Steven Pinker, the decline in violence, and the role of integrity

The present is probably the most peaceful time in the history of the human species with the world more democratic now than ever (well, since records began).

Some statement. You would never know there was a decline in violence worldwide by listening to the news but you should believe it because the man who has researched this, Steven Pinker, has been described as ‘a person of complete integrity’.

Pinker, neuroscientist, Harvard academic and Canadian, is author of ‘The Better Angels of Our Nature: A History of Violence and Humanity‘ (2010). This book is a sweeping review of the history of human violence and is packed with data to show the declining rates of death through war and homicide. How good is it? Well, this is the book that Bill Gates elected to take on his desert island.

Pinker blames newsrooms for feeding us endless misleading stories of gloom and doom, and his book proves them wrong. In a talk to UK civil servants in early 2016 on the decline in violence, he made me smile when he said “stuff happens and it always has”. He explained that the distortion in the media comes because of the newsroom mantra, ‘if it bleeds, it leads’.

According to his research, while the number of wars has increased since 2010 (primarily in the Middle East, and 11 wars taking place in 2014), there are fewer deaths now from war than in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. The data also shows that in the US and in the rest of the world, the homicide rate is dropping. Now that is good news, not that we hear about it.

In this week’s Sunday Times Magazine, Pinker appears in the Relative Values column with his wife, Rebecca Newberger Goldstein who is a philosopher, academic and author. (Now, that’s what I call a power couple!) Goldstein calls Pinker:

 “the most trustworthy man you could hope to meet …  a person of complete integrity”. 

Well she would, wouldn’t she. To which I say, thank you. When I listened to his talk, I believed Pinker and his research. His wife’s description of him being ‘trustworthy’ and having ‘integrity’ offers further reassurance, just in case I need it.

So spread the word, this is the most peaceful time in the history of the human species.

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