Public perception might be there is more violence now than ever before, but a bestselling author and cognitive scientist suggests the world is in better shape than it’s ever been.
That’s not to say there’s no violence, but Steven Pinker’s research reveals war and incidents of child and domestic abuse, homicide, rape and other cruel acts are at an all-time historic low.
“Over the course of history we seem to have become less violent,” Pinker told a gathering of students at Thompson Rivers University on Friday afternoon.
Pinker, an experimental psychologist, cognitive scientist and linguist in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University, gave a lecture on the subject of violence at TRU’s Grand Hall on Friday night.
Recently named one of the 100 most influential thinkers in the world by Time Magazine, Pinker also took an hour out of his schedule to talk to the students earlier in the day, which is when The Daily News caught up with him.
Both talks revolved around the subject of his latest bestseller, The Better Angels of our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. In his book, Pinker reveals through charts, graphs and historical research that the world isn’t as violent a place as it once was.
“We’ve eliminated many of our barbaric practices that used to be common,” he said.
For example, common thieves were nailed to crosses and left to die in Roman times, an excruciating process that took days. Pinker said torture was a common way of dealing with crime.
A student asked Pinker why violence is on the decline and if it will continue to do so.
“One of the reasons I wrote the book is to see how well I could answer that question,” said Pinker, adding he believes the world will continue to become less violent.
The reason is threefold, he said. We’ve developed government and justice systems, created trade and commerce, and a growing global community has given us the ability to empathize and relate to others.
If we can relate to other people, we are less like to demonize or dehumanize them, said Pinker. He pointed out there was a time when mobs of white people would gather, with children, and lynch black people.
“It was a big carnival,” he said, adding such behavior died out by the 1950s.
As for trade and commerce, conflict between European countries was common before the Second World War, said Pinker. Once trade was established after the war’s end, the need to invade was over.
“No one would need to invade anyone else because they could just buy what they needed,” he said.