Constantly you are bombarded with graphic images of people getting killed, raped or ethnically cleansed. We are constantly being told about the increasing dangers of terrorism, about some war in some far off land. According to the news media we are in greater danger then ever before and the amount of violence is increasing. We are told that the last century which included WW1 and WW2 was one of the deadliest ever. Is violence in the world actually increasing and is the world actually a more dangerous place ? The reality is violence per a capita of all types from rape, genocide, people killed in wars and homicide has decreased drastically in the last 200 years. And surprisingly enough has decreased even more drastically in the last 50 years. This is in all countries of the world.

Steven Pinker in his book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined gives overwhelming evidence that violence has declined over the last 500 years in western society and especially in the last 50 years.

What are the reasons we believe violence is increasing ?

Part of the reason is our desire to return to the garden of Eden. As Pinker states

Lamentations of a fall from Eden have a long history in intellectual life, as the historian Arthur Herman has shown in The Idea of Decline in Western History .16 And ever since the 1970s, when romantic nostalgia became the conventional wisdom, statisticians and historians have marshaled facts against it.

Variants of the Garden of Eden myth are common amount most civilizations and this theme is thousands of years old. This myth was reinforced in modern times with the myth of the noble savage, the belief that primitive tribes where peaceful and everyone lived in harmony.

The second reason is over time our tolerance for violence has gradually declined over the last 500 years and over the last 150 years is has declined astronomically. Even in the last 30 years the tolerance for violence has decreased. Stephen Pinker describes in his The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, what caused this decline in violence.

Since our tolerance for violence has decreased our perspectives are extremely skewed

Since our toleration for violence is going decreasing, from our own personal perspective it appears as if violence is increasing. In warfare an effective strategy is to practice scorched earth policy, this policy has been employed since humans have practiced warfare. But we have the mistaken belief that civilians where only targeted starting only with WW1 and WW2 when we began massive bombing attacks.

When people chronicle current events they only talk about what they consider important. When the Romans destroyed the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, it was an extensive operation that first drove all of the Jewish inhabitants of the region into the temple. Then the Romans had to siege the temple which effectively was a huge fortress. We can get an idea of the size of the temple by looking at the wailing wall in Jerusalem which is the only part of the temple left.

What happened to the inhabitants who didn’t manage to get inside the temple ? The Roman eye witness accounts do not directly tell us, but he hints at what happened to them. He states that the Roman legions needed to build massive amounts of siege equipment, to show illustrate the number of catapults and ballistae build he states that all wood within a fifty mile radius of the temple was pillaged and then brought to the temple. This wood included trees, people’s houses and any other structure that had wood. To get the wood to the temple, the Roman army had to seize the locals animals to pull it there. This meant that the local civilian population effectively had their houses destroyed and their food sources destroyed. For the locals this most likely meant death due to starvation, the Roman chronicaller does not talk about what happened to civilians because it was of no interest to him.

In his book, Pinker attempts to approximate the amount of civilians directly or indirectly killed in all wars that have a historical account. The only way to do this accurately is by attempting to calculate the size of the civilian population before and after the conflict. Using even the most conservative estimates, Pinker shows that the amount of civilian deaths in warfare has decreased, and in the last 50 years has drastically decreased.

The generation gap causes violence

Pinker goes into an elaborate explanation of how our brains operate and the parts of our brains which are responsible for violence. But I believe that his thoughts can be summed up with this quote.

Every human society is faced with a conflict of interest between the younger men, who seek dominance (and ultimately mating opportunities) for themselves, and the older men, who seek to minimize internecine damage within their extended families and clans.

The violence of men, though, is modulated by a slider: they can allocate their energy along a continuum from competing with other men for access to women to wooing the women themselves and investing in their children, a continuum that biologists sometimes call “cads versus dads.”103 In a social ecosystem populated mainly by men, the optimal allocation for an individual man is at the “cad” end, because attaining alpha status is necessary to beat away the competition and a prerequisite to getting within wooing distance of the scarce women. Also favoring cads is a milieu in which women are more plentiful but some of the men can monopolize them. In these settings it can pay to gamble with one’s life because, as Daly and Wilson have noted, “any creature that is recognizably on track toward complete reproductive failure must somehow expend effort, often at risk of death, to try to improve its present life trajectory.

Every society has a constant struggle, the younger males want to get mating opportunities while the older males want to preserve their mating opportunities. In primitive societies this is primarily done using violence. So the younger males will attempt change the status quo using violence and the older males will attempt to use violence to preserve the status quo. This is the natural state of all primitive societies including other primates.

The natural state of primates is to be in a constant state of warfare

The idea that natural is good is a fairly modern idea. This is partially caused by the garden of Eden myth. We live in an extremely complex world we have the desire to go back to what we see as simpler, less complicated times. In feudal Europe the average serf or peasant only consumed what was produced within maybe a 25 mile radius from where he lived. Cotton can not be grown in Europe, that means his clothes where either the hides of animals, itchy wool or flax cloth. His diet in winter consisted of something made from barley or wheat, maybe some dried fruits if he was lucky and beer or ale. If he got sick most likely he died. And of course he lived in a hovel made from mud and wood scratching and existence off the land. A squatter in a Mexican garbage dump probably has a higher quality of life then most Europeans 500+ years ago.

Until recently it was thought that only humans engage in warfare, and that it is something that only modern humans engaged in. Examination of primitive societies shows extremely high rates of violence and homicide are exceptionally high. In modern primitive societies their rate of homicide is approximately 300 murders per 100,000 as opposed to USA which averages 10 murders per 100,000. Other forms of violence such as rape appear to approximately 30 times higher also.

When studying other higher primates such as monkeys or apes, scientists believed they where relatively peaceful and violence between groups of primates was small. But then they observed that the young males of the group where disappearing. They then found out that if a male primate wandered off by himself there was a good chance he would be ambushed and killed male primates of a neighboring group. They used similar tactics to what primitive tribes use, they would ambush the lone male, kill him and then usually eat him. The European feudal serf or peasant often suffered a similar fate. A pack of marauding knights would come over the horizon, if the spot a lone peasant they would most likely kill him or make him a slave and then take what meagre possessions he had.

What caused the decrease of violence ?

Humans are unique from other primates in that their individual social groups or tribes are able to cooperate with each for a mutually beneficial goal. This can take many forms, several tribes might decide to pool resources to build something like the space station or the most common one is trade.

For successful trade to occur, specialization has to occur. A simplistic example is two tribes which border each other. One tribe has specialized in the skill of fishing, the other tribe has specialized in the skill of raising cattle. If the tribes trade fish for beef, then each tribe benefits. But why doesn’t the cattle producing tribe just wipe out the fish producing tribe and take all of their fish ?

Kill the fisherman get one fish, trade the fisherman and get a lifetime of fish

The natural impulse of primates is to kill the neighboring tribe and take all of his stuff. But using our simplistic example of two tribes tribes trading fish for beef. If either tribe wiped out the other tribe the cattle raising or fishing skills would be lost. So tribes that learned how to cooperate/trade with other tribes would have more benefits then tribes that just wiped out their neighbors. Pinker goes into elaborate detail the social evolutionary process that needed to make place for this to happen.

Most long lasting civilizations encouraged cooperation and trade between its different social groups and set up laws to discourage violence between them. Civilizations that just wiped out neighboring groups and then took their stuff, grew quickly but never lasted long. There are countless example of cooperative civilizations, the Roman Empire, Dutch Empire, British Empire.

Violence is the traditional pass time for men

The traditional gentleman of two hundred years ago would have picnic basket prepared so he could bring his family to a public execution. Then there might be some minor criminals there, he would then allow his boys to poke these criminals using sticks, throw garbage at them and torment them. The method of execution and how the minor criminals would be tortured would of course vary from culture to culture.

Later he might go see some sort of blood sport, it might be bear baiting, dog fighting, cock fighting or boxing. Boxing back then was a lot more violent, the matches did not end till one man could not get up, a round usually ended when a man was knocked down and it was quite common for matches to go one for one hundred rounds or more. It was quite common for boxers to die in the fight or from the result of their injuries.

Afterwards our fine gentleman might get into an argument with another gentleman over a trivial matter like who was the better boxer. Dueling was extremely common in most countries, even American Presidents engaged in duels. Andrew Jackson had a reputation for a fierce temper.

Andrew Jackson, immortalized on the twenty-dollar bill, carried bullets from so many duels that he claimed to “rattle like a bag of marbles” when he walked.

Paradoxically enough even Samuel Clemens the American Author who was a pacifist had challenged someone to a duel when he was insulted.

The point of this section is to show that violence was a form of entertainment for mainly men and that it used to be firmly entwined with the male identity. Until relatively recent times most of our male heroes where usually military leaders. The military is a form of institutionalized violence and it used to form a key part of the male identity.

The role of feminism in taming the man

Steven Pinker is a scientist, so he attempts to avoid speculation and make political statements. But he has made statements like this one.

The sexes are not statistically identical; “their interests and talents form two overlapping distributions”. Any policy that wants to provide equal outcomes for both men and women will have to discriminate against one or the other.

Pinker states that one of the major causes of decreasing violence is our increased ability to observe things from other points of view. As our ability to communicate greater distances increases, it then allows a person to share ideas a greater distance. One of the first novels to offer views from different perspectives was Uncle Tom’s Cabin which was written by a woman. Women appear to have a greater ability to see things from different perspectives since their traditional roles have been more pacifist as opposed to violent.

As Pinker points out :

Another deflationary force, I think, is the progress of biological science and its influence on literate culture. People have increasingly understood the drive for dominance as a vestige of the evolutionary process. A quantitative analysis of Google Books shows recent leaps in the popularity of the biological jargon behind dominance, including testosterone beginning in the 1940s, pecking order and dominance hierarchy beginning in the 1960s, and alpha male in the 1990s.159 Joining them in the 1980s was the facetious pseudo-medical term testosterone poisoning. Each of these phrases belittles the stakes in contests for dominance. They imply that the glory men seek may be a figment of their primate imaginations

He then shows that societies which had a less female influence has greater amounts of violence. A good example is the wild west in North America. The amounts of violence was astronomical, as more women where brought into the region they soon set about dismantling the male institutions which where responsible for large amounts of male violence.

The need for a modern definition of masculinity

There are those which desire to return to the garden of Eden which many have pointed out never existed. The 20th century has been described as the bloodiest in human history, numbers wise this is true. But as a percentage of population killed due to violence it was one of the least bloodiest in human history. The Napoleonic wars from 1803 to 1815 where equivalent to a WW1 that lasted 12 years. There where other large conflicts that occurred for the rest of the 19th century. The further back we go into human history, the longer the conflicts and the more people that where killed from conflict.

According to Pinker he believes this trend of decreasing violence will continue, to put things in perspective the most modern violent modern group is peaceful compared to most of society even as recently as 300 years ago. When ISIS caused an outrage by burning a man alive, in 1600 Europe it would have been considered suitable entertainment for children.

Another reason why this trend of nonviolence will continue is due to the advantages of globalization or world trade. The poorest people in the world today take for granted what a few hundred years ago even Kings in Europe would not have been able to afford or have. Take an inventory of all the things you are wearing or consuming today. The rubber and cotton in your clothes came from another continent, the spices in your food most likely came from another continent. You most likely washed it down with some sort of chocolate drink or had coffee or tea. These also came from other continents and at one time could only Kings could have afforded them.

We live in a unique period of history where men under the age of 40 are more likely to die of suicide as opposed to violence. The increase of male suicide is in my opinion directly related to young men no longer having an identity. Part of the reason is the dismantling of men’s groups, but it is the dismantling of men’s groups that has allowed this modern era of peace to exist. Women and some men are rightfully scared of men’s groups because they are responsible for much of history’s violence. As Pinker states

These “bare branches,” as they are called in China, congregate in gangs of drifters who brawl and duel among themselves and rob and terrorize settled populations. They can even grow into armies that menace local or national governments. A leader can clamp down on the gangs by violent repression, or he can try to co-opt them, which usually requires adopting a macho ruling philosophy that is congenial to their mores. Best of all, he can export their destructive energy by sending them to other territories as migrant workers, colonists, or soldiers. When the leaders of rival countries all try to dispose of their excess men, the result can be a grinding war of attrition.

These type of male groups are for the most part obsolete. The last century is unique again in that several large empires collapsed and with it large social change happened with almost no violence. The most recent example is the collapse of the Soviet Union, compared to the collapse of other empires there was almost no bloodshed. Another reason for the collapse of other modern empires is because of trade they are for the most part obsolete. It is cheaper to trade for resources as opposed to taking them by force.

The need for men’s groups is now mainly psychological as opposed to practical

As Pinker points out the main reason behind male concepts like honor is because even as recently as 150 years ago in the developed world, the only way to get justice was with a duel. But the concept of dueling actually originated to decrease violence. Before dueling between families or clans Hatfield/McCoy feuds would erupt which would often result in 25%+ of family members dead. It was better to resolve the issue with just one family member ending up dead.

Eventually method of dueling to settle disputes became more of a hindrance as opposed to a benefit. It hinders trade when you know that every customer you have might result in a duel.

The main reason for men’s groups is to redefine what is masculinity and also because men and women are different. Most men no longer have an identity, this most likely accounts for the high male suicide rate.

It is only in the last 30 years that we have begun to understand how the human brain works, how social evolutionary works. Probably this will be one of the most important areas of research in the future.

The need for Feminism is obsolete like dueling

Originally Feminism was about equal opportunity, as society which promotes equal opportunity and promotion based on merit will be more prosperous. The original feminism needed to quite aggressive to get its point across.

Legally in the majority of countries in the world, women the same rights as men. So like dueling, feminism has served its purpose, which was to decrease violence.

But there is a certain segment of society which profits off promoting the modern feminist ideology, they are similar to sword and pistol manufactures who profited off selling dueling equipment. As Pinker states in his book, outlawing dueling did not stop duels. It was only when duels became mocked by the general public did this practice stop. The same must be done with modern feminism.