Sunday, December 02, 2012

This Increasingly-Violent World...Isn't?

     Except maybe for gummy bears. Or if you live in Gary or Detroit; otherwise, the world really is becoming less violent.  So argues Steven Pinker, in a recent book and in the Wall Street Journal, and he's got charts and graphs to back the notion.  He shows an overall decline in murder rates in Europe of the last six centuries and a stunning decline in battle death rates over the last 60 years  (Mind you, that last pair of dice have been breathed on: start with WW II underway and proceed while huge advances in battlefield medicine are being made and a steep decline is well-nigh inevitable).

     Still, the man may be onto something; and if he is, you're wondering, why does is seem the world is a more violent place now?

     A number of factors.  Here are a few:
     When most wars consisted of heathens you never heard up being done for -- and doing back unto -- a colonial power you didn't give a dam (or a bridge) about, or fighting one another, they only counted to the fallen. (Still partially true, especially in parts of Africa; and even that scant attention tends to obscure the nations that are making a go of it.)
     When conflict kept decently (?) to the battlefield, it was safely out of sight and firmly out of mind.  When conflict makes cars blow up in London or knocks skyscrapers down in Manhattan, it's much harder to ignore.
     When most murder consisted of a largely-ignored lower class preying on itself, who noticed?
     When crime trickles into "safe" neighborhoods, and stops being something that only happened to those anonymously ethnic people who live in those nasty buildings across the river, it gets a lot more attention.
     When "news" consisted of slowly spreading rumor, or, later, what the editor of your local paper could scare up or make up about the wider world, you were a lot less likely to hear about what was happening in Utter Outlandishstan, or even Nebraska.  Today's appetite for news is insatiable -- mass murder in Mumbai?  Rioting in Rio?  Look for lurid video at the start of the show!
     Like -- and in part due to -- modern communication media, violence is everywhere.  No one takes a picnic lunch out to watch the battles; that had become a very bad idea at least as early as 1862.  Now the battle comes to you.  Ready or not.

     The world is less violent -- but the violence is more evenly distributed.  Ah, egalitarianism!  Does it still seem "fair?"


Anonymous said...

OT, we rented OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies last night. Loved it. Thanks for the recommendation.

"Do you know how many a million IS?!" heh.

Bubblehead Les. said...

After reading the article by an Ivy Tower Harvard Psych Professor with ZERO Training in Historical Methodology, all I can say is "Pull the Other One."

Roberta X said...

Anon: Be advised that the next OSS 117 movie, set in the Sixties, has a bit of casual nudity and adult situations somewhat mirroring the time in which it is set. I thought it was great fun -- maybe not for kids.

Les: I regard his assertions as interesting but unproven. One must remember that any large-scale trend still finds plenty of leeway to slope the other direction over the course and scope of an individual life.

Old NFO said...

I think Les is correct, and so are you with the trending... Bottom line, violence IS coming closer and closer to us as individuals due to our mobility... 50 years ago, we didn't have the ability to move freely between even neighborhoods, much less states...

Earl said...

I am of the opinion that violence is a result of unreasonable suppression of primal urges and responses to situations between humans. The figures of how much is committed normally do not add the police response to political activity as such.... but fear is going to get an almost certain insane violent response for survival. A calm word turneth away wrath?