148 of 176 people found the following review helpful
An analytical, methodical juggernaut of guarded optimism,
This review is from: The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (Hardcover)
In his lauded but controversial best-seller "The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature", Steven Pinker set out to quash a romanticized nostalgia for the lifestyle of people in pre-state societies: the myth of the "noble savage". Now, in his new book "The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined", Steven Pinker extends this rectification of prevailing but misguided opinion to grand scale, presenting a strong case for our ennobled present; we are living in the most peaceful era humanity has ever known.
Pinker blows the reader away (forgive the violent metaphor) with sheer weight of analytical shot. At 700 pages of text interspersed with graphs and heaps of reference data, "Better Angels" is thorough-going and methodical because it has to be; contradicting common folk theories (like the noble savage), overriding an often overwhelming sense of unceasing or imminent violence from media coverage (see compassion fatigue), and compensating for a general lack of statistical thinking and probabilistic understanding in the lay public is no easy task. People are right to be skeptical of controversial theories, and knowing this Pinker has patiently lain it all out for us to see for ourselves that violence truly has declined with clear and unambiguously downward direction.
"Better Angels" is structured around an inventory of six Trends, five Inner Demons with four Better Angels, and five Historical Forces (Pinker can't help but enumerate). More than half of the book is dedicated to a chronological exploration of the Trends of our history, six paradigm shifts in the human condition: The Pacification Process, The Civilizing Process, The Humanitarian Revolution, The Long Peace, The New Peace, and The Rights Revolutions. The bulk of the remaining half of the text is a fascinating look at psychology and sociology, showcasing a combined total of nine human traits (the Better Angels & Inner Demons) that dictate our behavior depending on their interplay with our environment and circumstance. The last five items in Pinker's syllabus, the five Historical Forces, feature in the concluding chapter and encapsulate much of the book's overall content by reflecting combinations of historical trend and human trait.
The Five Major Historical Forces for Peace:
The Leviathan (the state; reigns in internal violence)
Gentle Commerce (economic incentives for cooperation)
Feminization (empowerment of women; men are naturally more violent)
The Expanding Circle (empathy; sympathizing with ever wider classes)
The Escalator of Reason (rationality; application of empathy)
A few minor quibbles with value judgments aside, "The Better Angels of Our Nature" assiduously justifies its subtitular contention: violence really has declined, and now it's not so hard to see why. Steven Pinker has assembled vast quantities of data to support his position, sourced in turn by the assemblies of other preeminent scholars in ethnography, anthropology, and the history of man. Add to this a trove of lab-tested social psychology, game theory, and the areas of Pinker's own expertise in cognitive psychology. The resulting dissertation, structured with the incredible skill and forethought that define Steven Pinker's books, sums these component analyses into the rational juggernaut needed to upend the conventional wisdom it is up against. Though consistently dispassionate in tone and bearing throughout, the title of this book betrays its emotional impact: optimism for humanity.
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Showing 1-10 of 12 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Oct 16, 2011 6:03:16 AM PDT
Thomas L. Wilson says:
One important item in my opinion is the existence of nuclear weapons. These have discouraged war in the last 60 years. Hopefully this effect continues.
Posted on Oct 23, 2011 11:30:51 PM PDT
Thomas Merle says:
Even without all the analyses, any educated adult should come to the same conclusion as Prof. Pinker. But the more central question remains: so what? Here in the US we have a fair amount of violence in the inner city which is causing distress and great expense, and keeping a large group of males from participating in society. Regardless of the meta trends covered in this book, what are we to do about this Dr. Pinker?
In reply to an earlier post on Nov 20, 2011 5:06:29 PM PST
In reply to an earlier post on Nov 20, 2011 10:17:35 PM PST
David Everling says:
To the contrary, Mr. Pinker does indeed devote quite a significant amount of the book to discussing World War II specifically for the highly salient reasons you've alluded to here. You are correct that it was a period in history unmatched in terms of casualties, but you are misinformed if you think that the issue is ignored.
In reply to an earlier post on Nov 21, 2011 4:31:52 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 21, 2011 4:38:15 PM PST
In reply to an earlier post on Dec 19, 2011 9:30:40 AM PST
Hugh C. Howey says:
It tells me you rely on anecdote more than science and fact-gathering.
And what evidence do you have that native peoples lived "peaceful, joyous lives?" Wishful thinking?
In reply to an earlier post on Jan 10, 2012 8:21:13 AM PST
The fact that your friend was mugged instead of simply being slain outright or injured and left to die unattended or sold into slavery tells me quite a bit.
Posted on Jan 18, 2012 2:27:12 AM PST
Having also read Professor Pinker's book, not only do I agree with you, but this is a superb summation. Great review.
In reply to an earlier post on Oct 27, 2012 12:28:04 PM PDT
In reply to an earlier post on Dec 20, 2012 2:45:39 PM PST
Where the hell did you get your 500 million people figure from?