Monday, August 24, 2009

Death at the Hands of Others Today is Actually Historically Low Now

Why is There Peace?

When the archeologist Lawrence Keeley examined casualty rates among contemporary hunter-gatherers—which is the best picture we have of how people might have lived 10,000 years ago—he discovered that the likelihood that a man would die at the hands of another man ranged from a high of 60 percent in one tribe to 15 percent at the most peaceable end. In contrast, the chance that a European or American man would be killed by another man was less than one percent during the 20th century, a period of time that includes both world wars. If the death rate of tribal warfare had prevailed in the 20th century, there would have been two billion deaths rather than 100 million, horrible as that is.
The sociologist Norbert Elias suggested that European modernity accelerated a "civilizing process" marked by increases in self-control, long-term planning, and sensitivity to the thoughts and feelings of others.
Whatever its causes, the decline of violence has profound implications. It is not a license for complacency: We enjoy the peace we find today because people in past generations were appalled by the violence in their time and worked to end it, and so we should work to end the appalling violence in our time. Nor is it necessarily grounds for optimism about the immediate future, since the world has never before had national leaders who combine pre-modern sensibilities with modern weapons.

It is good to remember that statistically things are often much much better today than 100 years ago or 200 years ago. We still have much to be ashamed of. We need to do much better for the future of humanity but in many many ways we have made great progress.

Related: Leading Causes of Death - Global Cancer Deaths to Double by 2030 - Too Much Stuff - Water Wars Break Out in India

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