Steven Pinker on Violence – Free Ebook

now over to Robertson Stephen thank you pretty much happy and welcome to all of you so as Kathy says this is going to be more of a conversation I guess than an interview and we’ll be talking around the themes of Steven’s new book on violence hopefully in a reasonably nonviolent way are so or they will see how the discussion pans out and I will do that in the kind of format that allows Stephen to set out his stall at the beginning for you know five ten minutes or so so we can position the discussion and then based on that we’ll have a fairly free-flowing dialogue I hope that will go organically where it needs to go and although there are certain kind of key themes we’ll want to really want to touch on in the middle of that so that’s the that’s they’re going to process for this evening I guess in terms of content you know is he mad I mean really he seems to be arguing that the world is kind of getting better and there’s less violence around us in general well you know you look at any newspaper go on any website tune into the news anywhere and it looks like civilizations going to hell in a handcart and it seems completely preposterous to suggest that the tendency the trajectory of world history is towards peace and love and he must have been taking the happy pills sometime so to defense this preposterous thesis I’m gonna ask Stephen just to say a few words and then we’ll get into some of them are security about that so Steven over to you okay if you get your impression about how much violence there is in the world from the news you’re going to be misinformed because the news covers things that happen doesn’t cover things that don’t happen as long as rates of violence haven’t declined to zero and certainly no one would claim that they have there’s always enough of it to fill the evening news and it’s the job of the news to find violence that takes place anywhere on earth and send the camera crew there you never see a guy with a microphone on camera standing in front of a elderly man dying of Alzheimer’s disease and in a hospital bed you never see a reporter in some city saying well it’s the 37th year now that there has not been a war in this city so so forget the impression from from the news that just tells you that the rate of war has not gone down to zero the only way you can assess how much war and peace there is is to do a count that is count the number of wars by some definition count the number of bodies and when you do that you see that the curve is bumpy but unmistakeably downward we’re living in an era that has fewer Wars most dramatically of all there are there have been zero wars between Western European countries between great powers United States Soviet Union China France England there have been no wars between wealthy developed countries since 1945 all of which might I may have to even remind some of you that this is a notable statement because we tend to think that wars are conflicts that took place in those poor backward remote parts of the world and no one would ever expect say you know France and Germany to fight a war well the fact that that sounds banal is itself on a dramatic historical change because prior to 1945 of course big rich powerful and European countries were constantly at each other’s throats so they’re the statistic of zero is you need fancy counts you just look at the timeline of wars and you see after 1945 these categories they fall off a cliff less obvious is that if you look worldwide including Africa Asia Latin America the number of wars and the number of deaths in war have been going down this is a a phenomenon that is well known to international relations scholars a friend of mine Joshua Goldstein wrote a book called winning the war on war that he was inspired to write because he is the author of the principal textbook or in international relations he’s required to update the textbook every year partly to stay one step ahead of this used book market but also because the world does change and in the book he had an appendix of all the ongoing wars and he noticed that with every edition of the book the list got shorter and shorter and then he realized that something very important is going on but it’s not just war it’s also personal violence if one looks at statistics on homicide which in a country like England go back 800 years you see that the curve plummets so that a contemporary Englishman has about 135th the chance of being murdered as his medieval ancestor you can go even further back and even try to estimate say from the archaeological record how much violence there was before the dawn of writing in history what percentage of skeletons from non-state societies before the rise of the state and large civilizations show signs of violent trauma and their [ _ ] Lehigh just a one anecdote that captures these statistics you all remember it see the Iceman the fantastically preserved 5,000 year old mummy dead out of the Tyrol Tyrolean amp Alps well it turns out after in putting him in under an x-ray and examining every part of him that he had an arrowhead and embed it embedded in his shoulder and he’s carrying a dagger the DNA analysis showed had the blood of three men on it well this is you don’t to generalize from one example but it’s not just an amazing fluke that the one guy that just happened to have been preserved in the ice also happens to have signs of violence the statistics are high enough that that is by no means a as attack Euler fluke and finally just think about some of the practices that used to be unexceptionable and which then vanished like gory public executions samuel peeps wrote of seeing a major-general drawn and quartered that is kind of open his organs shown to him and burned and then strangled and then he said the the general looked as cheerful as a man could in that condition he was a laughing matter and then he continues and then off to the pub for oysters with a friend so for all our barbarism we have gotten rid of gory public torture executions we’ve gotten rid of other institutions such as human sacrifice once practiced in every major civilization chattel slavery with slave markets and legally enforceable slave contracts debtors prisons in most Western countries capital punishment across the board the United States being an exception to that trend the beating of children in schools by by nuns and teachers and the popularity of smacking and other forms of corporal punishment in the home and have gone down so in category after category whenever violence can be quantified it shows a downward trajectory so that is the empirical phenomenon that is centerpiece of the book and then as a psychologist I set myself the task of trying to explain first of all why violence is so ready to burst out it at any time and why what aspects of human nature have we been able to mobilize to inhibit it more and more effectively over the centuries okay and just be clear thank you for that student very helpful kind of kind of positioning statement helps to orient us a bit but it does sound like you are excluding non-physical violence and of course you know I think about I mean my wife doesn’t beat me anymore thank God that instead she she will you know violently violently assail me with her words for example and subject me to terrible rhetorical tortures now why isn’t she being violent when I can’t hire the accuser apart well you can you can use the word violence for any practicing to deplore your economic violence and verbal violence and I mean this is a question that I get quite often and I consider it a sign of progress that people are they’re almost ready to concede ok physical violence is down but surely there’s some kind of violence that’s still out there I personally think it is not helpful to lump together murder rape kidnapping assault war genocide torture and so on with [ _ ] remarks economic inequality people getting on each other’s nerves and yeah and I don’t deny that that we still get on each other’s nerves we still insult each other but it’s qualitatively different and genuine progress compared to getting a bullet to the head a knife between the ribs being crucified and so on okay as if crucifixion is just one of many forms of business okay with that thanks for that stuff that helps to kind of clarify the territory which all yes so I’m talking about physical violence no nothing metaphorical okay fine so that’s the best the territory was if this discussion gap so there’s all sorts of things you said in those opening remarks and just one of the many things you’ve touched on because there’s such a rich subject was the notion of capital indeed corporal punishment because and I guess why is interested in this is that I am a have a kind of philosophical background I did a lot of work on Jacques Derrida and he talks about the violence of the law with an essay by him for the force of law and he talks about in a sense what win for shorthand we could call good violence so this is when a state legitimizes itself to exercise violence in its own interest so capital punishment would be an example about you mentioned in the United States actually the trend perhaps isn’t going in the same direction as other countries but there nevertheless it’s an interesting idea that although we make the assumption that violence is a bad thing there are practices of violence which we not only tolerate but even endorse so if not necessarily capital punishment punishment in general so that the entire legal system you could say is based on a violence done to the individual sometimes physically in compensation for the violence real or metaphorical that they have done to others so I mean if you can help us with this a bit in the notion of you know what good violence might be as opposed to bad violence no more if that’s a spurious distinction yeah yeah I don’t think I would I would say that there’s any good violence although there can be necessary violence which simply means deterring still greater amounts of violence so I think it is it’s not just dairy that goes back to Max Weber defined the government as the institution that has a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence but of course Thomas Hobbes gave a prescription to the eliminate the violence of Anarchy mainly you vest a Leviathan a government with legitimate use of violence in the Leviathan as depicted on the cover of this book had a sword and indeed you know we have the police and they will if you do certain things they will violently remove you and put you in jail and for hopes violence is one of the things which produces order yes well it to the extent that it is needed to reduce greater amounts of violence so yeah it’s if the police put you in handcuffs and drag you off to jail that’s a form of violence but we probably all accept that it is better than having a lot of rapists and murderers and kidnappers on the streets still better of course is the case where the norms are against violence perhaps initially enforced by the muscle of the state become internalized well enough that you that the state needs less and less violence or needs only the threat of violence rarely carried out and people just behave themselves beforehand in anticipation of the violence they don’t want to take place so that would be successful deterrence likewise the best the nations in dealing with one another have militaries for a similar reason the threat of violence deters invasion but ideally if everyone internalizes the norm that violence is futile then you need smaller and smaller armies because your neighbors are less and less of a threat and that can spiral downward because your neighbors are less worried if your stance is less bellicose you can have a situation say like the Canada in the United States or the member nations of the European Union not coincidentally honored with the Nobel Prize just three days ago where the armies have wound down the forts facing each other on opposite sides of the border have been dismantled it’s not that the armies have been completely eliminated but they’re a Fattal of their former selves because of this positive downward spiral now I like this notion of smaller violence to forestall greater violence that’s very helpful on the hobbs issue though I mean what Hobbes says is that there there is a kind of legitimate state violence that does perhaps prevent the larger violence that could happen but his assumption underneath that is because to use his famous phrase the life of natural man is nasty brutish and short and he expounds upon the idea that in fact our instincts are to be pretty violent with one another so that’s the kind of unruly energy that we have in us you know if you if you look at human beings in the raw state they are their natural propensity is not towards peace its towards war you know that’s that’s where we begin we begin polemically we begin in the state of antagonism or aggression which then needs to be tamed so the civilizing process you talk about this in your book is necessary because the default is the opposite in we are unpleasant creatures so you need to be sorted out so wonder if you know it’s easy to buy perhaps the the expedient idea that you have a smaller amount of violence in order to preempt preclude forced or a larger amount of violence maybe harder to get rid of the presupposition or at least the Hobbesian presupposition in that which is well in all cases that’s because given half the chance we would stab each other yes I think your Hobbs you knew nothing about what life was like in a state of nature and we had a rack made reference to uncivilized tribes in although I think he and he and he was dead wrong in his assumption that they not only work was life nasty brutish and short but is also solitary he imagined that every man was at war against every man that’s that’s clearly wrong but he did have because people for him family’s plans tribes and and they don’t kill each other as much as they kill people in the other tribe he was right though that in a state of anarchy you do get rates of violence that we don’t accept today such as 15% of on average people being killed in warfare about 1/2 of 1% of the population in the year which is even higher than the death rate at the height of World War two and that’s not atypical for a hunter horticulturalist 200 rather society so they but interestingly Hobbes did not attribute this to some primordial thirst for blood or or violent impulse he had a more tragic notion that it is almost inevitable if you had agents that were intelligent foresight full and perhaps just a bit self-interested because the idea is even if you didn’t have an aggressive bone in your body the people on the other side of the river you’re thinking well they have every reason to covet you know my land my livestock my women maybe they’re plotting a raid at this very moment now I really don’t want to get killed in my sleep what are my options well maybe I better do it to him before he does it to me now that’s right the preemptive strike and the other guy is cranking through the same deduction and he’s saying well I don’t really want to attack the other guy but he has every reason to attack me in fact even if he doesn’t want to attack me he could be worrying that I’m gonna attack him preemptively out of fear that he’ll attack me and so the tragedy is you could have two agents two two intelligent beings that that really don’t have a very strong aggressive urge have enough self-interest that they could worry that the other guy being like them might be tempted to strike and that’s good to get a spiral going and then you could have credible deterrence if I’m strong enough that I could withstand a first strike and then retaliate that’s a way to protect myself through deterrence rather than preemption but then you’ve got the problem that to prove the credibility of your retaliatory capability you’ve got to respond violently to any insult or trespass to prove that it’s not a bluff then you’re really going to carry through with the vengeance after the fact and so you get these warrior honor cultures the lashing out in violence to any trivial insult so that’s the way Hobbes conceived of this whole tragic cycle of violence which he thought could be circumvented by having a disinterested Authority you know Hobbes’s problem was and the reason that I’m somewhat of a Hobbesian I don’t buy the whole bill of goods is that he didn’t really give enough thought to the violence perpetrated by the Leviathan because in practice a government is not a disinterested wise king but more human beings with all affair what is ideological else yes and they have the the since the leaders are themselves going to be human beings with their own greed in their own biases you got the problem of protecting the people against the Leviathan the way I think of kind of the human dilemma is were caught between the extremes of the violence of anarchy that Hobbes worried about and the violence of tyranny which he didn’t worry enough about and you can think of democracy as a way of getting the benefits of each probably if you look over the course of history the even though the violence of government can be enormously destructive as we saw in the 20th century probably on average the violence of Anarchy is worse in terms of your chances of being killed which is why so often countries to our bewilderment accept authoritarian governments that that we would not why a lot of people in China are actually perfectly happy with their government or Russia because they’d rather have a repressive government and anarchy that they used to live to so democracy is our way of muddling through and trying to get a government that hat that exercises the smallest amount of violence necessary to prevent much greater violence you know I mean we’re touching and there are two sides to this discussion that we’re talking about the political side of it but the other side of it is the kind of psychological side I suppose and I couldn’t help thinking of Freud as you were talking as well because there’s a real crab to you know the people on the other side of the river bank are they thinking what I’m thinking and so on suggests that the the kind of field of violence is is an external one it’s a social one whereas if you think of Freud in a certain sense he would argue indeed explicitly says in his later work that the the instinct the violence isn’t just something that comes around in response to others it’s not just a it’s not a dialectical or dialogical social function it’s much deeper than that its structures actually structures the psyche in some way so either early on in Freud’s career he just talked about sadism for example and indeed sadomasochism and for him sadism and you define sadism I think is at the enjoyment of cruelty or words like that before he talks about it in terms of the aggression instincts early on in his his life and later on he goes on to say well it’s actually so deep in us that it’s it exists at a kind of species level so when he talks about war and he was writing in the wake of the first world war and indeed the run-up to the Second World War for him the kind of violence that was manifested in such kind of global catastrophes was not due to these kind of almost ironically civilized negotiations that were described and where I’m thinking is he going to get me first or am i you know and so on it’s to do with a much more mysterious grant it much less empirical granted but much more powerful force which says that actually there is something in the human being in the species which is which has a death wish it is driven to destroy not only other people but itself and this was his most scandalous kind of remark really that there is that the death Drive Android is this much actually a suicidal drive as it is an instinct to do away with others but in either case it’s something much bigger than any of us could contain and much bigger that could be accounted for in sociological terms yeah and I in in better angels I do give Freud credit for the really the core of his model of the psyche namely the the idea of the component of the mind that he called the ego which uses some kind of mental energy he had no idea what that was to suppress the in we are evolved and frequently antisocial impulses and urges I’ve long been skeptical of that theory until I did research for the book and I found that there’s a whole branch of psychology called ego depletion or ego control that actually performs pretty well too Freud’s idea that we have to repress our antisocial impulses with an effortful process this is an idea that Norbert Elias helped himself to in his book the civilizing process which argued that that’s what happened in the transition from the violent Middle Ages to the less violent present is that the ego was strengthened or another way of putting it is people exercise more self-control delay of gratification shallower discounting of the future as the language an economist would use I think that and indeed laboratory experiments laboratory experiments have shown that it really does Mette might be an energy consuming process if yet people are sugar depleted they have more trouble focusing inhibiting their impulses delaying gratification they the death wish that the theory of Thanatos that he derived after World War one I find much more dubious for as you note it is mystical it’s a I’m not sure that it makes sense to talk about a species wide urge I don’t also don’t think I don’t think that aggression is is the kind of hydraulic herbs or impulse that has to be discharged every once in a while I think in the way that the longer we go without drink the thirst year we get the longer we go without sleep the more drowsy we get I don’t think it’s true that the longer we go without killing someone the more we want to kill someone I think it’s not an analogy even though I do think Floyd was right that we do have certain impulses like the desire for revenge the desire for dominance but these are triggered by situations and so a better biological analogy might be to something like say shivering now it’s clear burning is clearly in a reflex but if you’re not cold you don’t shiver you don’t have a mounting urge to shiver because you haven’t shivered for a few hours and you can go the rest of your life without ever shivering again if you just never happened to be pulled yes and so violence might be like that and I think this is testable namely if he’s right that World War one in particular what can be explained by this self-destructive species destructive urge it’s always going to be with us and the reason that you know England and France versus Germany went to war as they were playing out this this impulse on the other hand we have seen and again I’ll allude to the Nobel Peace Prize being given to the European Union suddenly you know England and Germany just lost this desire to destroy the species by periodically going to war against each other hasn’t happened since 1945 certain footballs do except in football yes but the other species is doing just fine and it seems you know you don’t want to say that it’s impossible anything’s possible but I think in the realm of live options England and Germany going to war is just one of the things that we don’t just don’t have to worry about this suggests that the Hobbesian analysis that it is the mutual distrust fear tempting each side to pre-emptive attack which is one of the ways in which World War one has been explained there’s probably a better explanation than that the species has some courage to self-destruct which and mothers mention one other thing which on Darwinian grounds seems quite unlikely so okay so this is one of the four playas perhaps this idea of where the violence is externally generated and therefore if you can control the conditions as it were you reduce the urge for violent or whether indeed that urge is internal in some way and beyond the reach of control through social conditioning and so on there’s okay so we buy that say we we come down on your side of the the argument we say fly fine but my god look at the world population growth you know it’s it’s fine at the moment in reasonably affluent societies perhaps less affluent societies tend to be generally a bit more violent generally speaking what about by the time their world population has tripled and there are so many of us you know that all those pacifying instincts that have come about through the civilizing process become just practically impossible because there are too many other people competing for certain fewer resources and I just had to kiss out killing other people to get my get my own way yeah so I’m really what I’m getting this is really a question of what the what the endgame is that you’re getting out in your your book and in your thinking because do we do end up in heaven on your thesis you know because everything seems to be getting an awfully lot better or is there a plateau we can anticipate is a reversal we might fear or we can plan for and so it’s I want to ask you first of all about this notion of the endpoint because the endpoint does seem implicit in the some of the assumptions I guess and then I want to talk specifically about the notion of progress but this notion of an endpoint are we just can we just look forward to nirvana ya know no I think it’s I don’t think there’s anything mystical about the historical decline of violence and and I for some categories of violence it certainly won’t go to zero they’re low and I believe in human nature I believe in human nature is part of our comes from our biological endowment gets perpetuated to our children and our children’s children and there’s always gonna be some young hothead who loses his temper in a bar and a fight over a pool table and you know pulls out a knife there’s always gonna be some way to puts arsenic in her husband’s tea I don’t think that can be brought to zero I think though that I would not predict that terrorism is gonna go to zero because all it takes us in a world of seven billion people who’s to say there isn’t gonna be some guys somewhere who doesn’t want to get on the evening news by making a bomb out of drugstore ingredients so there will always be a kind of residual I think there always be yes I think there always be a residual I think though that certain rates can be brought down lower to what they are now what really what I’m talking about in most of these categories is not progress towards happen nirvana utopia and so on but just chipping away at the numbers so and which I consider progress if the murder rate is half of what it used to be that’s great and let’s see if we can make it half of that and perhaps even half of that and it might asymptote at some level above zero that might be the price we pay for not living in a totalitarian society with Big Brother watching you around the clock you tolerate you know some degree of violence there are though some categories of violence that could be brought to zero because it’s it’s a stranger things have happened so take practice cultural practices like human sacrifice where again every civilized ancient civilization practiced at some buy in in staggering quantities hundreds of thousands even millions of victims that were slaughtered to appease an angry god maybe if we slake his thirst for blood with a sacrificial victim then he won’t do it to us better him than me then civilization after civilization thought the better of human sacrifice maybe they realized that the bloodthirsty God hypothesis was factually incorrect maybe life got too valuable they’ve got more squeamish about cutting the beating heart out of a living person whatever reason they abolished it and it’s state abolished there are no societies now that practice human sacrifice since there’s no examples of kind of reversals and once you reach a certain level of pacification the trend never goes backwards in some categories right ha so another example is slavery as a legal institution now there is there continues to be human trafficking in various shadow forms that shade into slavery but slavery as an institution that is practiced in the open that affects a large percentage of the population that can be enforced by the government that got abolished by the last country that had permitted it in 1980 Mauritania it was a and before that 1960 to Saudi Arabia and Yemen eliminated it but it was a process that where the bulk of the abolitions happened in the 19th century and it’s more or less state abolished France had to abolish it twice because the Napoleon reinstituted it but by and large once you abolish e that stays abolished and there are other things atmospheric nuclear testing that’s probably not going to come back because even the rogue states detonate their bombs underground commercial whaling there are certain practices where if they are an institution and if there’s some finite number of players then it’s not utopian to just zero them out it’s not inconceivable that war between countries could fall into that category and there are a number of political scientists who claimed that interstate war is obsolescent there are certainly fewer and fewer of them it’s become pretty close to unthinkable in advanced countries dealing with each other and it is not crazy to think that with only 200 countries there could be an evolving norm that we just don’t do that anymore now there could still be civil wars but interesting war could at least conceivably could go to zero homicide no terrorism no I don’t think child abuse and domestic violence will go to zero but it would be progress if it was less than what it is now so as you’re talking I’m reminds me a little bit of and I’m putting on my skeptics hat for a moment Francis Fukuyama’s work on kind of the ends of history and he was as you know pretty harshly criticized because Fujiyama and I’m collapsing the argument very quickly here but he briefly said look the tendency of all political ideologies is to become liberal democracies and those countries which aren’t are just sort of lagging behind and eventually they will and the whole world will be a liberal democracy and it will all be fine and it subsequently 9/11 happens and other things it’s much more difficult for him to make those claims so there’s a again with my skeptical hat on I’m sort of thinking well okay maybe it’s not utopian because you grant that they will always be random instance of violence but the general tendency is downwards and the implication being will live better lives fine but underneath that there’s again in philosophical terms if you like there’s a kind of big alien prejudice Hegel is the philosopher most associated I suppose with the notion that history does move on a comic line of progress and you mentioned talked about progress that there is a kind of left to right or have you perceive it past a future along which not just time travels but history itself so history itself takes a forward momentum and generally in the Galleon terms a forward momentum from something worse to something better you know from less good to a more good and there’s plenty of critiques of this notion for a start that that helps because it helps us to understand history but it’s not the case you know so a very severe critic might say well you’ve marshaled all these facts but you’ve marshal them because you have a prejudiced about the notion of history moving in a progressive way for Maine to be other versions of that say no now history doesn’t move along these sort of ineluctable grid lines but it’s interrupted or it moves in circles or it repeats so the famous phrase no history repeats itself as tragedy or fast and so on but the underlying preconception there is that there is a sort of and I’ll use the word again almost mystical notion that history somehow magically ineluctably unfurls and yes there may be fact we can Corral in order to support that but there’s still a prejudice we’re dealing with now that’s a big alien view as it happened Marx took that view over as well he said in his own terms that communism will eventually happen it’s inevitable that communism will happen you know it’s historically inevitable and there are people on left and right debating that at the moment as as you know but again it’s something I think we need to just go around a little bit one of the deepest assumptions here which is about that there is progress as opposed to a completely different concept of time in history of it stops and stars that repeats that it goes in circles and so on yeah yes nothing could be further from the way I see these developments so the there are two questions one of them is what has happened from from past periods to now and what’s gonna happen in the future so what has happened up till now that’s not a matter of prejudice that’s a matter of plugging the data on a graph and just looking whether the line goes like that at line goes like that well the line goes like that you know with cycles and I I make the case that prejudice ideology theory aside look at the data that just the way it’s gone now now there’s a question of how do we interpret it why is it gone down and will it continue there of course once you’re predicting an uncertain future that’s where Theory inevitably comes in because you can interpret the same data in multiple ways but again I think there are more and less reasonable ways of interpreting the data I think the idea that there are cycles and that I just happened to cut catch humanity at the trough of a sinusoidal data there just no history is not cyclical the wars don’t have cycles there’s a lot of randomness which can fool you into thinking that there are cycles but but it’s not as if we’re due for another span of war because you know if it’s that that time in the grand cycle that the cycles don’t exist but the randomness means that in principle we could have a third world war we could and we could have a third world war right yeah I think the randomness can coexist with changing probability and the way I would put it is it is still possible but it’s less likely than it used to be now why would be why have we seen decline is there some directionality to history is it will then inevitably continue I don’t think so I think it’s just that non-violence really is a better state of affairs that violence violence is wasteful you might think well yeah but if you’re the perpetrator isn’t violence good for you you get what you want well yeah but you’re not going to be the perpetrator forever winners become losers if you have to convince other people how they ought to live their life you can’t say well we’ll do it in a way that benefits me and not you so in the long run everyone’s better off if there’s less violence and so we figure out ways of knocking violence down and we accumulate our knowledge we apply we learn lessons of history imperfectly not always to the extent we do we we make things better so I would analogize it is would you expect and this is a different way of coming to a conclusion that sounds a little bit like Fukuyama but I think invokes a different mechanism so would you expect that more and more of the world will have access to antibiotics or cell phones yes more and more the is gonna have cellphones not because there’s any mystical process that says that the end of history is that everyone has a cellphone but rather cellphones are good things to have if you have people who like to communicate cell phones a really good way of doing it if you have people who get sick antibiotics or a good thing to have there go more and more people are going to want them if we can make more antibiotics then everyone will have access to them so likewise peace is a good thing it’s really better than than war over the long run and if we apply our ingenuity to figuring out ways of making Wars less likely we’re going to keep the things that that work and and the world gradually fumbly with local reversals will on average try to try to keep those developments so it’s just another kind of technological progress and it’s undeniable that technological progress has taken place so okay we’re in a situation where things will probably get better and that’s the tendency so relax well no it’s no more than you know you’ll costly have to maintain your house you have to maintain the health of your body yeah here I’m with Freud and others with the tragic view that the potentiality is always within us we need institutions like governments like United Nations like peacekeeping forces like education literacy institutions of communication and travel so that we don’t backslide into a tribal way of life so far from relaxing it’s let’s really try to figure out what works and what doesn’t so that we don’t waste our time on measures design that seemed like on paper that they should reduce violence that don’t work and we ignore other things that our best science tell us seem to work you know okay in a few minutes I’m going to bring in the audience and we’ll here’s some other voices other thing could I know if you wonder could you know pick me to pick up the threat of another question that you asked first and that’s about population resources and so on yes I once it comes now and I guess the final question I want to come round to is I guess it’s one about the agenda it sounds a bit Machiavellian to ask you what’s your agenda that’s not I don’t quite want to put it like that but I be quite interesting to get it the intent behind the book and behind the project if you like and within that what some of the kind of political choices are because you can have a very peaceful society that’s also extremely unequal for example so I want to come on to that but yes and that’s how most of a go around the population question yes I I think population itself is here’s a red herring yeah we’ve when I was a child I memorized the population of the world which was three billion now it’s seven billion you might think oh my god how could you could have thought back then in the early 60s how could our planet possibly feed another four billion people more than the number that already has in this of course plenty of starvation in the early 60s in India in China in Africa and here we are in a world that’s more than doubled its population and there is less hunger and there was back in the early 60s that’s war but what about then all the forecasts for the animals is becoming squeezed and so on so the so first of all crowding per se is not a risk factor for human violence some of the most densely populated parts of the world are some of the most peaceful Hong Kong Tokyo Amsterdam and some of the most sparsely populated are some of the most violent like like Sudan Democratic Republic of the Congo was not particularly crowded in terms of people but it’s got plenty of violence and by the way Democratic Republic of the Congo also has plenty of resources and Hong Kong has none so the idea that when that violence comes from scarcity of resources I think is is deeply wrong especially it may have been true or in the past than it is now because wealth and prosperity less and less come from just having a certain amount of stuff and more and more come from how you combine it with other stuff by intelligent recipes designs formulas across large networks of cooperation and trade in terms of projections in the future first is the question whether there will really will be resource shortages and there there there might be over water most predictions of resources running out of turned out to be wrong and they may still continue to be wrong there’s new discoveries of fossil fuels but you’re not just to be clear you’re not suggesting a kind of infinite growth of the species and infinite resources to sustain a bit we must assume some sort of limit the limits are probably different than what we think so I I think they’re very few limits I think the limits are going to be political rather than amount of matter and energy that is if we have arrangements that continue that don’t develop the technology at a requisite pace and that moreover don’t provide the kind of incentives that prevent people from squandering the resources that we have then things could get much much worse there’s no doubt more to the point but I’m not an expert on resources I’m what I want to talk about is violence and the assumption which I’d like to challenge is that wars are caused by these or shortages and that if there are more resource oranges there will be more wars now there can be a lot of human suffering suffering and misery and waste so he absolutely should be concerned with shortages of water and arable land with climate change just because it would be really bad if people got poorer and if people starved and disease or disease increased but among those catastrophes organized armed conflict is not necessarily one of them and in fact not only our most Wars not fought over resources in any in any obvious way the arab-israeli conflict is not about resources World War two wasn’t obviously about resources of World War one both about land in some land because of its symbolic value not because it was needed for for planting crops Jerusalem is not a particularly fertile place and there’s a lot of violence over because of the meaning that people invest in it not because of physical resources and indeed studies that try to correlate the climate stress of these are shortages at time one with civil war at time to find not much correlation it’s often the rich flush tribes and countries that raid each other that have the luxury of planning for war the dirt poor ones suffer but they don’t necessarily go at it after each other’s in raids and organized Wars so this is again just to make it clear this is not a call for complacency about climate change or resources there are lots of reasons that this is a very very high priority but you don’t have to add war on top of what is already an extremely serious set of challenges to mobile I think to make it imperative to deal with those challenges okay so just to sort of begin to close this part of the discussion before we open it up I guess the question as I said the word agenda isn’t right but it’s something about what your intent is with this what the message is what you want people to do differently as a result of listening to you reading your work hearing about your project you know is it do you have a political agenda is it you know go away and make sure we have more civilizing institutions work harder for you know the UN I mean what’s the sort of what’s the call if there is a call yeah well the overall call is to treat violence as an mirakl problem that we try to document and understand the causes of so whatever the answer turns out to be I’m in favor of that now it seems to me that based and that is not as banal as it sounds because there’s a lot of moralizing about violence there are a lot of intuitions assumptions dogmas about violence and probably not enough analysis of the facts of violence because it’s so easy to moralize the one of the founders of the quantitative study of war Louis Richardson had a wonderful quote that he said I could be accused of saying to understand all is to forgive all and what I reply is to content condemn much is to understand little so understanding it would be the top priority based on at least my best assessment of evidence so far and this is again assuming that violence is that that killing and raping and assaulting or all bad things that ought to be minimized there are there are some lessons I think good government is a really good thing that that anarchy is a bad thing as our tyrannical non democratic governments I think that Commerce trade exchange are good things that it’s good to nip people together in webs of economic dependency again not to keep beating this horse but the assignment of the Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union not only recognized the value of an international community but the European Union grew out of the European Common Market which grew out of the European Coal and Steel Union which were explicitly designed to to implement the theory that trade reduces war if you have two countries that economically depend on each other then attacking the other is like attacking itself and it is not even tempting because you could buy stuff more cheaply than you can plunder it and the other guys more valuable to you alive than dead so I think I applaud the Nobel Committee even though they obviously were trying to make a political point given the currency union and all kinds of extra stuff but they were really right in saying that they acted what was started off as an economic Union really did have a pacifying force a third is education there I’ve said a number of studies that suggest that countries that are better educated are less likely to slip into a dictatorship and civil war and cosmopolitanism the mixing of people and ideas make it harder to demonize and dehumanize other tribes that you otherwise would not be familiar with so these would all be my best guesses to some of the pacifying forces I had one more we didn’t have time to touch on it but I was throw it out there because I do argue for it in the book and that is empowerment of women that seems to have a many beneficial effects among them lowering rates of violence and particularly struck by your first point there about understanding and just to go go back to where we started to around this this off you know I started there’s parody of what the newspapers say you know about violence and so on and I guess am i right in thinking implicit in what you’re saying is the lack of understanding of violence where it comes from the trend and so on itself is potentially dangerous because it it produces a fear of violence that itself can create the acts of violence which weird applauded in the first place and so on is that there’s a kind of strange reverse psychology that happens because of that there can be so for example I’ll give you an example at the the panic about terrorism that after 9/11 there was going to be every planes are gonna be shot out of the sky and stadiums are gonna be blown up and they’re good nuclear terrorism was imminent that was quite obviously responsible for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the abuses of torture and a rendition and some people were willing to let the government’s do that because it seemed like a reasonable response to these catastrophic threats if the threats were actually not so big to begin with then the reaction to the threats might not have been as big that having been said I’ve got to give a important shout-out to the role of the press and journalism in I think helping along the decline of violence by making clear to people the human costs of war something that it was very easy to gloss over when press photography was banned from the battlefield and so you could nurture an idea that war is heroic and manly and thrilling and spiritual and all of these things that people used to believe that didn’t survive intense press coverage of actual battlefield carnage so there’s a there’s another paradox which is we overreact we overestimate the amount of violence we’re more sensitive to it that does tend to be one of the forces that makes us more motivated to root it out to that we think the we tolerate less violence than our ancestors did and so we’re more vigilant about trying to extricate what remains very good thank you thank you very much Steven and we’ll go into questions we’ve got some roving microphones and I’m sure hands will go up faster than I can spot them and if I if I fail to identify this on a first-come first-served basis I’m sorry but I will do my best I think the first one I saw was way over on the left-hand side thank you very much my question was what do you think the history of violence would be like in a matriarchal burning at this question the hallway to its format at the ng talks about how importantly empowerment of women and could be in future prevention but I think looking back it would be very interesting to think about the officially named thank you it’s a wonderful question what would the impact what the history of violence have looked like under matriarchal societies yeah so if if if women are in charge there’d be less violence there wouldn’t be zero violence but there’d be less I think I in the in the book I try to distinguish different motives for violence I don’t think there’s any one such thing as an aggressive instinct some violence is just a kind of rational self-interest you eliminate or or harm something that happens to be a obstacle on the path to something that you want and I don’t think there’s that much reason to think that that differs between men and women if there were a chicken talking about the history of violence they’d say maybe we’re as violent as ever and I don’t think that there’s any you know aggressive impulse that we have against chickens and just like the way they taste and we turn off our empathy so so I think that category probably doesn’t differ as much although women probably do have more empathy than men so I should qualify even yot but the category that really drives the rates up is dominance and revenge the macho posturing the violent retaliation against insults the thirst for grandeur preeminence prestige status dominance hegemony for its own sake is more of a guy thing than a that a female thing and so both cross-culturally in the anthropological record and historically in the recent historical record societies in which women have more power tend to go to war less I’m just wanted as any brave soul who’d like to argue the reverse okay I’m sorry I’m not going to be able to get a look at all the hands but the gentleman with the glasses and the white hair of the jumper Thank You professor pink you quoted quite rightly how how the murder rate has fallen massively since the Middle Ages when I am I believe I would see some numbers say that Britain was a more violent country than Colombia is today but it’s double what it was 50 years ago and it soon it may arguably be a double in terms of murder rates than it was a hundred years ago why do you think that is and how does that fit your thesis yeah so the there has been if you if you look at the trajectory of homicide in most West in most Western countries you have a massive decline since the Middle Ages and then the 1960s happened and it went there’s a bit of an uptick The Epoch by the way has been in large part reversed again most dramatically in the United States where the homicide rate more than doubled between the during the 1960’s and then in the 1990s it fell back to earth and it’s continuing to droop year by year in Britain it took a little longer it was only in the 2000s that the homicide rate started to fall again after the great disruption of the 1960s so this was a partial reversal only in part we’re talking about so in the in the say the Middle Ages the homicide rate as you know it was similar to what you see in Colombia today anywhere from 35 to 70 homicides per hundred thousand per year that fell by the 1900 in most Western European countries at least in Britain – about between one and two per hundred thousand per year it then went up to say between three and four so we’re still talking about way way lower and then it’s the reverse the reversal has been in turn reversed I think it’s um it’s because many of the historical changes that brought violence down from the Middle Ages to the present to the 60s then got reversed by the 60s and as a baby boomer it pains me to say this that our parents will kind of write that if you have a society that has that defies Authority that valorizes individualism and and demonizes conformity that allows it that’ll that allows or encourages young men to rather than moving to the suburbs and raising a family to hang out with other men if you’ve got a criminal justice system that voluntarily disarms and stops going after criminals and and hooligans and vandals then the the violence rate goes back up and part of the reversal of the reversal namely it starting to come back down to earth is because communities and police got more serious about dealing with with violence again partly this was interesting reversal that was partly fueled by the the feminist movement when up through the 70s it was kind of kind of square and unhip to be against crime it was kind of self-expression it was rebellion it was advancing the revolution there’s all kinds of revolutionary romantic nonsense about violence that I think as it trickled as it affected the actual practice of the criminal justice system it allowed a relaxing of standards which let the crime rate go up well then a number of feminist theorists in the 70s started to concentrate on rape and domestic violence and then all of a sudden violence was a a bad thing again because it was obviously harming so many women and the feminist movement pushed for a strong emphasis abri criminal justice system on violent perpetrators on safe streets and then people realized hey this is a pretty good idea that idea in the 60s that violence was just part of the revolutionary spirit was kind of goofy and that clamping down on violence will protect women against rape and it’ll also make us all safer and that that reversal is still in motion and it came again it came a little later in Britain than it did in other Western democracies but it is definitely visible in the statistics thank you because the volume of questions are going to take – if that’s a right and asked you to deal with on the left so I’m going to yes okay from home together x – now there’s Venus obvious downward trend in violence but there’s also been an upward trend in the ability to kill people caramel antigens of nuclear capability which kind of coincides with the massive drop off at the end of the Second World War so just the fact that we now have the ability to kill lots of people at the same time without very much effort and how do you feel that relates to your theories about it does it make the society less violent the fact that it’s easier to be very successfully violence should you want to be yeah well they’re there they’re two ways in which this is a frequently asked question and it has comes in two flavors one of them is should we thank the nuclear bomb for giving us the long peace since 1945 baddest countries were just so terrified by the possibility of nuclear escalation that they didn’t go close to waging a war and one version is – the nuclear bomb be given in – about Nobel Peace Prize there are people who make that argument I’m skeptical of it for a number of reasons one of them being that countries without nukes also thought the matter of waging war another is that the Second World War showed that you could do so much damage with good old fashioned bombs and tanks and and bombers that an artillery that there already was mutually assured destruction even with conventional warfare and no one wanted a rematch of World War two anytime soon and also because nuclear weapons are so disproportionately destructive compared to any strategic military aim it’s almost as if they were taken off the battlefield as a live option and had very little effect on the waging of war so just take one of many examples why did Argentina do something as stupid as to invade the Falkland Islands knowing that Britain was a nuclear power answer they knew that Britain was not going to reduce Buenos Aires to a radioactive crater in response so the nuclear threat is so ridiculously disproportionate that it’s almost a bluff everyone knows that no one is really going to use it and I think that’s that’s why you have so many non-nuclear States to find nuclear ones and it’s why that the it wasn’t just amazing luck that no nuclear weapon has been used since Nagasaki they’re just there’s really no other than to deter an all-out invasion an existential threat there’s absolutely no reason to have nuclear weapons and it’s even possible and I’m saying this as someone who is not romantic or utopian it’s not inconceivable that they could be abolished in within a lifetimes of some of the people in this room of the younger people the other way of an state asking the question is more of a challenge that isn’t aren’t we living in more violent times by definition as long as we have the capability of wreaking massive destruction and so we could be living in peace forever but we could do it and that by definition makes us violent and that’s kind of a for me that’s more of a philosophical question of what you mean by violence if the nuclear weapons just kind of rust away until they’re radioactive junk metal and are never used that’s that’s that’s peaceful enough so let me come back to the gentleman over here you said about the German French and the Second World War the First World War and their psychology of perhaps being self-destructive in the in the in the current war between Israel and Iran and the fact that Israel lost six or seven million in the second world war do you think that their psychology and sort of paranoia and the and the Arab psychology will lead them to have to do what you said that we will no longer be able to fight Germany and England and Germany will no longer fight or at least not for this foreseeable future are they there for Israel and the Arabs heading for one of those great big bumps that you mentioned in the graph in your opinion almost certainly not so the the wars between Israel and its neighbors Israel Syria Israel Jordan Israel Egypt there hasn’t been one since 1973 through several regime changes in Egypt and those were the wars by the way that by far killed the most people they certainly the War of Independence the 1973 war if you look at the number of casualties in the arab-israeli conflict it goes down like that and again this is because the wars between countries are the ones that that do the most damage that kill the most people and I don’t see those wars are starting up anytime soon this if there’s a the two worrisome scenarios one of them the one that that Israel itself worries about is Iran gets the bomb they hasten the coming of the 12th Imam or they rectify the ancient injustice of the existence of State of Israel by dropping a nuclear bomb on Tel Aviv causing a second Holocaust destroying the State of Israel and and that would be one one outcome that is motivating the fear of Israel to strike preemptively the other is that Israel does strike preemptively and that Iran then unleashes a wave of terrorism in response I think it’s unlikely that they would try to invade Israel for a number of reasons so those are the and I don’t think I don’t think the first scenario is extremely unlikely that although it’s better for everyone if Iran doesn’t get a bomb I don’t think that they are planning to perpetrate a second Holocaust I don’t think that’s part of their their game plan if for no other reason and here’s where nuclear deterrence might have an impact namely as I mentioned it it’s only use is to deter an out-and-out invasion an existential threat since Israel does have a nuclear capability and they presumably would use it in retaliation that would prevent Iran from hastening the coming of the 12th Imam by that route or or whatever disaster scenario you have I don’t think anyone really knows how much how many deaths would come from a a Lee or an American preemptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities but quite likely it would be less than the death toll from the interstate wars between Israel and Egypt in its history psychology the possibility of a preemptive strike and if they hit those sites surely the fallout we would be we need an expert in nuclear science to tell us but I don’t think so it’s not like it would trigger a nuclear explosion and it probably would not be as I don’t know it would be like another Chernobyl or Fukushima because there isn’t as much material and it’s more and it’s more I have more deeply buried but again I’m not good bad that I don’t know that’s the sort of job speculation beyond certainly my competence and – well unfortunately I’m just really sorry to say this we’ve only got time for one more question but people will be around to sign books and discuss artists that Jennifer at the very back yes you sir yes there are there are a number of such correlations so people who are people and average levels in societies that I have that are higher on educational attainment or intelligence or both and they tend to be correlated are less likely to commit violent crimes they’re less likely to be victims of violent crimes society-wide they’re more likely to be receptive to democracy ten years down the line they’re less likely to have civil wars so yes there are a number of positive knock-on effects to high levels of education and also periods in history in which levels of literacy and availability of books and printed material have gone up have often preceded enlightenment such as the the European lightin enlightenment which occurred prior to a huge explosion in intensity of printed discourse the Republic of Letters says that sometimes called Stephen in a moment I’ll hand back to Cathy to closed this event before the book signing I wanted to give you an opportunity in case there’s anything else he wanted to add or a message you wanted to leave us with to round things off oh well again I guess I would if I had to give one summary statement it would be to reiterate what I at least what I like to think is what motivates me in writing that book this book and that is to attend to the empirical record on what causes war and homicide terrorism and genocide domestic violence and so on and to attend to the best data we have on what reduces it it’s just so easy to moralize catastrophize sermonize ultimately what we want to do is have fewer and fewer victims of violence fewer rape victims fewer genocides fewer Wars fewer homicides less domestic violence and so it’s not a question of having your favorite ideology vindicated it’s a matter of looking to the factual record and seeing what works and doing more of it please join me in thanking Stephen and Robert you

Leave a Reply