Bombings, beheadings? Stats show a peaceful world

Oct 22, 2011 By SETH BORENSTEIN , AP Science Writer

It seems as if violence is everywhere, but it's really on the run.

Yes, thousands of people have died in bloody unrest from Africa to Pakistan, while terrorists plot bombings and kidnappings. Wars drag on in Iraq and Afghanistan. In peaceful Norway, a man massacred 69 youths in July. In Mexico, headless bodies turn up, victims of drug cartels. This month eight people died in a shooting in a California hair salon.

Yet, historically, we've never had it this peaceful.

That's the thesis of three new books, including one by prominent Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker. Statistics reveal dramatic reductions in war deaths, , racism, rape, murder and all sorts of mayhem.

In his book, Pinker writes: "The decline of violence may be the most significant and least appreciated development in the history of our species."

And it runs counter to what the mass media is reporting and essentially what we feel in our guts.

Pinker and other experts say the reality is not painted in bloody anecdotes, but demonstrated in the black and white of spreadsheets and historical documents. They tell a story of a world moving away from violence.

In his new book, "The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined," Pinker makes the case that a smarter, more educated world is becoming more peaceful in several statistically significant ways. His findings are based on peer-reviewed studies published by other academics using examinations of graveyards, surveys and historical records:

- The number of people killed in battle - calculated per 100,000 population - has dropped by 1,000-fold over the centuries as evolved. Before there were organized countries, battles killed on average more than 500 out of every 100,000 people. In 19th century France, it was 70. In the 20th century with two world wars and a few genocides, it was 60. Now battlefield deaths are down to three-tenths of a person per 100,000.

- The rate of genocide deaths per was 1,400 times higher in 1942 than in 2008.

- There were fewer than 20 democracies in 1946. Now there are close to 100. Meanwhile, the number of authoritarian countries has dropped from a high of almost 90 in 1976 to about 25 now.

Pinker says one of the main reasons for the drop in violence is that we are smarter. IQ tests show that the average teenager is smarter with each generation. The tests are constantly adjusted to keep average at 100, and a teenager who now would score a 100 would have scored a 118 in 1950 and a 130 in 1910. So this year's average kid would have been a near-genius a century ago. And that increase in intelligence translates into a kinder, gentler world, Pinker says.

"As we get smarter, we try to think up better ways of getting everyone to turn their swords into plowshares at the same time," Pinker said in an interview. "Human life has become more precious than it used to be."

Pinker argued his case in a commentary this past week in the scientific journal Nature. He has plenty of charts and graphs to back up his claims, including evidence beyond wartime deaths - evidence that our everyday lives are also less violent:

- Murder in European countries has steadily fallen from near 100 per 100,000 people in the 14th and 15th centuries to about 1 per 100,000 people now.

- Murder within families. The U.S. rate of husbands being killed by their wives has dropped from 1.2 per 100,000 in 1976 to just 0.2. For wives killed by their husbands, the rate has slipped from 1.4 to 0.8 over the same time period.

- Rape in the United States is down 80 percent since 1973. Lynchings, which used to occur at a rate of 150 a year, have disappeared.

- Discrimination against blacks and gays is down, as is capital punishment, the spanking of children, and child abuse.

But if numbers are too inaccessible, Pinker is more than happy to provide the gory stories illustrating our past violence. "It is easy to forget how dangerous life used to be, how deeply brutality was once woven into the fabric of daily existence," Pinker writes in his book.

He examines body counts, rapes, sacrifice and slavery in the Bible, using an estimate of 1.2 million deaths detailed in the Old Testament. He describes forms of torture used in the Middle Ages and even notes the nastiness behind early day fairy tales, such as the evil queen's four gruesome methods for killing Snow White along with a desire to eat her lungs and liver.

Even when you add in terrorism, the world is still far less violent, Pinker says.

"Terrorism doesn't account for many deaths. Sept. 11 was just off the scale. There was never a terrorist attack before or after that had as many deaths. What it does is generate fear," he said.

It's hard for many people to buy the decline in violence. Even those who deal in peace for a living at first couldn't believe it when the first academics started counting up battle deaths and recognized the trends.

In 1998, Andrew Mack, then head of strategic planning for U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, said a look at the statistics showed the world was becoming less violent. The reaction from his professional peacekeeping colleagues?

"Pffft, it's not true," they told Mack, arguing that the 1990s had to be the worst decade in U.N. history. It wasn't even close.

Joshua Goldstein, a professor of international relations at American University and author of "Winning the War on War," has also been telling the same story as Pinker, but from a foreign policy point of view. At each speech he gives, people bring up America's lengthy wars in the Middle East. "It's been a hard message to get through," he acknowledged.

"We see the atrocities and they are atrocious," Goldstein said. "The blood is going to be just as red on the television screens."

Mack, who's now with Simon Fraser University in Canada, credits the messy, inefficient and heavily political peacekeeping process at the U.N., the World Bank and thousands of non-governmental organizations for helping curb violence.

The "Human Security Report 2009/2010," a project led by Mack and funded by several governments, is a worldwide examination of war and violence and has been published as a book. It cites jarringly low numbers. While the number of wars has increased by 25 percent, they've been minor ones.

The average annual battle death toll has dropped from nearly 10,000 per conflict in the 1950s to less than 1,000 in the 21st century. And the number of deadliest wars - those that kill at least 1,000 people a year - has fallen by 78 percent since 1988.

Mack and Goldstein emphasize how hard society and peacekeepers have worked to reduce wars, focusing on action taken to tamp down violence, while Pinker focuses on cultural and thought changes that make violence less likely. But all three say those elements are interconnected.

Even the academics who disagree with Pinker, Goldstein and Mack, say the declining violence numbers are real.

"The facts are not in dispute here; the question is what is going on," John Mearsheimer, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago and author of "The Tragedy of Great Power Politics."

"It's been 21 years since the Cold War ended and the United States has been at war for 14 out of those 21 years," Mearsheimer said. "If war has been burned out of the system, why do we have NATO and why has NATO been pushed eastward...? Why are we spending more money on defense than all other countries in the world put together?"

What's happening is that the U.S. is acting as a "pacifier" keeping the peace all over the world, Mearsheimer said. He said like-minded thinkers, who call themselves "realists" believe "that power matters because the best way to survive is to be really powerful." And he worries that a strengthening China is about to upset the world power picture and may make the planet bloodier again.

And Goldstein points out that even though a nuclear attack hasn't occurred in 66 years - one nuclear bomb could change this trend in an instant.

Pinker said looking at the statistics and how violent our past was and how it is less so now, "makes me appreciate things like democracy, the United Nations, like literacy."

He and Goldstein believe it's possible that an even greater drop in violence could occur in the future.

Goldstein says there's a turn on a cliche that is apt: "We're actually going from the fire to the frying pan. And that's progress. It's not as bad as the fire."

Explore further: New research explores how culture affects our conceptions of nature

More information:
Steven Pinker's web site: http://stevenpinker.com/

A lecture by Pinker with his statistics and graphics on a "history of violence:" http://bit.ly/rupVbk

Joshua Goldstein's book website: http://winningthewaronwar.com/

The Human Security Report Project: http://www.hsrgroup.org/

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Vendicar_Decarian
3 / 5 (2) Oct 22, 2011
The domestication of Man continues.
trekgeek1
4.7 / 5 (3) Oct 22, 2011
The domestication of Man continues.

The evolution of humanity prevails. Utopian Star Trek society, here we come!
Callippo
5 / 5 (2) Oct 22, 2011
We shouldn't confuse the evolution of human civilization with evolution of human animals. Do you remember the looting in New Orleans during Katrina floods or the recent rioting in London? If the people would feel threaten in existence, you would see all their old stuffs...;-)
indio007
1.8 / 5 (5) Oct 22, 2011
Looting does not equal violence
RobPaulG
1.7 / 5 (12) Oct 22, 2011
But there are 1.5 to 2 billion following a book called the Koran which instructs them to destroy non-believers. That does not bode well for the future...
Callippo
not rated yet Oct 22, 2011
Looting does not equal violence
Because no one guarded his property with weapons there (and even policemans were involved in looting). But it illustrates clearly, the respect to private property is still virtual thing, provided with society, not with thinking of individuals. I'm afraid, the respect to human life is of the same origin for many individuals.
Cynical1
1 / 5 (1) Oct 23, 2011
VD - it's evolution at work. It's a dirty job, but SOMEbody or something has to do it... I liken it to - "and the universe throws the dice again..."
Callippo
2.1 / 5 (7) Oct 23, 2011
But there are 1.5 to 2 billion following a book called the Koran which instructs them to destroy non-believers.
The Arabians feel, their oil has a bigger value, than the price, for which they're selling it to western countries by now. The most effective way how to pacify them, would be the introduction of cold fusion technology. Their oil will not become priceless just because of it (we still need a lotta oil for plastic industry) - but it could eliminate the political tension at the Middle East. After all, if you have enough of energy, you can fixate carbon and to produce hydrocarbons just from atmospheric carbon dioxide and water.
plasticpower
1 / 5 (3) Oct 23, 2011
All the stats seem to be "X per 100,000". Does it take in account the population explosion in the last few centuries?
Shakescene21
4.8 / 5 (4) Oct 23, 2011
A huge percentage of the reduction in war deaths is due to better medicine and rapid evacuation, which allows most wounded soldiers to survive. Furthermore, prior to the 20th Century more soldiers died of disease than combat, which is not the case anymore.
ShotmanMaslo
5 / 5 (4) Oct 23, 2011
People tend to idealize the past and view present and future with a negative bias. In reality, we are improving, slowly but surely.

All the stats seem to be "X per 100,000". Does it take in account the population explosion in the last few centuries?


Per capita numbers are what is important, not absolute numbers. Doubling the population does not make our the world double as violent.
Beard
5 / 5 (3) Oct 23, 2011
All the stats seem to be "X per 100,000". Does it take in account the population explosion in the last few centuries?


That's a per capita measurement. It scales to any number but becomes more accurate the larger the sample size is.

Population: 60,000,000
Murders per year: 6000
*Divide by 600 because (100,000)(600) = 60,000,000*
Murders per 100,000: 10
WhiteJim
4.5 / 5 (2) Oct 23, 2011
... so why has the military spending of the USA not declined by 1400 times since 1942? I believe its likely gone the opposite way and increaed by 1400 times or more in that time.
Callippo
1 / 5 (1) Oct 23, 2011
The military spending of USA (and another countries) is in direct contradiction to the number of actual kills in existing wars. The arm race prohibits the direct confrontation, as Ronald Reagan recognized already.
Jeddy_Mctedder
1 / 5 (2) Oct 23, 2011
yea i watched pinkers speech. he had some good points at times, but it wasn't worth watching. his basic thesis could have been written by a high school. it states the common-sensically intuitively obvious social observation that the larger societyes require larger amounts of cooperation ---and then seeks to go about proving it with spotty quantitivate graphs that really are just bunk because the historical data sources are anecdotal without reliable quantitative data.

further more, and far more importantly, he ignores the fact that one cannot see what is coming. a big enough war in the next 100 years would eviscerate his thesis in its own write.

finally HIS BIGGEST mistake is that he mistakes 'non-violent' interaction, as the opposite of 'violent'. hence the incredible population growth of the past 60 years is all peace and love. pinker ignores the writing on the wall. extreme growth in a system eventually reverses with extreme contraction. it's only a matter of time.
Callippo
1 / 5 (2) Oct 23, 2011
..he ignores the fact that one cannot see what is coming. a big enough war in the next 100 years would eviscerate his thesis in its own write...
Yes, when number of war death is accounted, than the evolution of human civilization doesn't appear so peacefully at all. If we don't want to experience the next world war, then there is only one solution - we should the force our governments into implementation the cold fusion technology ASAP. This will break the economical connections, which are leading into increasing instability of society at the global geopolitical scale - at least temporarily. The various protests against global corporations have no meaning here, as the rules of economical instability are deeper.

Every increasing of price of oil above three-to four hundred of dollars per gallon will start the global nuclear war without mercy. The people should realize their situation: once the global conflict will emerge, it would be very difficult to stop it again.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1.8 / 5 (5) Oct 23, 2011
VD - it's evolution at work. It's a dirty job, but SOMEbody or something has to do it... I liken it to - "and the universe throws the dice again..."
No VD is correct, the species has been undergoing a Process of domestication for a very long time. I'll give you an example. Stalingrad, ww2. Of all the Germans who were trapped there and subsequently taken into captivity, over 90% of enlisted men died as compared to 50% of junior officers and 10% of senior officers.

Here's another. If you were smart enough to get into college you didn't have to go to Vietnam. Another - the higher education system takes young people with a certain level of intelligence out of their incipient cultures and brings them together to increase their chances of mating.

Another - drugs were made available after the world wars to tempt the weak. The western world was full. Emphasis on quantity could be replaced by selection for quality in the species.

So many examples. Baaa. Arf.
TheGhostofOtto1923
2.3 / 5 (3) Oct 23, 2011
A recurring example of domestication - illegal immigration. Hispanics were not given visas to come to the US. Getting here was hard. They had to gather enough money, run the gauntlet at the border and know where to go when they got here. They had to be able to earn a living and stay out of trouble while disguising the fact that they were here illegally. It is currently even harder now that Quotas have been reached. This is selection at it's best.

Getting to the Americas was never easy. Pioneers had many daunting obstacles to surmount. Conditions in Eurasia were exacerbated in different regions at different times as an integral factor in this Process of Rarifaction. The 30 Years War, the 100 Years War, the French revolution and the napoleonic wars, the Irish potato famine et al, all served not only to replace the natural process of selection on the continent, but to compel the brightest, most pragmatic, and most ambitious to get the hell out of there and head for the colonies.
Mabus
1 / 5 (4) Oct 23, 2011
Pinker makes the case that a smarter, more educated world

Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. The ability to use the Internet and modern electronics is not a sign of intelligence, you know.
The number of people killed in battle - calculated per 100,000 population - has dropped by 1,000-fold over the centuries as civilizations evolved. Before there were organized countries, battles killed on average more than 500 out of every 100,000 people.

Uh boy... centuries ago the wars were fought infantry vs infantry or vs cavalery. This means that both sides would of suffered casualties. And you needed a lot of men for that job.
A lot of men = a lot of casualties. Today, we no longer send the infantry or the cavalery, but a handful of people launch missiles or send planes. And then we send artillery. And then we send the troops. And then we take prisoniers. And then we have prisonier abuse. And then we have Blackwater kill civilians. And then we have Apache kill civilians.
Mabus
1 / 5 (5) Oct 23, 2011
The rate of genocide deaths per world population was 1,400 times higher in 1942 than in 2008.

Pffffffff....
Genocides are like weather. They usually come unexpected and it's not uncommon to exist time periods when no genocides take place.
There were fewer than 20 democracies in 1946. Now there are close to 100. Meanwhile, the number of authoritarian countries has dropped from a high of almost 90 in 1976 to about 25 now.

Does monarchy classifies as democracy?
Can a country rulled by irresponsible, lying and sometimes corrupt politicians, with connections in corporates, lobbies and other interests, be considered democracy?
Pinker says one of the main reasons for the drop in violence is that we are smarter. IQ tests show that the average teenager is smarter with each generation.

Justin Bieber fans say otherwise. Kids at school with guns say otherwise.
Mabus
2.3 / 5 (6) Oct 23, 2011
Murder in European countries has steadily fallen from near 100 per 100,000 people in the 14th and 15th centuries to about 1 per 100,000 people now.

On what time period?
Terrorism doesn't account for many deaths. Sept. 11 was just off the scale

Yeah and the Holocaust was also off the scale, along with the Japanese war crimes, the Great Chinese Famine, and the Soviet famine of 1921. Everything that's bigger that the rest is always off the scale.
There was never a terrorist attack before or after that had as many deaths.

No, but 9/11 occured on on three buildings and involved four planes. To keep it fair, we'll divide the number the victims to the number of buildings planes together.
2982/4=745
By comparison, the 2007 Yazidi communities bombings had 796 dead, the Cinema Rex fire 422 and the Air India Flight 182 329.
What's happening is that the U.S. is acting as a "pacifier" keeping the peace all over the world

War. What better way to keep the peace.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (2) Oct 23, 2011
A lot of men = a lot of casualties. Today, we no longer send the infantry or the cavalry
In the past, both sides had the same problems to solve. These problems were usually caused by overpopulation. In the past there was no good way of countering overpopulation than by war. And since overpopulation caused war, this could work out very well for both sides.

The trick was to be able to accept the inevitability of this equation, and then to modify it so that it could be useful while at the same time could be prevented from endangering Leadership.

This was a golden opportunity for Leaders to cooperate in the Management of the people. For when their numbers swell and discomfort ensues, the people will ALWAYS blame their leaders for their suffering. This makes the people the natural enemies of Leaders everywhere.

Leaders began to commiserate and realized that They could pit the people against each other creatively and constructively. The Benefits could be enormous and irresistible.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (2) Oct 23, 2011
But this was not and endless, hopeless equation. When the people are Managed, overall Stability can be maintained and true Progress allowed to happen. As greater Order is established over ever greater portions of the world, political, economic, and social systems which are not based on outgrowing and overrunning the other side can gradually be established. Growth can be reduced. Peace can endure.

Much of the world is now able to grow and live within it's means. Western entities no longer have to fight wars of mutual attrition. Western armies are now 'army killers'. We saw this in Korea, Vietnam, and the soviet war in Afghanistan among many many others.

We got to watch firsthand as saddam sent his forces out into the desert where they were carpet-bombed into mush. And we saw this particular Mechanism repeat itself when the Taliban sent it's organized forces against the northern tribes. Same long straight front lines in the middle of nowhere; same B52s grinding them into the soil.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (2) Oct 23, 2011
The Taliban is still performing its valuable Role in the pacification of pops. It is collecting up all the hapless, idle young hotheads in Pakistan and afghanistan, giving them AKs and RPGs and sending them Westward into the guns of coalition forces. The region gradually quiets. The danger of an Arab caliphate empire is reduced. The Herd becomes easier to, uh, herd.

Elsewhere in the region armies have been pitted against their own people. Hapless, idle young hotheads are either in these armies or fighting against them. Western forces act to modulate the mix, ensuring the most thorough Prosecution.

"If we see that Germany is winning we ought to help Russia and if Russia is winning we ought to help Germany, and that way let them kill as many as possible, although I don't want to see Hitler victorious under any circumstances." Harry S Truman, Freemason, 33 degree Sovereign Grand Inspector General and an Honorary Member of the supreme council, D.C.

How the West was Won. Since Alexander.
trantor
3.7 / 5 (3) Oct 23, 2011
But there are 1.5 to 2 billion following a book called the Koran which instructs them to destroy non-believers. That does not bode well for the future...


fundamentalist christians are just as bad.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (2) Oct 23, 2011
Hitler could have escaped into exile, but he didnt. Saddamm could have escaped into exile but he didn't. Khaddaffy and his sons could have escaped into exile but they DIDNT. All stayed to encourage those who fought for them to fight to the end.

The enemy of our enemy is our friend. The enduring enemy of Leaders everywhere is always the people. Sometimes Leaders will be called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice for the Cause, for their Tribe. For Empire.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (2) Oct 23, 2011
But there are 1.5 to 2 billion following a book called the Koran which instructs them to destroy non-believers. That does not bode well for the future...


fundamentalist christians are just as bad.
You bet. Their books were written by the same People. The same enduring Tribe.
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Oct 24, 2011

Justin Bieber fans say otherwise. Kids at school with guns say otherwise.

That there is a worldwide trend to more peace and higher IQs does not mean that individual countries may not be going the opposite way.