The Angles on Angels

Please reblog this one to infinity. Not my post, but the ideas in it.  Please write vigorously of them in your own words.  Spread the peace bro’.  People need to know this, because whether you own life is surrounded by elegant opulence or decrepit refuse, in whatever state you live, you can derive hope on the order of a hundred-obamas (a quantum unit of hope).

The book you must grok is The Better Angles of Our Nature: The Decline of Violence in History and It’s Causes by Steven Pinker.  Pinker is like this MIT uber-geek.  But sort of scary rugged handsome with his wild curly greying hair.  He’s imposing when he speaks, but is usually very accurate in the way he interprets data and synthesizes information.  But don’t buy the book unless you enjoy slogging.

Better Angels (book)

It’s a rather intolerable book to read, it’ll give you bibliographical indigestion. But it won’t make you vomit.  I recommend searching Google or YouTube for any talk by Steven Pinker on his book, since there you’ll get all the information you need in 15 minutes without having to wade through his very dry and heavy book.   Seriously.  This is one important book that is a total bugger to read. (Mine, the soft-back, especially since the font is so small.)

Do you get title?  Violence has declined.  Declined do you hear!  The amazing thing about the statistics Pinker has compiled is the inevitable conclusions one cannot help drawing.  They are irrefutable.  Yet Pinker does his damnedest to beat us into submission with overwhelming evidence.  He needn’t have tried so hard, half his book is convincing enough for the most dour skeptic.  It’s like he need to convince himself first, so h goes to extremes.  But ultimately you have to love him for this.

It’s like he set out to prove that human civilization was about to erupt into an armageddon, but all the data he found only disproved his hypothesis and confirmed it’s antithesis.  Yes, he world is becoming a more peaceful place.  So much so that charts showing wars and death seem to die away to nothing in the late 20th century compared to all times earlier in history.

So why do people not realise this?  Why are most of us shocked by Pinker’s data and their obvious conclusions?  Pinker explains in the book, but the video lectures he gives are much more succinct.  Mainly it is modern media — newspapers, television, radio, blogs, Twitter — all of which report the worst in human affairs.

It’s little wonder Pinker’s book has not made huge waves.  A handful of philosophers and mystic in the latter half of the 19th century were saying similar things, and they were completely ignored. (And that was at a time where Pinker’s data says the world was about twice as dangerous and violent as it is now at the start of the second millennium.)  So are groups like the Bahá’í Faith.  utterly ignored.  What Pinker does is show us, with hard data, that these people have been right all along.  It’s something wonderful.  Yet when I tell people about this book and it’s main ideas, they say, “Oh, sounds like a good book.  Who’s the author again?”

It’s like they’re all blaisé about this read and want to know only if the author is New York Times best selling, or whatever.  The idea that is so stunning seems to just wash over my friends.  Maybe I do not have the best friends in the world?  At least my Bro’ understood (but then he’s a Bahá’í, so it was a bit anti-climatic telling him about it).

It’s a queer book too.  It made me cry to realise how beautiful humans are becoming. (OK, hyperbole, I admit.  I did not cry like a baby, but I did shed a few tears, the nice sort, when you feel all warm and astounded at the beauty of humanity despite all the horrific noise in the media.)  Yet there is nothing beautiful about Pinker’s writing.  It’s all hard data and facts.  I’m reading it and I’m, like, “Oh, come on dude!  Chill a bit will you, it’s ok to say that this is spiritually momentous, raw with peaceful tidings, glowing with brightness and hope!  You don’t have to pummel us with data.”

Then again, I think some people need the data.  Too many cynics in the world.  Some young teenagers grab a few semi-automatic weapons and launch a killing spree in their local school.  This is not the world Pinker seems to be living in.  That’s right.  It’s the hyperreality YOU are all living in, the one reported in the mainstream media.  That’s the unreal world.   These incredible acts of selfishness and violence are real enough, too real, but they are over-emphasised in the media.  Perhaps justly.  Without them being sensationalized people would be too forgiving of the pro-personal-weapons lobby groups, and the military, and the bullies everywhere who advocate violence as a solution to social problems. So maybe it’s not altogether bad to hype such horror stories in the media.  But human beings need balance and truth.  We also need hope.  We need to have a fair reflection of the world, especially with increasing globalisation.  Too much bad news is bad when it does not fairly reflect the morals and ethics of the vast majority of ordinary human beings.

So here is a selection of data.  First, we die less violently on average than at any time in history:


Second, in our justice systems (despite the USA inflating the stats) we put people to death less often,


Third, there is less rape and homocide, even going back thirty years the decline is precipitous. And this is one of those good times when precipitous decline was good.


And of course, the statistics most people cannot believe, but it’s all true: the decline of war among humans, war is falling below detectability in our modern history, and will perhaps in one hundred years be thought of as a bizarre aberration in the process of human civilization. People will be amazed in a thousand years form now, how war could have lasted so long in history.


So when you are next assaulted by reports of atrocities and inhuman cruelty in the media, just remember these statistics. Reality is not what it seems.   The hyperreality reported in the media and in movies and on the internet boosts the sensational and forgets the ordinary acts of kindness billions of humans engage in every day.


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