I recently finished reading the 841 pages book by the Canadian psychologist Steven Pinker The Better Angels Of Our Nature and for once I would have to agree with the Economist magazine that Pinkers book may go down as one of the great books of our time.However as I shall shortly explain I do not agree with all the findings in his book.
Pinkers book is packed with statistics the back up the main thesis in his book that people are becoming more moral, more civilised. He backs this theory up showing the massive decline in the murder rate from the middle ages to our present time, the decline in torture and also the long gaps in wars.For instance from 1870 to 1914 and from 1945 to the present time.He also provided evidence that compared to the middle ages human beings adopt a much more civilised method of behaviour to each other.The reason for this decline in violence and a more moral behaviour are according to Pinker. Firstly democracy and secondly the civilising behaviour of the growth of central government authority.
Now regarding the issue of wars Pinkers theory would appear to fall flat on its face.With fifteen million people being killed in the first world war and fifty five million people being killed in the second world war.However Pinker states that nowadays there are big gaps in wars between major powers unlike a few hundred years ago when wars were a permanent feature of life when most people were in fear of their village or town being invaded by hostile armies.
However regarding Pinkers view that ordinary people are much more civilised in their behaviour to each other I would tend to agree with this point of view.When I read Peter Ackroyd book London accounts of the behaviour of ordinary Londoners to each other from the middle ages to a couple of hundred years ago people appeared to adopt a much more barbaric mode of behaviour towards each other.For instance massive crowds cheering people being tortured to death in public.
However there are certain proplems with some of the ideas Steven Pinker puts forward in his book.The English philosopher John Gray in a review of the book in the Prospect magazine on the 21/112011 points out that the long peace since 1945 to a certain extent is a myth as there have been many proxy wars thought by the major powers since 1945 and we cannot rule out another major conflict.
I will now give my views on the book.Yes I agree with Pinker that ordinary people are much more moral in their behaviour towards other human being and are more civilised in their daily life than say a few hundred years ago.
However the major powers China,Russia and the USA all have enough nuclear weapons to destroy the world.So a war over resources cannot be ruled out in the future. Also there is still the threat of a nuclear holocaust. Also as John Gray states proxy wars are still being thought by the major powers in places like Syria.
Regarding the subject of torture I feel that Pinkers can be accused of hypocrisy as he appears to endorse Alan Dershowitzs view that limited torture can be used against terrorists providing a warrant has first been obtained from a court.I find this view barbaric.
Steven Pinker appears to be a strong supporter a free market capitalism being hostile to socialism and populist movements.This is in fact my major criticism of Pinkers book.To achieve world peace and a better world based on social justice in my opinion it is down to mass campaigns of ordinary people, peace campaigners and the labour movement. It should not be left to the behind the scenes actions of governments who may in fact have secret war aims if it is in the interests of the big corporations.
So in conclusion we can disarm the worlds armies, achieve peace and a better world but is is up to the mass action of the ordinary people from below.