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The Better Angels of Our Nature

society & culture


The Better Angels of Our Nature

Steven Pinker

What is the book about?

The book The Better Angels of Our Nature (2011) is about the decline of violence in human history. Steven Pinker provides evidence that despite the current state of the world, violence has drastically decreased over centuries, and there is hope for a more peaceful future.

Who should read the book?

This book is a perfect read for individuals that are interested in the history and psychology of violence and want to understand the decline of violence over time through empirical evidence and analysis. It is also suitable for those who enjoy challenging their assumptions and exploring controversial ideas.

About the Author:

Steven Pinker is a renowned cognitive scientist, linguist, and author who has made significant contributions to the study of language, human nature, and the mind. He is a professor of psychology at Harvard University and has been named one of Time Magazine's 100 most influential people in the world. Pinker is also a frequent contributor to publications such as The New York Times, The Guardian, and The Atlantic, where he writes about a range of topics including psychology, politics, and culture. He is known for his clear and accessible writing style, as well as his commitment to evidence-based reasoning and scientific inquiry.

Book Summary

Three Key Ideas - find more in our App!

Are you ready to challenge your beliefs about the state of the world? The Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinker is a powerful tribute to the remarkable progress humanity has made towards a more peaceful, just and humane world. In this book, Pinker takes us on an enlightening journey through the history of human violence, examining the darkest moments of our past to reveal a brighter future. Through a wealth of data and research, he demonstrates that, contrary to popular belief, we are living in the most peaceful era of human existence. Pinker argues that the decline of violence is due to the impact of the Enlightenment, the rise of reason and science, and the spread of democracy, human rights and education. Whether you're a history buff, a social scientist or simply a curious reader, The Better Angels of Our Nature is a must-read that will challenge your assumptions about the world and leave you feeling inspired about the future of humanity.

Violence Declined Throughout Human History

Diving into the fascinating decline of violence throughout human history, Steven Pinker provides compelling evidence that our world has become significantly less violent over time. Contrary to popular belief, the author demonstrates that we are currently living in the most peaceful period in human history.

Pinker supports this idea by analyzing historical data and trends in violence, from prehistoric times to the present day. He examines various forms of violence, such as wars, homicide, and even cruelty to animals. Through this comprehensive analysis, it becomes clear that violence has been on a steady decline for centuries.

For instance, the author highlights the decrease in the rate of violent deaths in tribal societies compared to modern ones. In prehistoric times, the chances of dying from violence were about 15%, while today, this figure has dropped to just 0.03%. Pinker also sheds light on the decline of major wars, pointing out that the 20th century, despite being marred by two World Wars, was less deadly than previous centuries when taking into account population size.

One example that illustrates this trend is the decrease in the number of European countries involved in wars from 1500 to 2000. In the 16th century, 75% of European countries were engaged in wars, while in the 20th century, only 25% were involved in conflicts.

This key idea delves into the reasons behind the impressive reduction in violence throughout human history, painting an optimistic picture of humanity's progress. By understanding this decline, we can better appreciate the factors that have led to a safer and more peaceful world. Pinker's thought-provoking analysis serves as a reminder of the power of human progress and our ability to learn from our past mistakes to create a brighter future.

Evolution of Human Empathy and SelfControl

Exploring the development of human empathy and self-control, Steven Pinker shows how these characteristics have led to a decrease in violence over time. He suggests that as our brains evolved, so did our ability to empathize and exercise self-control, enabling us to better comprehend and predict the needs and wants of others. This improved our capacity to collaborate and settle disputes nonviolently.

Pinker substantiates his argument by referencing various studies and examples, such as the concept of "mirror neurons." These neurons, located in the brain, permit us to vicariously experience the emotions of others, promoting empathy. The growth of language, storytelling, and shared experiences has broadened our understanding of different perspectives, allowing us to empathize more profoundly with a diverse array of individuals.

Moreover, the author examines the impact of self-control on curbing violent behavior. As humans evolved, our ability to restrain impulsive actions and contemplate potential consequences improved. This enhanced self-control has resulted in a reduction of impulsive, violent behavior.

Beyond these biological aspects, Pinker emphasizes the role of cultural norms and values in molding our empathetic and self-control capabilities. For example, societies that value cooperation, mutual respect, and nonviolent conflict resolution typically exhibit lower rates of violence. He also addresses the importance of parenting and education in nurturing empathy and self-control in children.

In conclusion, Pinker compellingly contends that the development of human empathy and self-control has significantly contributed to the reduction of violence throughout our history. By strengthening our capacity to comprehend and care for others, as well as manage our own behavior, we have become more skilled at peacefully resolving conflicts and cooperating.

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