle of moral advancement, on par with "Love thy neighbor" and "All men are created equal," is the one on the bumper sticker: "Shit happens.

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jdtchicago

Setting fire to a person and seeing whether he burns is a dumb way to determine his guilt.

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jdtchicago

Believe it or not—and I know that most people do not—violence has declined over long stretches of time, and today we may be living in the most peaceable era in our species‘ existence.

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jdtchicago

Parker Brothers tried to introduce a German version of Risk, the board game in which players try to dominate a map of the world, the German government tried to censor it. (Eventually the rules were rewritten so that players were “liberating” rather than conquering their opponents‘ territories.)

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jdtchicago

In the nature of man we find three principal causes of quarrel: gain (predatory raids), safety (preemptive raids), and reputation (retaliatory raids).

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jdtchicago

The shift is not toward complacency: we enjoy the peace we find today because people in past generations were appalled by the violence in their time and worked to reduce it, and so we should work to reduce the violence that remains in our time.

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jdtchicago

Does it never strike you as puzzling that it is wicked to kill one person, but glorious to kill ten thousand?

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jdtchicago

The truth is, I don‘t know what will happen across the entire world in the coming decades, and neither does anyone else. Not everyone, though, shares my reticence. A Web search for the text string “the coming war” returns two million hits, with completions like “with Islam,” “with Iran,” “with China,” “with Russia,”... Who knows? Maybe they‘re right. My aim in the rest of this chapter is to point out that maybe they‘re wrong.

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jdtchicago

The career of dueling showcases a puzzling phenomenon we will often encounter: a category of violence can be embedded in a civilization for centuries and then vanish into thin air. When gentlemen agreed to a duel, they were fighting not for money or land or even women but for honor, the strange commodity that exists because everyone believes that everyone else believes that it exists.

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jdtchicago

This mindset, known as loss aversion, the sunk-cost fallacy, and throwing good money after bad, is patently irrational, but it is surprisingly pervasive in human decision-making. People stay in an abusive marriage because of the years they have already put into it, or sit through a bad movie because they have already paid for the ticket, or try to reverse a gambling loss by doubling their next bet...

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jdtchicago

Religion thrives on woolly allegory, emotional commitments to texts that no one reads, and other forms of benign hypocrisy.

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jdtchicago

Sympathy and guilt...operate within a circle of communal relationships. They are less likely to be felt in...equality matching relationships, the kind we have with acquaintances, neighbors, colleagues...Exchange relationships are regulated by norms of fairness...The businesslike quid pro quo negotiations that can repair an exchange relationship are...generally taboo in our communal relationships

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jdtchicago

Everything in human affairs is connected to everything else, and that is especially true of violence. Across time and space, the more peaceable societies also tend to be richer, healthier, better educated, better governed, more respectful of their women, and more likely to engage in trade

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jdtchicago

The collapse of communism and a recognition of its economic and humanitarian catastrophes took the romance out of revolutionary violence and cast doubt on the wisdom of redistributing wealth at the point of a gun.

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jdtchicago

Positive-sum games also change the incentives for violence. If you‘re trading favors or surpluses with someone, your trading partner suddenly becomes more valuable to you alive than dead.

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jdtchicago

Self-control has been credited with one of the greatest reductions of violence in history, the thirtyfold drop in homicide between medieval and modern Europe. Recall that according to Norbert Elias‘s theory of the Civilizing Process, the consolidation of states and the growth of commerce did more than just tilt the incentive structure away from plunder. It also inculcated an ethic of self-control that made continence and propriety second nature.

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jdtchicago

The shocking truth is that until recently most people didn‘t think there was anything particularly wrong with genocide, as long as it didn‘t happen to them.

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jdtchicago

Declines in violence are caused by political, economic, and ideological conditions that take hold in particular cultures at particular times. If the conditions reverse, violence could go right back up.

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jdtchicago

The Bible depicts a world that, seen through modern eyes, is staggering in its savagery.

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jdtchicago

In the foreign country we call the past, crucifixion was a common punishment. It was invented by the Persians, carried back to Europe by Alexander the Great, and widely used in Mediterranean empires.

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jdtchicago

What was the lesson that the first Christians drew from crucifixion? Today such a barbarity might galvanize people into opposing brutal regimes, or demanding that such torture never again be inflicted on a living creature...No, the execution of Jesus is The Good News, a necessary step in the most wonderful episode in history. In allowing the crucifixion to take place, God did the world an incalculable favor.

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jdtchicago

A similar semianarchy burst out in parts of Central Asia and the Balkans in the 1990s, when the communist federations that had ruled them for decades suddenly unraveled. One Bosnian Croat explained why ethnic violence erupted only after the breakup of Yugoslavia: “We lived in peace and harmony because every hundred meters we had a policeman to make sure we loved each other very much.

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jdtchicago

In The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky commented on Turkish atrocities in Bulgaria during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–78, when unborn children were ripped from their mothers‘ wombs and prisoners were nailed by their ears to a fence overnight before being hanged: “People speak sometimes about the ‘animal‘ cruelty of man, but that is terribly unjust and offensive to animals. No animal could ever be so cruel as a man, ...so artistically cruel.

blurb
suresh1163
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Also started reading this.
We are living in the most peaceful times of our history

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jdtchicago

Jerry Seinfeld once remarked that today‘s athletes churn through the rosters of sports teams so rapidly that a fan can no longer support a group of players. He is reduced to rooting for their team logo and uniforms: “You are standing and cheering and yelling for your clothes to beat the clothes from another city

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jdtchicago

The doctrine of the sacredness of the soul sounds vaguely uplifting, but in fact is highly malignant. It discounts life on earth as just a temporary phase that people pass through, indeed, an infinitesimal fraction of their existence. Death becomes a mere rite of passage, like puberty or a midlife crisis.

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jdtchicago

Reading is a technology for perspective-taking. When someone else‘s thoughts are in your head, you are observing the world from that person‘s vantage point. Not only are you taking in sights and sounds that you could not experience firsthand, but you have stepped inside that person‘s mind and are temporarily sharing his or her attitudes and reactions.

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jdtchicago

The growth of writing and literacy strikes me as the best candidate for an exogenous change that helped set off the Humanitarian Revolution.

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jdtchicago

In hermetic isolation, all kinds of bizarre and toxic ideas can fester. Sunlight is the best disinfectant, and exposing a bad idea to the critical glare of other minds provides at least a chance that it will wither and die.

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jdtchicago

events that occur at random will seem to come in clusters, because it would take a nonrandom process to space them out.

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jdtchicago

Modern biblical scholars have established that the Bible is a wiki. It was compiled over half a millennium from writers with different styles, dialects, character names, and conceptions of God, and it was subjected to haphazard editing that left it with many contradictions, duplications, and non sequiturs.

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jdtchicago

Many moral advances have taken the form of a shift in sensibilities that made an action seem more ridiculous than sinful, such as dueling, bullfighting, and jingoistic war. And many effective social critics, such as Swift, Johnson, Voltaire, Twain, Oscar Wilde, Bertrand Russell, Tom Lehrer, and George Carlin have been smart-ass comedians rather than thundering prophets. What in our psychology allows the joke to be mightier than the sword?

Leftcoastzen Wow 2mo
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jdtchicago

As one becomes aware of the decline of violence, the world begins to look different. The past seems less innocent; the present less sinister.

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jdtchicago

The quotation falsely attributed to Stalin, 'One death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic,' gets the numbers wrong but captures a real fact about human psychology.

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jdtchicago

When gentlemen agreed to a duel, they were fighting not for money or land or even women but for honor, the strange commodity that exists because everyone believes that everyone else believes that it exists.

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jdtchicago

It‘s a little-known fact that most terrorist groups fail, and that all of them die. Lest this seem hard to believe, just reflect on the world around you. Israel continues to exist, Northern Ireland is still a part of the United Kingdom, and Kashmir is a part of India. There are no sovereign states in Kurdistan, Palestine, Quebec, Puerto Rico, Chechnya, Corsica, Tamil Eelam, or Basque Country.

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jdtchicago

Since violence is largely a male pastime, cultures that empower women tend to move away from the glorification of violence and are less likely to breed dangerous subcultures of rootless young men.

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jdtchicago

An ideology can provide a satisfying narrative that explains chaotic events and collective misfortunes in a way that flatters the virtue and competence of believers, while being vague or conspiratorial enough to withstand skeptical scrutiny.

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jdtchicago

The indispensability of reason does not imply that individual people are always rational or are unswayed by passion and illusion. It only means that people are capable of reason, and that a community of people who choose to perfect this faculty and to exercise it openly and fairly can collectively reason their way to sounder conclusions in the long run.

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jdtchicago

The theory that religion is a force for peace, often heard among the religious right and its allies today, does not fit the facts of history.

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jdtchicago

Morality, then, is not a set of arbitrary regulations dictated by a vengeful deity and written down in a book; nor is it the custom of a particular culture or tribe. It is a consequence of the interchangeability of perspectives and the opportunity the world provides for positive-sum games.

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jdtchicago

Why should the spread of ideas and people result in reforms that lower violence? ...The most obvious is a debunking of ignorance and superstition. A connected and educated populace...is bound to be disabused of poisonous beliefs, such as...women don‘t mind to be raped...The recent debunking of beliefs that invite...violence call to mind Voltaire's quip that those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.

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jdtchicago

The scriptures present a God who delights in genocide, rape, slavery.., and for millennia those writings were used to rationalize the massacre of infidels, the ownership of women, the beating of children, dominion over animals, and the persecution of heretics...Humanitarian reforms such as the elimination of cruel punishment, the dissemination of empathy-inducing novels, and the abolition of slavery were met with fierce opposition in their time...

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jdtchicago

Challenge a persons beliefs, and you challenge his dignity, standing, power. And when those beliefs are based on nothing but faith, they are chronically fragile. No one gets upset about the belief that rocks fall down as opposed to up, because all sane people can see it with their own eyes. Not so for the belief that babies are born with original sin or that God exists in 3 persons or that Ali is the 2nd-most divinely inspired man after Muhammad.

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anotatedpages
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Pickpick

I love when I‘m reading and can feel a genuine connection with an author. Just finishing my second book from the amazing Steven Pinker and feeling like I‘ve known him all my life.

Lynnsoprano Welcome to our Litsy family! Check out @LitsyWelcomeWagon for hints and help. Great post. I look forward to reading more posts from you. 6mo
Ericalambbrown Welcome to Litsy! 😊📚🙏🏻 6mo
CrowCAH Welcome to the Litsy family!!! 📚 6mo
LitsyWelcomeWagon Welcome to Litsy! Hope these #Litsytips by @RaimeyGallant http://bit.ly/litsytips and #LitsyHowTo videos: goo.gl/UrCpoU are helpful. There‘s so many fun things to do: book exchanges, buddy reads, photo challenges and more! #LitsyWelcomeWagon Thanks @Lynnsoprano 6mo
RaimeyGallant Welcome! 6mo
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review
jmofo
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Pickpick

This is a long, dryish book. I do appreciate Pinker, even though he can be tough to hang with for a whole chunkster. This book is a survey of history of violence in humanity and the over arcing trends of it lessening. Pinker goes through historical, political, and interpersonal violence as well as biology and psychology. I would be interested in an update. Not for everyone.

jmofo The best concise quote: “...but if narratives without statistics are blind, statistics without narratives are empty.” 12mo
BarbaraTheBibliophage Great review. I‘ve wondered how I‘d feel about this book. Another, perhaps shorter and more US-centric, option would be 11mo
33 likes2 comments
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jmofo

I‘m going to bed soon. I‘ve been listening to tagged book and reading Labyrinths by Borges this weekend for #24B4Monday I accidentally reset my timer, but I‘ll have read about 12 1/2 hours this weekend. Tagged book has engulfed me into a sea of rape, domestic violence, abortion, infanticide, child abuse, & hate crime statistics the last couple cold days. I‘m grateful for the cozy hat @JoScho made me, it‘s been a real comfort. Thank you JoScho! 🧡

Andrew65 A great total, well done. 😊👍🙌👏😁 It definitely sounds like you needed that cozy! 12mo
JoScho Yay! So glad you like it 🧡😊 12mo
32 likes2 comments