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The better angels of our nature : why violence has declined

Author: Steven Pinker
Publisher: New York : Viking, 2011.
Edition/Format:   Book : EnglishView all editions and formats
Database:WorldCat
Summary:
This volume argues that violence in the world has declined both in the long run and in the short, and suggests explanations why this has happened. The author maintains that the key to explaining the decline of violence is to understand the "inner demons" that incline us toward violence and the "better angels" that steer us away. Thanks to the spread of government, literacy, trade, and cosmopolitanism, we
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Document Type: Book
All Authors / Contributors: Steven Pinker
ISBN: 9780670022953 0670022950 9780670023158 0670023159
OCLC Number: 707969125
Description: xxviii, 802 pages : illustrations, maps ; 25 cm
Contents: A foreign country : Human prehistory ; Homeric Greece ; The Hebrew Bible ; The Roman Empire and early Christendom ; Medieval knights ; Early modern Europe ; Honor in Europe and the early United States ; The 20th century --
The pacification process : The logic of violence ; Violence in human ancestors ; Kinds of human societies ; Rates of violence in state and nonstate societies ; Civilization and its discontents --
The civilizing process : The European homicide decline ; Explaining the European homicide decline ; Violence and class ; Violence around the world ; Violence in these United States ; Decivilization in the 1960s ; Recivilization in the 1990s --
The humanitarian revolution : Superstitious killing: human sacrifice, witchcraft, and blood libel ; Superstitious killing: violence against blasphemers, heretics, and apostates ; Cruel and unusual punishments ; Capital punishment ; Slavery ; Despotism and political violence ; Major war ; Whence the humanitarian revolution? ; The rise of empathy and the regard for human life ; The republic of letters and enlightenment humanism ; Civilization and enlightenment ; Blood and soil --
The long peace : Statistics and narratives ; Was the 20th century really the worst? ; The statistics of deadly quarrels, part 1: the timing of wars ; The statistics of deadly quarrels, part 2: the magnitude of wars ; The trajectory of great power war ; The trajectory of European war ; The Hobbesian background and the ages of dynasties and religions ; Three currents in the age of sovereignty ; Counter-enlightenment ideologies and the age of nationalism ; Humanism and totalitarianism in the age of ideology ; The long peace: some numbers ; The long peace: attitudes and events ; Is the long peace a nuclear peace? ; Is the long peace a democratic peace? ; Is the long peace a liberal peace? ; Is the long peace a Kantian peace? --
The new peace : The trajectory of war in the rest of the world ; The trajectory of genocide ; The trajectory of terrorism ; Where angels fear to tread --
The rights revolutions : Civil rights and the decline of lynching and racial pogroms ; Women's rights and the decline of rape and battering ; Children's rights and the decline of infanticide, spanking, child abuse, and bullying ; Gay rights, the decline of gay-bashing, and the decriminalization of homosexuality ; Animal rights and the decline of cruelty to animals ; Whence the rights revolutions? ; From history to psychology --
Inner demons : The dark side ; The moralization gap and the myth of pure evil ; Organs of violence ; Predation ; Dominance ; Revenge ; Sadism ; Ideology ; Pure evil, inner demons, and the decline of violence --
Better angels : Empathy ; Self-control ; Recent biological evolution? ; Morality and taboo ; Reason --
On angels' wings : Important but inconsistent ; The pacifist's dilemma ; The Leviathan ; Gentle commerce ; Feminization ; The expanding circle ; The escalator of reason ; Reflections.
Responsibility: Steven Pinker.

Abstract:

This volume argues that violence in the world has declined both in the long run and in the short, and suggests explanations why this has happened. The author maintains that the key to explaining the decline of violence is to understand the "inner demons" that incline us toward violence and the "better angels" that steer us away. Thanks to the spread of government, literacy, trade, and cosmopolitanism, we increasingly control our impulses, empathize with others, debunk toxic ideologies, and deploy our powers of reason to reduce the temptations of violence. The book is divided into 2 parts. The first part is an effort to describe a broad sweep of human history from prehistoric societies to the present, arguing for a progressive though intermittent decline in violence in human societies. The second part is an effort to understand the underpinnings of the decline in violence in terms of human psychological processes.

We've all asked, "What is the world coming to?" But we seldom ask, "How bad was the world in the past?" In this book, the author, a cognitive scientist shows that the past was much worse; and that we may be living in the most peaceable era in our species' existence. Evidence of a bloody history has always been around us: genocides in the Old Testament, gory mutilations in Shakespeare and Grimm, monarchs who beheaded their relatives, and American founders who dueled with their rivals; the nonchalant treatment in popular culture of wife-beating, child abuse, and the extermination of native peoples. The murder rate in medieval Europe was more than thirty times what it is today. Slavery, sadistic punishments, and frivolous executions were common features of life for millennia, then were suddenly abolished. How could this have happened, if human nature has not changed? The author argues that thanks to the spread of government, literacy, trade, and cosmopolitanism, we increasingly control our impulses, empathize with others, bargain rather than plunder, debunk toxic ideologies, and deploy our powers of reason to reduce the temptations of violence.-- From publisher description.

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