August 18, 2016


You may think the world is falling apart. Steven Pinker is here to tell you it isn't. (Julia Belluz, August 16, 2016, Vox)

Julia Belluz

You wrote a very optimistic book about the trend toward less violence on earth. But it feels like we've seen a lot of violence here in the US since then. We had the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012 -- and there have been at least 1,069 mass shootings since then. Overseas, more than 1,200 people have died in ISIS-related terror attacks, not including those killed in Iraq and Syria. And we've heard a lot about killings of young black men by police, and the killings of police, over the past several years. How do you put all this in context?

Steven Pinker

News is a misleading way to understand the world. It's always about events that happened and not about things that didn't happen. So when there's a police officer that has not been shot up or city that has not had a violent demonstration, they don't make the news. As long as violent events don't fall to zero, there will be always be headlines to click on. The data show -- since the Better Angels of Our Nature was published -- rates of violence continue to go down.

Rates of death in war show something of an uptick because of the war in Syria -- but that's still a fraction of the levels they were in the 1960s through the early 1990s, and that's to say nothing of the World Wars.

There has probably been a slight increase in the rate of violent crime in the US in 2015, and I say probably because the FBI figures are still not out for that year.

But even then that wouldn't even be as high as it was in 2012, just three years ago, and that itself is a huge decrease in the levels of '60s, '70, and '80s in the US, where violent crime has fallen by more than half. So there is probably an uptick for 2015 and 2016. But it's just a wiggle in a curve that's been going down, down, down.

Even if you even compare situation this year to a random year in the 1970s or 1980s, by every measure our world is much more peaceful.

Posted by at August 18, 2016 4:37 PM