The Collapse of Violence

The WSJ has a fantastic article today on the decline of violence in humanity. You really must read the whole thing.

Violence has been in decline for thousands of years, and today we may be living in the most peaceable era in the existence of our species.

This claim, I know, invites skepticism, incredulity, and sometimes anger. We tend to estimate the probability of an event from the ease with which we can recall examples, and scenes of carnage are more likely to be beamed into our homes and burned into our memories than footage of people dying of old age. There will always be enough violent deaths to fill the evening news, so people’s impressions of violence will be disconnected from its actual likelihood.

He goes through evidence of incredible violence in pre-historical societies, where one in six died with a rock in his skull. He then goes on to the middle ages, when robbery and assault were as common in Europe as unemployed Spaniards are now. And he concludes with the current trend, where violence — both private and state-sponsored — are down to the lowest recorded levels ever.

The rise of capitalism and trade are strong drivers of this peaceful trend. It’s much easier to avoid violence when you can obtain things peacefully and aren’t starving. The rise of competent states has also played a role as governments have become legitimate sources of order, rather than organized gangs of plunder. Even the worst welfare state that Michael Moore could imagine doesn’t have a scratch on a typical 19th century mercantilist empire.

But the biggest reason for the recent collapse of violence?

The most immediate cause of this New Peace was the demise of communism, which ended the proxy wars in the developing world stoked by the superpowers and also discredited genocidal ideologies that had justified the sacrifice of vast numbers of eggs to make a utopian omelet. Another contributor was the expansion of international peacekeeping forces, which really do keep the peace—not always, but far more often than when adversaries are left to fight to the bitter end.

This is exactly what P.J. O’Rourke told me during a Q&A session in Austin. When communism fell, two-third of the world’s civil wars ended. And with them went most collective farming lunacy and a significant number of planned genocides.

There are a few other factors I would cite. Pinker dismissed the effect of nuclear weapons as violence has fallen in non-nuclear states. I think he’s wrong to. In a previous era, the US and USSR would have had a war at some point. Just thirty years ago, we would have seen more wars against Israel or open war between India and Pakistan. But nukes, ironically, by unleashing the greatest destructive in human history, have prevented wars. Hand-in-hand with his is American military power. Our ability to project power anywhere in the globe and our willingness to defend our allies has also prevented wars and bloodshed.

But I would also add that humans have found better outlets for our fundamentally violent nature. Sports, violent video games, violent movies, even shooting our mouths off on blogs — I would argue that all of these have worked to channel our aggressive instincts in harmless ways.

Violence will never leave human nature. We can’t stick a fork in the human experiment just yet. But we’re a good way there. And the experiment of the West — freedom, capitalism, science and the peaceful use of arms — is a big reason we’re so far along.

Comments are closed.

  1. Poosh

    All I have to say to this is “Holocaust”, and whatever comfort you can draw from this article, I think, is diluted. Until that point in time violence certainly had been going down but then a cultured, educated, scientific, advanced state took all the lessons from the ‘Age of Reason’ and used it to exterminate an entire race on a systematic and mechanized level that ONLY children of the Enlightenment could have done.

    Yes, that was 70+ years ago, but that is a small amount of time when measuring all of humanity.

    As for violence at a personal level, certainly in Britain, despite corrupted statistics politicians try to throw at us, regular citizens know violence at a personal level has risen and continues to rise. A reverse trend. In many parts of Britain it is simply not safe to walk the streets at night, and this wasn’t the case 30 years ago etc. Sure, “you’re not being smashed over the head with a Dinosaur bone”, but that’s small comfort to the old lady who hangs herself because she’s been terrorised by feral youths for two years.

    As Heinlein points out, it’s very easy for an advanced civilization to fall to barbarism. Successful societies, peaceful ones, are not ones which necessarily use less violence, but use it in the best, rational way. Hal mentions this, I think, at the bottom of his post.

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  2. Seattle Outcast

    Which merely points out that the time we live in is indeed unusual.

    Also, at no point did the article state that violence was gone, we just have a lot less of it.

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  3. Seattle Outcast

    Sure, “you’re not being smashed over the head with a Dinosaur bone”, but that’s small comfort to the old lady who hangs herself because she’s been terrorised by feral youths for two years.

    And how much of that is because Britain has tried to force the populace into a state of defenselessness? By taking away everyone’s right and ability to defend themselves via disarmament, you create a breeding ground for the criminal types to operate unchallenged.

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  4. AlexInCT

    I think this NYT piece reeks of biased bulshit. We have not reduced the amoutn of violence in the world, we in the Western world have sanitzed war, making it far more likely and long lasting, focusing on causualties rather than the hoorrible total cost in all its forms of these prolonged/endless conflicts, and way too often turned a blind eye to violence we prefer to pretend is not happening, to the point that we now condone it and want to treat acts of war like criminal cases. Humanity will pay a heft price for this “civilized conflict” nonsense.

    I am sure if we where really wanted to be civilized and end violence, what we are doing now was not the right way to go about it. The best way to really limit violence would have been to made sure that any enemy forcing us to commit violence understood that it would mean their end (an I mean it in the most horrible way, not some half assed effort). Violence would be rare indeed when those doing it understood the price. But we can kid ourselves that we have become more civilized if we want to pretend never ending wars and terrorism writ large makes us better off.

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  5. Hal_10000 *

    He addresses that in the article. Even if you include WW2, the 20th century was the least violent in history, mainly because of the second half.

    I mean, think about it. Europe was basically at war continuously up until the present day. For Jews, specifically, pogroms were a way of life. My grandparents immigrated from the Jewish Crescent at the beginning of the century because they were sick of being killed and plundered anytime someone got bored.

    We WAY underestimate what a violent place the world used to be.

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  6. Poosh

    And it could well have happened the other way around. I don’t think people ,who aren’t ignorant in a general sense, think we underestimate how violent the world used to be. Even child who comes into contact with Horrible Histories books start to understand we are in a much better shape. Anyone who watches bloody Braveheart can figure this out. But it’s not much of a point to make. And it’s very, very precarious. The second half of last century was only so peaceful because we willed it so and because various historical factors led it to that etc. So much of everything rests on single events and individuals who just as sooner may never have come about.

    It is a dubious claim to make, the 20th century, the latter part, was very peaceful with democracies everywhere and a movement towards human rights? That’s great. So what? In the first half there were TWO WORLD WARS and a Holocaust. Never has the world seen such violence and slaughter, not on that scale, and not with those numbers.

    Buffing up the high quality of live a westerner – or someone affected by western culture – has presently, creates a sloppy sense of history and might actually lead to beliefs in historical teleology.

    Yes, our western-born states are beacons of light. But the Holocaust is always there. And it was done not 1000 years ago, or 10,000 years ago, but last century, by people with consciousness little different than our own.

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  7. CM

    I agree Hal, that’s a great piece.

    I would agree that democracy and the triumph of freedom and capitalism over communism was extremely important. As well as “right’s revolutions” – extremely important.

    But I’m glad the author points out, even if indirectly, that the UN has played an important role since WW2:

    Political scientists point instead to the growth of democracy, trade and international organizations—all of which, the statistical evidence shows, reduce the likelihood of conflict.

    Another contributor was the expansion of international peacekeeping forces, which really do keep the peace—not always, but far more often than when adversaries are left to fight to the bitter end.

    Alex:

    The best way to really limit violence would have been to made sure that any enemy forcing us to commit violence understood that it would mean their end (an I mean it in the most horrible way, not some half assed effort). Violence would be rare indeed when those doing it understood the price. But we can kid ourselves that we have become more civilized if we want to pretend never ending wars and terrorism writ large makes us better off.

    I don’t agree at all, as mentioned in the article I think it’s obvious that the international dispute system we have cuts down significantly on violence that would otherwise occur. “Forcing us to commit violence” sounds awfully subjective. And how would you go about killing all the enemy? Taking the gloves off would inevitably lead to a huge increase in civilian deaths, which would create a huge backlash and a massive propaganda tool for the enemy you are trying to vanquish.

    I do think the endless war discussion is an interesting one. Hitchens wrote about it last week. Worth reading.

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  8. hist_ed

    I think this article is a load of crap. First, he needs to parenthetically add the phrase “for white people” to about 70% of his examples/evidence. Every one of his great waves o’ peace, except the last one, were all about white people. Do you really think that the Enlightenment magically lowered the rate of violent death in Feudal Japan or central Africa? What a load of shit.

    His graph is silly. You start with the most widespread violent war in human history and of cource the rate of killing will go down from there. I’d love to see it extended back to 1800. How much you want to bet the World Wars One and Two are really high peaks and that things were relatively peaceful in the time between the Napoleonic Wars and 1914.

    More people died from violence in the 20th century than in any other. I’ll bet that if you add up the totals for Hitler, Mao and Stalin, those three bastards killed more people that all the combat fatalities in every war prior to 1900. I know more people died on the battleffields of World War One than died in every war in the previous century.

    I am guessing that the graph doesn’t include genocides in the absence of war-you can’t call the Cultural Revolution or the Great Leap Forward a war, both killed millions.

    I would alos really like to see his source material about prehistorical societies. Though I am not familiar enough with the work to make a definitive statement, I have certainly read material that contradicts what he is saying.

    Not sure how this guy got is degree in history, oh wait, he’s a psychiatrist?

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  9. Mississippi Yankee

    Even if you include WW2, the 20th century was the least violent in history, mainly because of the second half.

    Two points I’d like to make:
    1) Both Stalin and Mao had much larger ‘kill scores’ than Hitler. And they did much of it in the second half of the 20th century. It didn’t equal WW I& II but we’re now just learning that they were significant.
    2) The Bomb averted any chance of a WW III due to fear of mutual destruction for all parties. Think Cuban missile crisis. I was 8 years old then and even I knew enough to be afraid. In the end no one wanted to die.

    The 21st century, however, begins with a nuclear radical Iran and a nuclear, yet never very stable, Pakistan that we have just now decided to start to poke with a stick.

    Now don’t get me wrong Pakistan needs poking but with out some teeth behind it what’s the point?

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  10. Mississippi Yankee

    But I’m glad the author points out, even if indirectly, that the UN has played an important role since WW2:

    Do you mean this UN?


    And it was here in 1980, right here, that the historic peace agreement between Israel and Egypt wasn’t praised; it was denounced! And it’s here year after year that Israel is unjustly singled out for condemnation. It’s singled out for condemnation more often than all the nations of the world combined. Twenty-one out of the 27 General Assembly resolutions condemn Israel — the one true democracy in the Middle East.

    Our Third Order of BusinessWell, this is an unfortunate part of the U.N. institution. It’s the — the theater of the absurd. It doesn’t only cast Israel as the villain; it often casts real villains in leading roles: Gadhafi’s Libya chaired the U.N. Commission on Human Rights; Saddam’s Iraq headed the U.N. Committee on Disarmament.

    You might say: That’s the past. Well, here’s what’s happening now — right now, today. Hezbollah-controlled Lebanon now presides over the U.N. Security Council. This means, in effect, that a terror organization presides over the body entrusted with guaranteeing the world’s security.

    Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech at the United Nations on Friday.

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  11. CM

    Even if I accepted all that (I think you’re confusing stances by countries that make up the UN with the body itself, about significantly more than one single issue), it still doesn’t negate the point that the UN has played an important role in reducing violence in the world.

    What impact did Libya and Lenanon in those roles have on violence?

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  12. Mississippi Yankee

    Kindly re-read the first paragraph of the quote.
    He spoke AT the UN ABOUT the UN.

    Libya a Lebanon are pertinent to his point. That’s why I included them.

    And women in central Africa equate UN, and blue helmet, peace with a different spelling.

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  13. Poosh

    The UN is a joke now, but I think it’s fair to say that the UN in many ways has had a good affect, even if it’s pretty much a joke these days, and worth disregarding for something else. But ideas such as the League of Nations etc had some good aspects and at least abstractly these supranational institutions are one of the hundreds of reasons why we’re experiencing, in the west, a reasonably good quality of life. But that’s a “no shit sherlock” statement, really. The UN reduced violence, well I should hope so. But currently, now, it’s certainly helping to create violence. The UN has been a positive force for good and peace for some parts last century and abstractly it is a great idea. But now the cracks are massive, which is why I think it’s stupid to make grand claims that we’re heading in a peaceful direction. Nothing is certain. Civilizations have converted back into barbarism before.

    The UN, however, has only been as effective as military force it could master, to enforce its resolutions. So it’s a bit circular really, i.e US military power.

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  14. AlexInCT

    I don’t agree at all, as mentioned in the article I think it’s obvious that the international dispute system we have cuts down significantly on violence that would otherwise occur.

    The perception that there is less violence is just that, a perception, and a false and ambiguous one at it. Just because we have become good at ignoring some, if not most, of it, or reclassifying what violence really is or is not, doesn’t make it so. Yes, democracy has made most brutal violence less acceptable in those societies that embraced it, but it seems to me to tolerate a lot of it from others, both within and from outside, to the point we that we even pretend the world is now a better place. Look at Israel and the fucking monsters that surround it. Or the example of Great Britain that was mentioned about how the people are tyrannized by a combination of government that has deprived them of the right to self defense and a class of villainous anti-social scumbags that thrive on that insane cock block.

    The West has become afraid to fight to win, because of its fear of being labeled violent. What this has done is made sure that we will never vanquish any enemy and will face the same violence over and over making the end tool far higher than dealing with the problem immediately and with absolute and maximum force would have. Read some Sun Tzu or Bismarck.

    “Forcing us to commit violence” sounds awfully subjective.

    LOL! Considering how subjective the belief that we now have less violence sounds to me, its just par for the course. We have more conflicts around the planet than ever. They sure may be low key or ignored, but people are dying and suffering. And we also have serious violence within our own societies. Crooks run rampant, without fear, because citizens have been disarmed in the name of peace.

    And how would you go about killing all the enemy?

    Ask the Carthaginians or the Mayans about that.

    Taking the gloves off would inevitably lead to a huge increase in civilian deaths, which would create a huge backlash and a massive propaganda tool for the enemy you are trying to vanquish.

    So you admit my point then? That we have become so paralyzed by the fear of popular opinion that it is all but guaranteed that we will never deal with any enemy effectively and in a way that prevents us from experiencing prolonged low level conflicts that not only cost far more materially but also in lives? And BTW CM, this is only a propaganda tool for the enemy because WE have allowed it to become that.

    I do think the endless war discussion is an interesting one. Hitchens wrote about it last week. Worth reading.

    That’s what we have all but assured ourselves in the West: we will be in an endless costly never war. But it will not be endless. If we are not willing to fight to win we will eventually lose. And our enemy knows that and is emboldened to carry on because of it.

    What we are doing here is confounding softness with lack of violence. And history has shown that when civilizations go soft, they get overrun. Those that lose the conviction of their values and then the will to defend it, are doomed to lose out. We have people that feel nothing is worth fighting for and even go so far as to look down upon those that do. In the mean time the world is replete with wolves waiting to bring down the big herd animals. That’s our future.

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  15. AlexInCT

    Whatever good you might ascribe to the UN, be it old or new, the outright vileness of the bad it has done and is doing today beats that out by a 10 to 1 ratio in favor of the bad/vile.

    And you are correct: the UN has only been as effective as the US military power applied to back its decrees, when allowed, have been. Funny how anti-US an organization it is. And one that could not function with even the slightest modicum of legitimacy or success, let alone exist, outside of the purveyance of that power that it seems to be massively hostile towards – the US. Maybe it’s envy or the fact that the US has not been subservient to the aristocrats at the UN. But it is telling that the UN is just a tyrannical organization, hiding behind the veneer of legitimacy, but for the US preventing it from being what it really is.

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  16. mrblume

    > Or the example of Great Britain that was mentioned about how the people are
    > tyrannized by a combination of government that has deprived them of the right to self
    > defense

    Talk about “reclassifying violence”. You apparently define violence is like some feminists define rape.

    > we even pretend the world is now a better place

    Who does? All we here is about how the world is going downhill. For the left, capitalism and global warming will be the end of as all, and according to the right, terrorism and Islam (also known as, “the monsters that surround Israel”).

    I blame human nature: We need a cause to give our lives meaning. Nothing like blowing limited problems out of proportion. It makes our cause so much more meaningful, and as an added advantage, we can make up the solutions as we will.

    But I believe reasonable people recognize that the world is a better place. And thus the reasonable thing is to continue what brought us this far.

    Of course, if the world is not a better place, we’d have to conclude that the golden age of American hegemony has in fact achieved nothing at all.

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  17. AlexInCT

    Talk about “reclassifying violence”. You apparently define violence is like some feminists define rape.

    So some old guy being brutally beaten so they can take a few pounds or the bag of groceries he has, in some cases to death, is not really violence at all, because the only violence allowed is those caused by military troops. Check. Great logic there.

    Who does?

    Well the guy that claims we have become “less violent” for sure is making that false claim. What we have become however is desensitivised to prolonged and never ending low level violence while being hypersensitive to brief but effective violence that ends things ones and for all.

    All we here is about how the world is going downhill. For the left, capitalism and global warming will be the end of as all, and according to the right, terrorism and Islam (also known as, “the monsters that surround Israel”).

    Well, the world is going to hell because of the unsustainable economics of the nanny state. You can apply that ostrich approach if it makes life easier for you, but my advice is not to be too surprised when you are caught unprepared. Wait until you see the violence that comes after a world wide economic collapse.

    I blame human nature: We need a cause to give our lives meaning. Nothing like blowing limited problems out of proportion. It makes our cause so much more meaningful, and as an added advantage, we can make up the solutions as we will.

    I do not dispute people, especially the ones with meaningless empty lives, like to make it seem that without them championing some blatantly stupid cause, the world will go to pot. It’s why everyone was Napoleon, Cleopatra, or Julius Caesar in a previous life. But the question begs to be asked: what problem/solution are you implying I am trying to make up here? As far as I am concerned, my point is that this fluff piece is nothing but excuse making, at best, for behavior that, if anything, has exacerbated the problem it was trying to address. That coupled with willful blind eye towards the end product.

    But I believe reasonable people recognize that the world is a better place.

    I do not dispute that SOME parts of the world are a better place, but I am pointing out that those that say that we have less violence, are not being reasonable at all because the violence has been there all along. It’s just not in your face and thus forgotten.

    And thus the reasonable thing is to continue what brought us this far.

    Pretend that our redefinition of violence has not resulted in less death & suffering all at once, and then ONLY for a few people, but that it basically creates a situation for the suffering and killing to go on indefinitely in dribs and drabs that are too small to make anyone notice?

    Of course, if the world is not a better place, we’d have to conclude that the golden age of American hegemony has in fact achieved nothing at all.

    One can make the case that the world IS a better place, and yet, that the approach used to reduce violence is causing more of it, just spaced over longer time. They are not mutually exclusive. But you can use that straw man to make your argument appear more cogent. One must be very blinkered if violence is the only category by which you judge if we are better off. Especially when there should be a huge distinction between good and bad violence. A guy robbing and killing an old man is not the same as a soldier poping off a terrorist asshole and sending his ass to Allah in hell.

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  18. Kimpost

    One can make the case that the world IS a better place, and yet, that the approach used to reduce violence is causing more of it, just spaced over longer time. They are not mutually exclusive.

    You’re not making much sense. I think that they kind of are mutually exclusive. Reduced violence over a 70 year period is long term after all, isn’t it?

    Regardless, I’m a bit sceptical as to how people manage to quantify general violence myself. On a global scale, and historically, no less. Quite an impressive feat. Perhaps I should buy that book.

    Anyway, I wouldn’t take my scepticism as far as to claiming that the world is more violent today, as you seem to do, Alex.

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  19. Poosh

    Or the example of Great Britain that was mentioned about how the people are tyrannized by a combination of government that has deprived them of the right to self defense and a class of villainous anti-social scumbags that thrive on that insane cock block.

    I think there is an large disconnect here. Having to defend ourselves from scumbags, is still living in violence. The point of peace is not having to have to be on the look out, or having to NEED a weapon to defend oneself. The government of the UK’s removal of defense worsens this, but it didn’t cause it. Look at America, which I replied to above but the blog didn’t post for some reason, you have the right to reasonable arms, however you have the Bloods and Crips, in the UK we don’t have this kind of violence, and nothing like the murder rates from firearms – however America does have less violent crime as far as I know than Britain, if you exclude gun crime, which is caused by gang culture mostly I assume. But it’s all not the point.

    A peaceful, decent consciousness must be cultivated. We are not living in peace when we have to be on constant lookout for Islamist terrorists, for example. And we are not living in peace if we have to keep a side arm in the house LEST we get attacked one day. If guns were legal in the UK I will not be able to go out at night in safety. Even if I had a weapon it would be irrelevant. Once upon a time in Britain, in the PAST, one could leave her or his door open. Not any longer.

    Yes, we have come a long way. But this is STILL not as men should live. I do not believe men are violent by nature, in fact I think that’s horseshit. Man is as violent as he is peaceful, and both can be cultivated by a society/culture/nation. The only violence that is useful is that which stems from the survival instinct – anything else is probably psychotic or degenerate. What we are and what our FUTURE is is a practical state of affairs, it is never fixed, which is why WE have to do it for ourselves.

    OF COURSE the world, or should I say THE WEST, is a better place than before. But it is NOT the case for many africans, arabs and asians, who are butchered in their homes. Think of Saddam, and his use of chemical weapons (the fruits of western science and Reason) to kill hundreds to thousands with little effort. Westerners are less violent because we have cultivated a certain consciousness which we all share. A decline in violence comes from a CHANGE in consciousness. And as I said above, the German consciousness was not too different from any other western consciousness at the time, it was just as much the pinnacle of civilization as the rest of the West, and yet it took barely a shift in consciousness to cause the construction of the gas chambers, and the utilising of Europe’s technological and industrial wisdom to begin the massed extermination of a race, the like of which the WORLD had never known.

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  20. Kimpost

    No it’s not.

    Well, 70 years is pretty much a lifetime. I’m not ruling out that a “generic world citizen” born 1885 lived in a more violent world than a generic world citizen born 1946 did.

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  21. Poosh

    In the scheme of things, historically, 70 years isn’t a long time, I mean. I mean, we’re dealing with what, 10,000 years for somewhat advanced civilizations. I would not call it ‘long term’ though I can see how it is might seem important. It certainly is not something that one could infer a trend from. I’m sure there was a positive trend in the past 50 years or so – comparatively – up to the break out of WW1. I think you are projecting a trend on something, because you hope there is a trend. Of course, that might well be the case, 70 years could just as easily be a blip.

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  22. CM

    The UN is an apolitical body, part of which provides a structure for countries to air their concerns and vote on specific issues. People can rightly disagree with the concerns being aired, or the way a vote goes, but that’s a separate issue from the structure itself.
    And of course the UN is much much more than just the UNSC, General Assembly, or individual Commissions and Committees. They are just what you usually hear about.

    Again, as this issue is about the decline of violence, what relevance do the temporary positions of Libya or Lebanon or Iraq (taking their places as all other nations do) at the UN have?

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  23. CM

    So it’s a bit circular really, i.e US military power.

    It would only be circular if someone was arguing that the UN and not the US was responsible for the decline in violence. I certainly wouldn’t argue that. The US has been instrumental too (as had NATO). But the UN provides something that neither can provide, and that’s international legitimacy.

    Whatever good you might ascribe to the UN, be it old or new, the outright vileness of the bad it has done and is doing today beats that out by a 10 to 1 ratio in favor of the bad/vile.

    And how has this manifested itself in an increase in violence (at a 10 to 1 ratio)?

    And you are correct: the UN has only been as effective as the US military power applied to back its decrees

    This ignores most of what the UN does. It’s not military enforcement of resolutions. Peacekeeping is a much much larger part of what they do. The Word Food Programme, for example, is another UN role – who the hell knows how much violence that stops.

    Funny how anti-US an organization it is.

    It’s not anti-US in the slightest. Neither is it anti-Israel. It isn’t anti any country. You are referring to one part of the UN, which is a structure.

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  24. AlexInCT

    You’re not making much sense. I think that they kind of are mutually exclusive. Reduced violence over a 70 year period is long term after all, isn’t it?

    I laugh at the argument that violence was reduced in the last 70 years, unless all you want to focus on, as hist_ed pointed out, is the western democracies and you are excluding those parts of the world where collectivists imprisoned a few billion and systematically killed about a hundred million plus. I will even grant you that we in the western democracies have had a lot less military violence, compared to others during the same period or compared to what existed in the past. But that’s where it ends.

    I contend that military conflicts now drag on forever, often not even categorized as such to prevent people from getting worked up about the usual nonsense, with far greater associated costs and casualties (don’t count just the dead), because we are not willing to apply the necessary force to deal with these issues with overwhelming force to end them quick. The reason we have people making the claims that there is much less military violence is IMO specifically because, despite the imposed moral handicaps, we created a radically advanced military capability, which when coupled with a fighting spirit in the populace, something that no longer seems to be there, kept our enemies at bay. It’s not by accident that a new enemy has come after us because they perceived us a soft, and it is not a coincidence that they chose to focus on the US to make their point either.

    But mostly I think that this reduction in violence, at least as far as the concept of state vs. state war goes, can be attributed to the invention of the ultimate weapon – the bomb. When we made it real clear to an enemy with a lot to lose as well, that we would use it if pushed, which meant we all lost everything, it halted even the fucking goons in the USSR. We still have the bomb, and to top it off the US has a mighty military, but it seems the people have lost the will to allow them to be used either effectively or efficiently (and before you go accusing me of being insane, it is obvious that nuclear weapons can be “used” without actually having to be set off, and that’s what I am talking about in that case) to our great loss. This is going to come back to bite us.

    But that’s not the violence I am more interested and focused on. I am far more concerned for our tolerance for people that prey on the weaker within our own societies because our more enlightened ways have resulted in less fear of consequences amongst the criminals. We lost out when we equated punishing these vile and violent monsters with violence as well. And I hazard that we have far more of this violent behavior than we had in the past.

    Well, 70 years is pretty much a lifetime. I’m not ruling out that a “generic world citizen” born 1885 lived in a more violent world than a generic world citizen born 1946 did.

    Methinks that the problem lies with your defenition of what is violence, Kimpost. Also in not differentiating between good violence – self defense – and bad violence: robbing some guy.

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  25. AlexInCT

    It’s not anti-US in the slightest. Neither is it anti-Israel. It isn’t anti any country. You are referring to one part of the UN, which is a structure.

    I laughed. That den of thieves and pirates is exactly that. When you have prison states like Syria and Iran holding important positions or even chairing commisions dealing with the very oppresion that is rampant in those countries, it is a vindication of those that feel the UN is a laughable instituion.

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  26. CM

    I think we can take it as a given that you’re laughing continuously. You probably don’t need to say it every time.

    I laughed. That den of thieves and pirates is exactly that. When you have prison states like Syria and Iran holding important positions or even chairing commisions dealing with the very oppresion that is rampant in those countries, it is a vindication of those that feel the UN is a laughable instituion.

    People who dismiss the entire institution because of things like that, are rather transparently just attempting to justify a fundamental position they already hold about the UN. The rational response would be to say that those countries should not hold those positions.

    Again, these appears to be widespread misunderstanding about what the UN actually is. I get the impression that most of that misunderstanding is willful.

    Are you going to respond to the rest?

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  27. CM

    I laugh at the argument that violence was reduced in the last 70 years

    Along with the rest of what you’ve written, can you provide anything to support this?

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  28. Mississippi Yankee

    I’ve never, ever, ever met a lefty yet that understood their own hypocrisy…
    Or maybe they do and believe themselves clever enough to try circular logic in an attempt to un-level the playing field.

    The UN is an apolitical body

    Now that’s humorous… I’ll give you that.

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  29. AlexInCT

    Along with the rest of what you’ve written, can you provide anything to support this?

    Read some history. But in case you forgot I can mention the USSR, China, Cambodia, and North Korea where their own leaders killed the people. The various wars in South/Central America or in Asia and Africa. And let’s not forget the Middle East. The list goes on and on.

    Then you have crime. We now coddle criminals and worry more about their rights than we do their victims.

    Yeah, read some history.

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  30. hist_ed

    The UN is an apolitical body, part of which provides a structure for countries to air their concerns and vote on specific issues. People can rightly disagree with the concerns being aired, or the way a vote goes, but that’s a separate issue from the structure itself.
    And of course the UN is much much more than just the UNSC, General Assembly, or individual Commissions and Committees. They are just what you usually hear about.

    The US Senate is an apolitical body, part of which provides a structure for states to air their concerns and vote on specific issues.

    Each member state participates in the UN to represent their interests. How can that not be political? Please name one country’s vote in the past decade or so, on a significant issue, that went against their self interest in a significant way.

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  31. hist_ed

    Uhh CM how about this list:

    http://www.scaruffi.com/politics/dictat.html

    I think some of the numbers are pretty conservative. Estimates of Stalin’s victims go up to 40 million or so. The North Vietnamese killed several hundred thousand after their victory over the South and that isn’t on the list. Japan’s occupation of China only shows 500,000. They killed almost that many in Naking alone, so the total for the entire occupation is probably a lot higher than half a million. Syria lists 20,000-that many were likely killed in the attack on Hama alone. I could go on and on, but the point is obvious. This list shows millions upon millions slaughtered and it almsot certainly underestimates the killing by a large amount.

    These deaths also don’t include the millions more displaced. Do they count as victims of violence? How many fled SE Asia after the commies took over? How many million fled various areas of Sudan as the jihadi asswipes slaughtered their way through that country? How many were raped? How many lost limbs to the Lord’s Resistance Army? It’s been a bloody century. Some over educated psychiatrist wants to pretend that we are in an era of peace and love but that’s just bullshit. Perhaps some want to prove that the growth of government, NGOs and the UN has had a positive effect, but I don’t buy it.

    That said, buy the guy’s book and read it. Let us know where we are wrong.

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  32. Kimpost

    @hist_ed

    I noticed the following from the article, which is why I might actually pick up the book.

    The cliché that the 20th century was “the most violent in history” ignores the second half of the century (and may not even be true of the first half, if one calculates violent deaths as a proportion of the world’s population).

    He actually suggests that even the first half of the 20th century might be less violent overall than we think.

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  33. CM

    Here is a quote, on this point, from a review:

    ….the 20th century, surely the most appallingly violent of them all, scarred by total war, genocide and other mass killings on an almost unimaginable scale. All those table manners and bills of rights didn’t prevent the Holocaust, did they? At the heart of this book is Pinker’s careful, compelling account of why the 20th century does not invalidate his thesis that violence is in a long decline. He makes his case in three ways. First, with a multitude of tables and charts he shows that our view of the century is coloured by presentism: we think it’s the worst simply because it’s the most recent and we know more about it. If we had equivalent coverage of the whole of human history (how many books have been published about the second world war compared to, say, the Mongol conquests of the 13th century?) we would see that all of it has been scarred by mass slaughters, some of them proportionately even worse than the horrors of the past hundred years.

    Second, Pinker argues that the violence of the 20th century is best understood as a series of random spasms rather than part of a trend. The two world wars were essentially freak events, driven by contingency and in some cases lunacy: a bit like the killings on Utøya magnified a millionfold. They do not reflect the default condition of mankind. The evidence for this is the third part of Pinker’s case: look at what has happened since 1945, as the world has become immeasurably more peaceful on almost every count. Of course, there have been horrors (Mao, Pol Pot) but no one can doubt that the arrow has been pointing away from the violence of the first half of the 20th century, not back towards more of it.

    He’s certainly arguing proportions, i.e. the likelihood of the average person being a victim to violence. So violence hasn’t exploded at the same rate as the population has.

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  34. CM

    The structure of the US Senate is apolitical. Decisions made by the US Senate are political, because that’s what the US Senate is for.
    The structure of the UN is apolitical. Some parts of the UN are political, in that they provide a substructure for nations to air their grievances/views and discuss issues. But the vast majority of the UN isn’t making these political decisions that some don’t like. In terms of hours and resources spent, the political aspects are almost non-existent. Which is why, outside a few other places like Israel, the UN (as a body) is viewed favourably. Even in the US. When people bitch about the UN in its entireity, they’re usually only bitching about specific decisions within a small part of it.

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  35. Hal_10000 *

    The graph is a deceptive. However, I’ve seen graphs going back even further. the main reasons he tracks white people is because Europe is one of the few areas where consistent records are kept.

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  36. Poosh

    t would only be circular if someone was arguing that the UN and not the US was responsible for the decline in violence. I certainly wouldn’t argue that.

    I mean that the UN is only as good as the quality and level of violence it is willing to inflict, if it is not listened to. That is what I meant as circular, I used ‘US’ merely as an example. Though I understand how it was unclear.

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  37. Kimpost

    Do you have any numbers to back that up? I’ve obviously not seen the author’s data, so I can’t vouch for that. But you seem extremely certain on the contrary. Let’s break it down just to make it simple. How would you assess the following?

    Africa 2011 more or less violent (per capita) than 1711?
    Europe 2011 more or less violent (per capita) than 1711?
    America 2011 more or less violent (per capita) than 1711?
    Asia 2011 more or less violent than (per capita) 1711?

    I’m not ruling out that there’s less violence today, in all mentioned continents. Seems at least plausible to me. And even if Africa would be an exception, then how much worse would Africa have to be, for it to balance out the advances of societies in the rest of the developed world?

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  38. Poosh

    I think this entire comments section and the article is conflating and confusing different issues and people are getting into needless debates and arguments. I am very confident if we all sat down, defined what we were talking about, we’d probably all agree… mostly… on the fundamental points. Even on the UN, we can all agree that “in theory” or “at conception” it was a good idea and the creation of a “Babylon 5″ is a good idea. Even if it failed as most of us think it has (not Babylon 5, the UN!).

    People are using the word violence but in different contexts and it’s all getting a bit confusing.

    Some of this is about as useful as saying “the world is less violent than the times when we were not at the top of the food chain”. Well obviously that’s true and so what?

    There are two issues which don’t seem to be touched on, which make the 20th century a very … “interesting” century.

    Technology: even if a nation is less violent than their predecessors and more prone to peace or diplomacy, WHEN they do chose a violent root, such as war, the results in terms of pure kill count are higher than anything we’ve seen in the past, purely because technology allows us to kill on a massed scale. We can achieve in mere minutes what took medieval armies near a day to achieve.

    The Police State: the police state was a european invention which institutionalized political violence in a way unseen before. on a scale unseen of, before. This 20th century invention was taken onboard by various african/ arab/asian countries, spreading political violence and making it more efficient. The idea of a totalitarian state, in this manner, is purely 20th century. The means of achieving this and the simple ideas that led to the creation of police states simply did not exist prior to the 20th century. Not even the most horrific monarch in medieval times or an emperor could achieve the level of power that, say, Saddam enjoyed.

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  39. Kimpost

    I think this entire comments section and the article is conflating and confusing different issues and people are getting into needless debates and arguments.

    I agree with that. Seems like we are trying hard to find disagreement just because we normally do. This shouldn’t be about bias or partisanship. The left hasn’t won or lost regardless of if the article is correct or not. Nor has the right.

    Judging by the article it seems like at least one of the meters used, certainly in ancient times, is collected evidence of violent deaths. This would rule out people in Birmingham or Stockholm today who might be afraid to move around their respective neighbourhoods. Focusing on violent deaths (war, homicide), would it then be plausible that article is right? Are violent killings per capita declining on a global scale?

    I’m instinctively thinking, probably. But I don’t know.

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