Outstanding. Life-changing. Brilliant. Important.
This book should be required reading for politicians and journalists. It should be on the compulsory school curriculum.
Steven Pinker time and time again debunks perceived wisdom and puts forward a radically new way of seeing the world. And it is so readable. I thought Pinker's The Blank Slate was important; it changed my philosophy of life. This book is better.
Many people believe that the world is becoming more and more violent. Pinker shows that the reverse is true. Judging from the archaeological evidence deaths from warfare in prehistoric societies averaged about 15%; it is 14% in hunter-gatherer societies and 24.5% in pre-state societies. In the earliest states this reduces to 5%; in the modern world it is 1%. The same is true of homicides: the most dangerous US inner cities are safer than the most peaceful non-state societies. In fact Pinker reckons that becoming a state makes the citizens five times safer from violent death. The civilizing process of western Europe from early statehood to modern days has reduced danger of violent death by a further thirty times.
Developing a functioning state is therefore one of the principal ways of making a society safer.
Even states can be dangerous, sponsoring violence such as judicial execution. But nowadays we have all but abolished torture, slavery, judicial execution and mutilation, wife beating and marital rape, beating children etc. In most places of the world homosexuality and adultery are no longer capital crimes. This is not because we are more moral; Pinker points out that moral societies tolerate judicial executions for 'crimes' such as homosexuality, adultery and blasphemy. "The world has far too much morality" (p751). Nor is it thanks to religion. He points out that the Bible portrays a bloodthirsty and genocidal deity. "The theory that religion is a force for peace ... does not fit the facts of history." He believes it is because we have become literate, more educated and more able to use abstract reason.
He is convincing.
This book has too many wonderful ideas for me to adequately document them here. You have to read it. It is huge but his readability means that it is manageable. Give it a go. It might change the way you view the world.
Brilliant, life-changing and readable. August 2013; 841 pages.
- Having reviewed over 1200 books on this blog, I have now written two myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. The Kids of God is a thriller set in a dystopia ruled by fascist paramilitaries. Both are available as paperbacks and on Kindle through Amazon. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57