The good old days weren't that good. Our picture tubes and (more and more) screens are dominated by gory images. However, appearances are deceptive, statistics show. Never before in human history have so few people died as a result of murder or gun violence.
Violence rules the news
At first glance, this claim seems nonsense. Thousands of people have been killed in bloody conflicts in Africa, Southern Thailand, Afghanistan, Pakistan and others. Terrorists are busy planning bomb attacks and kidnappings. The world's seas are ravaged by Somali, Malay and West African pirates. Anders Breivik slaughtered 69 youngsters in July 2011. In Mexico, gang wars are causing death and destruction, with tens of thousands of deaths so far. Also consider the recent violence in Libya and that in Yemen and Syria.
Yet this is the most peaceful time in human history, according to three new books. According to statistics, never before has there been so little murder, abuse, discrimination, raped or slaughtered in wars. In one book, "The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined"Written by Harvard psychologist Stephen Pinker, he writes, "The decline in violence may well be the most important and least noticed development in the history of our species."
Most peaceful century since human origin
This goes against the feeling, also shared in the mass media, that war and crime are going from bad to worse. Pinker did not rely on bloody newspaper reports, but on police statistics, gravestones in cemeteries, human remains and historical documents from all over the world. Throughout the history of the human species, there has been a trend towards less violence for thousands of years.
The reason he says: we are now better educated and in many ways smarter than before (at least, in creating IQ tests, which are quite closely related to success in performing knowledge-intensive tasks). Examples he cites:
- the number of people killed in wars - per 100,000 people - has decreased by a factor of a thousand over the millennia. Before organized states existed, an average of 500 out of every 100,000 people died on the battlefield. For example, the Athenian philosopher Socrates, as an Athenian citizen, regularly took part in the many armed skirmishes between Athens and the other Greek city-states. Greeks now beat each other's brains at most at football matches. In nineteenth-century France, 70 out of 100,000 French died in wars. In the twentieth century, with two bloody wars in which France took part, there were sixty. In 2011 this is three-tenths per hundred thousand inhabitants.
- The number of deaths from genocide was 1,400 times higher in 1942, when Hitler's gas chambers were running at full capacity, than in 2008.
- There were less than twenty democracies in 1946. Now there are around a hundred, if things continue to turn out well in Libya, Egypt and Tunisia. The number of countries ruled by a dictatorial regime has since decreased from 90 (in 1976) to around 25 now.
Violence is for the retarded
According to Pinker, a major reason for the drop in violence rates is that we are now smarter. The well-known Flynn effect forces IQ test developers to calibrate their tests every few years. A teenager with an IQ of 100 today would score 118 on a 1950 test and 130 on a 1900 test, two points below the Mensa standard of 132. In other words, an average child today would be gifted at the turn of the century. This increase in intelligence means a kinder and gentler world, Pinker said.
The reason according to Pinker: if we are smarter we come up with other and better solutions than violence to solve problems. Human life has become more precious. Where the cannon fodder of the early 20th century was born en masse in large families and also cost the parents little (and in many cases even generated money through child labor), now in the few descendants a capital is spent on education and upbringing. Violence is thus becoming an increasingly stupid tool to achieve your goal.
21st century a hundred times less murderous than the late Middle Ages
In European countries, the number of murder victims has fallen by a factor of one hundred. In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, one in a thousand people was killed by murder. That is now one in a hundred thousand. In the Netherlands, the number of murders in 2010 was one hundred and seventy. In the Middle Ages, there would be about sixteen thousand for the same population.
In the US, six times fewer men are now murdered by their wives than in 1976 (1.2 per 100,000). Men have become civilized less quickly: this has dropped from 1.4 to 0.8.
The number of rapes in the US is now eighty percent lower than in 1976. This may of course also be related to the aging population. Nowadays there is no longer lynching, in the days of the Wild West this happened 150 times a year. Gays and blacks are now less discriminated against, less death sentences are imposed and the beating and mistreatment of children has also decreased. In the Old Testament, he estimates that around 1.2 million people were killed. In daily life in the Middle Ages, bloody corporal punishment was the daily practice and fairytale stories from that time were also very gruesome. In short: the spiritual world in which people lived at that time was very violent, so violence was also seen as normal.
And because of that also occurred more.
Eternal peace, is it possible?