Evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker has a theory: the world is currently more peaceful than it ever has been.
This Canadian philosopher’s thesis seems, in some ways, almost unbelievable: people are supposedly becoming more peaceful. The Harvard Professor has come to this conclusion based on analysis of data that confirm that violence has, over the course of history, decreased. Pinker does not just count wars among his analysis but rather all forms of violence: murder, torture, execution, rape and domestic violence.
Not only did more people die in historical clashes than in modern wars but even today's homicide rates are several times lower than in the Middle Ages and the early modern period (taken in relation to the total world population, not absolute terms). Alongside this, history is littered with countless barbaric practices such as sacrifices, slavery or sadistic execution, practices which have either been abolished or at least marginalised in many parts of the world.
Why Has The World Become More Peaceful?
In his 2011 work ‘The Better Angels of Our Nature: The Decline of Violence in History and Its Causes’, Pinker searches for reasons behind the more peaceful way of living of modern times. “Violence has been in decline for thousands of years, and today we may be living in the most peaceable era in the existence of our species.”, Pinker wrote in the Wall Street Journal in 2011.
According to Pinker, the main reasons for this positive development are the establishment of democratic governments, literacy, the rise of education and science and the rise of trade. As soon people had the power to trade, it became easier and less costly (in the ‘not paying with your life’ sense) to buy as to steal.
In the clip below, Pinker explains his theory on the development of global world peace.
Is Eternal Peace a Stone’s Throw Away?
Anyone who watches the news regularly may well scoff at the idea that humanity is living in the most peaceful time ever. What about the terrible events of World War II, the endless civil wars since then, or the rise of the Islamic State and the ensuing refugee crisis? Don’t these event cast doubt over Pinker’s theory? Or is eternal peace really just around the corner? Above all: what can activists do to make the world more peaceful? Read about Steven Pinker’s answers to these questions in this interview he recently gave to the The Spectator or check out his TEDx Talk on the subject.