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Has violence declined over the years?

We are living in a world where paid assassins threaten the freedom of an individual, terrorists don't think twice before blowing up innocents and suicide bombing has become a profession for many, but Stephen Pinker, a Canadian-American experimental psychologist and cognitive scientist, believes that we've never lived in a more peaceful era. Sonakshi Babbar writes.

books Updated: Jan 21, 2012 18:08 IST

We are living in a world where paid assassins threaten the freedom of an individual, terrorists don't think twice before blowing up innocents and suicide bombing has become a profession for many, but Stephen Pinker, a Canadian-American experimental psychologist and cognitive scientist, believes that we've never lived in a more peaceful era.

"Violence has been on the decline, it hasn't been steady and isn't guaranteed to continue, but we have certainly come a long way from the prehistoric era of skull-bashing, said Pinker, whose latest book is called The Better Angels of our Nature.

In a session titled 'The Better Angels of our Nature: A Decline of Violence in History, TV Anchor Barkha Dutt introduced the author as a man who believes that no matter how bad the society it looks, it is better than what it used to be.

Basing his views on forensic archeology, Pinker gave a thought-provoking comparison of decline in violence over the centuries, "15%percent of archeological remains of human bodies have signs of violence such as bashed up skulls, decapitations or mummies found with ropes around their neck.

Compare that to the entire world in 20th century - throwing in all the deaths from man-made famines, genocide, to threats of war - still the percentage is so low that it is hardly visible on the graph."

Pinker, who has written six other books such as How the Mind Works and The Blank Slate, expounds his theory with startling statistics , "In 18th century England there were 200 capital offenses for capital punishments which included poaching, being in the company of gypsies, now the list has been brought down to four.

Also, death penalty has been abolished in many countries, and it's almost zero in most countries. Interestingly, very few countries actually carry out the executions as they have lost the taste for applying it."

People continue to fantasies about killing people they don't like nature is complex, it has always comprised inclinations towards violence and inclinations which counteract, what Abraham Lincoln called Better angels of our nature.

Elucidating on this he added that the motives which compel people towards violence are raw exploitation, revenge, dominance, dangerous ideologies, whereas reasons people don't go around hacking everyone are self-control, moral sense, empathy and reason.

On being asked about the place of non-violence in an essentially violent society, the academician responded that 25% of violent struggles ended with success but 75% of peaceful struggles ended in victory.

Citing Gandhi as an example, Pinker, said that 'Gandhi was right, at least statistically,' to which Barkha Dutt immediately countered that Gandhi was right in more ways than just statistically.