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Is violence really declining, as cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker claims?

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Steven Pinker From Jeff Lewis and Belinda Lewis, “The myth of declining violence: Liberal evolutionism and violent complexity” at :

The publication of Steven Pinker’s Better Angels of Our Nature popularized an emerging orthodoxy in political and social science – that is, that violence and warfare have been declining over the past century, particularly since the end of the Second World War. Invoking the scientific and political neutrality of their data and evidence, Pinker and other ‘declinists’ insist that powerful, liberal democratic states have subdued humans’ evolutionary disposition to violence. This article analyses the heuristic validity and political framework of these claims. The article examines, in particular, the declinists’ interpretation and use of demographic, archaeological, anthropological and historical evidence. The article argues that the declinists’ arguments are embedded in a utopian liberalism that has its own deep roots in the ‘cultural volition’ and history of human violence. The article concludes that the declinists have either misunderstood or misrepresented the evidence in order to promote their own neoliberal political interests and ideologies. – International Journal of Cultural Studies, 21(3), 2018, 225–241, DOI: 10.1177/1367877916682108 (paywall) More.

From the Conclusion:

The great disappointment of the Enlightenment, therefore, is not its incomplete logics or unfulfilled rationality, as Jürgen Habermas declared several decades ago. The real disappointment is that the Enlightenment failed to acknowledge or interrogate its own place in history and its own origins. These origins are not simply an ‘imagining’ created by (neo-)Enlightenment scholars and their conflation of scientism and romantic utopianism as the post-structuralists so deftly exposed; nor are they contained within the ‘dark side’ of a rationality that seems so indelibly marked onto the spirit of modernism and the restless volition of progress.

Steven Pinker.

One conundrum is that concern about violence tends to be highest in places like Canada where the threat is lowest.

See also: John Gray doesn’t think much of evolutionary psychologist Steve Pinker’s “better angels”

10 Replies to “Is violence really declining, as cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker claims?

  1. 1
    polistra says:

    “One conundrum is that concern about violence tends to be highest in places like Canada where the threat is lowest.”

    It’s not really a conundrum, it’s just neurons doing their job. When the baseline is near zero, every departure from baseline is SHARPLY SALIENT. When the baseline is constant inputs, the nervous system is saturated and incapable of perceiving small deltas.

  2. 2
    tribune7 says:

    Violence has been declining since the invention of the handgun. Really.

  3. 3
    Allan Keith says:

    It has also been declining as the demographic ages.

  4. 4
    ronvanwegen says:

    Violence is declining?
    Depends on how you define “violence”.
    [Inserts link to video of actual abortion on which the vast majority of abortion proponents will not click nor are ever likely to.]

  5. 5
    kairosfocus says:

    Folks, RVW is right — any claim that violence is low needs to be confronted with the great evil of our time. Over the past 40+ years 800+ million living members of our posterity have been put to death in the womb. Currently, that number runs at a million or so more per WEEK. This is the worst holocaust in history and it is ongoing. When we can face this and begin to turn back from such a conscience-searing horror, restoring soundness from the corruption of professions, institutions and our civilisation, then we will have something that we can call real progress. KF

  6. 6

    I would add that the rise in popularity of mixed martial arts (glorified street fighting) would support an argument that violence is not decreasing… at least not our collective lust for violence. Just pan the crowd at these events and you will get a glimpse of the Roman Colesium 2,000 years ago. Very little has changed in the human heart.

  7. 7
    Allan Keith says:

    I agree with TWSYF. But is it really the lust for violence, or a lust for seeing good prevail over bad, even if it is an illusion. Whether it is MMA, boxing, football, or hockey, fans always have a favourite and perceive the rivals as the “bad” people. “Professional” wrestling have identified this and manipulated it as theatre. There is always the bad guy who keeps winning until the good guy shows up and beats him.

  8. 8
    Seversky says:

    If you look at the mess the world as a whole is in, I find it really hard to believe violence is declining.

  9. 9
    EricMH says:

    If portrayals and consumption of said portrayals qualify, then we are the most violent civilization that has ever lived. How many other civilizations got to spend all their free time blowing the heads off their friends in gory realism, and watch hours of the same daily on television? We were probably much less violent when it was very painful to participate in violence.

  10. 10
    jstanley01 says:

    Here’s a video that discusses how Communist China has developed a reputation for being crime-free, when in reality it is anything but…

    China’s False Sense of Security – ADVChina

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