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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Good news about war

This is a terrific interview with Steven Pinker, about why we as humankind are at our most peaceful point in all of history. He also doesn't think war is cyclical - each circumstance is idiosyncratic. After all the WWII I've been reading lately, including The Zookeeper's Wife, which I'm in the middle of, I was hungry for this optimistic, or at least, less fatal, view of our crazy species.
Pinker's response on why the United States is a relatively violent nation made me realize I also use the language of war when I think of our domestic violence.

"My own guess is that Americans (particularly in the south and west) never really signed on to a social contract that gave government a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence, as Europe did. Americans not only retain the right to bear arms but believe it is their responsibility, not the government’s, to deter harm-doers. With private citizens, flush with self-serving biases, acting as judge, jury, and executioner, body counts can pile up as trigger-happy vigilantes mete out rough justice."

My Youngstown State students buried some gunned-down kids a few weeks ago, so this isn't just a theory here, and it's more complicated than vigilantism. But he's right - it's sure not a well regulated militia, either. We have more guns per capita than any country in the world. WTF?
Pinker covers many aspects of violence in history. I was one of the mistaken majority who didn't realize violent crime rates were down, and who believed in the cause and effect between recession and crime.
The interview is a Q and A of questions from the Freakonomics blog readers, and the questions are terrific. Pinker ends on a positive note, and it's good news for a world weary with our own shortcomings.

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