The Better Angels of our Nature by Steven Pinker

The Big Idea: Contrary to what the media might depict, violence has declined over the past decades and centuries. Understanding the driving forces of the decline can help societies continue that momentum.

Nearly every form of violence (murder, abuse, torture, rape, assault) has declined over time. The decline can be seen in our attitudes toward violence and the statistical data on war, genocide, torture, homicide, and all other forms of violence.

What are not primary driving forces of the decline in violence? Conflicts over scarce resources, economic conditions, changes in religion.

What are the primary driving forces of the decline in violence?

A. Leviathan
A state that uses a monopoly on force to protect its citizens from one another may be the most consistent violence-reducer. Presence of trusted law and order changes the incentive structure to commit acts of violence.

B. Gentle Commerce
Commerce and trade encourages partnership and exchange (positive sum games) instead of war and plunder (zero sum). It changes the Pacifist’s Dilemma by sweetening the outcome of mutual pacifism with the mutual gains of exchange

C. Feminization
Several varieties of feminization – direct political empowerment, the deflation of manly honor, the promotion of marriage on women’s terms, the right of girls to be born, and women’s control over their own reproduction – have been forces in the decline of violence.

D. The Expanding Circle
The expansion of the circle of sympathy puts us in contact with a diverse sample of other people and invites us to take their points of view. Why has our circle of sympathy expanded? The Republic of Letters and the Reading Revolution helped to kindle the Humanitarian Revolution of the 18th century. The Global Village and the electronics revolution may have helped along the Long Peace, New Peace, and Rights Revolutions of the 20th.

E. The Escalator of Reason
Over time, civilization has moved away from tribalism, authority, and purity in moral systems and toward humanism, classical liberalism, autonomy, and human rights.

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