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October 13, 2012

Singularity Summit - A History of Violence

A History of Violence by Steven Pinker.

Steven Pinker website

Here is link to a list of publications.




6 major declines of violence
their immediate causes

1. The pacification process

Until 6000 years ago people lived in anarchy. Life in a state of Nature.

Forensic archeology (CSI Palentology)
Looking at remains and 15% had violent trauma.
Europe and US had two thirds of one percent for the 20th century.

States created more peace. eg. Pax Brittanica.
Kings stamped out tribal violence because it caused problems.





2. The Civilizing Process

Homicide statistics from 1200-2000

1/35th as likely for someone in England to be murdered than someone in the middle ages.

3. Humanitarian Revolution

Abolition of Judicial torture

Abolition of slavery

Causes - printing and literacy

Literacy matters because it enabled the Enlightenment

Cosmopolitanism - mixing of people and ideas

4. The Long Peace

Trends in great power war (1500-2000) by Jack Levy

Proportion of years that great powers fought each other

Deadliness of Wars involving great powers went up until the end of world war 2.

5) The New Peace: the post Cold-War period, which (despite popular perceptions) has seen drops in inter-state war, civil war, genocide, and terrorism;

Since 1946, historically unprecedented decline in interstate war.

0 wars between US and USSE
0 nuclear weapons
0 wars in western europe (2 wars per year started for 600 years before)
0 wars between the 44 most developed countries

Immediate causes. Democrady, trade, international community

6) The Rights Revolutions: the civil rights era in many Western cultures over the past 50-60 years, which has seen drops in both forgiving attitudes and violence connected to racial and religious intolerance, homophobia, and violence against women, children and animals.

Civil Rights
Womens Rights

75% of men admitted that they had homicidal fantasies.
What does this say of human nature ? That 25% of men are liars


1. The Leviathan

A state and justice system with a monopoly on violence
can neutralize the need for individuals to act or pre-emptively act

2. Gentle commerce

Plunder is zero sum
Trade is positive sum - Everybody wins

3. The Expanding Circle

Humans are equipped with a sense of empathy

by default- close family and close allies

over history -expanded.

Increased cosmopolitianism
travel, history

4. Escalator of Reason

Literacy, education, public discourse

Recognize futility of the cycle of violence
Abstract reasoning abilities increased

Why do so many forces push in the same direction ?

Violence is a social dilemma
-tempting to an aggressor but ruinous to the victim

How to get all to renounce violence at the same time


- Reassessment of modernity
Besides the benefits of wealth and technology.
The downsides that people talked about global wars, shadow of nuclear war etc...

But with the decline of violence modernity is almost all upside.


Pinker identifies 5 distinct motivators in the name of which violence is committed, each of which with its own unique or overlapping biological backing. These are the so-called inner demons of our nature, and they are 1) Predation: the desire to attain certain ends in the most straightforward route possible (mainly biological resources, such as food, and mates); 2) Dominance: the desire for status and prestige; 3) Revenge: the desire to avenge past insults and injuries; 4) Sadism: the fascination and appetite to witness, and even inflict, suffering upon others; and 5) Ideology: a susceptibility to belief in ideologies (which are often understood as justifying the sacrificing of people that stand in the way of their fulfillment).

While evolution may have equipped us with these motivations, as well as the inclination to use violence to attain them (under certain circumstances), evolution has also equipped us with other motivations and faculties that incline us away from violence, and towards peace and cooperation (again, under certain conditions). These are the so-called better angels of our nature and they are: 1) Empathy, in the sense of having sympathy and compassion for others; 2) Self-control: the ability to control our impulses; 3) A Moral Sense, which includes not just an innate appreciation of the golden rule, but other facets as well, such as a susceptibility to beliefs regarding purity, authority, and in-group cohesion. (It is important to note that not all expressions of the moral sense contribute to more peace (hint: see #3 & #5 in the `inner demons' section above); and finally 4) Reason, meaning the capacity to remove ourselves from our own parochial interests, and recognize each individual's interest as being fundamentally equivalent; and also the capacity to identify violence as a problem to be solved, rather than a game to be won, and the ability to offer up solutions with regards to how the problem might in fact be minimized.
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