FACING OUR ANGELS AND DEMONS
Steven Pinker’s new book, “The Better Angels of Our Nature” argues that peace and not war is beginning to take hold around the globe. Pinker is a Professor of Psychology at Harvard and his conclusion is the result of years of study.
At first, I doubted his thesis, but he offers proof. In the 18-century, he argues, there were 222 capital crimes in England, alone, for which the death penalty could be exacted — stealing a cabbage among them. By the 19th century, that number was whittled down until, in western societies, only the United States imposes the death penalty. Further, since the end of World War II, the number of global conflicts has plummeted as has the death rate from those conflicts.
“During the peak years of World War II, the worldwide rate of death was about 330 per day per 100,000 per year.
…In the 1960s through the 1980s, it averaged 4 per 100,000 per year. In the 1990, it was 1.5.” (“FFR Today” 12/2011 pg. 10)
According to Pinker, most of the revolutions occurring today are in the interest of civil rights, human rights and animal rights. These rebellions, he argues, have increased universal literacy, freedom of speech and assembly, and freedom of movement. The changes have brought about the “cosmopolitan mixing of people and universal education.” (Pinker, pg. 11) What endangers us, he continues, are utopian ideals that demonize freedom of thought. Like Voltaire he believes that “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” (Pinker quoting Voltaire, pg. 11)
I confess there are days when I curse my computer, my cell phone and being inundated with e-mails. But seen as flashes of human exchanges that seep into my private world and force me to think outside my box, I begin to realize these intrusions have a humanizing effect. Who knows, with all the communication and accommodation going on, we may one day reason ourselves into universal peace.