Decline of Human Violence

Decline of Human Violence

This article by Steven Pinker (from Dianne Bazell) briefly reviews the substantial evidence for the decline of human violence over the millennia (see also the excellent book by Gwynne Dyer, War: The Lethal Custom). When I would get up in a front of a class (including my classes on the holocaust, genocide, and violence) or in front of public groups, I would explain to people that, as horrifying as these events are, we are less murderous toward one another than at other times. The most violent cultures, in fact, have been hunter-gatherer societies. I would explain that groups have committed genocide throughout all of human history, and there has been precious little criticism of it. Religious texts (including scriptures) frequently sanction it. People generally refuse to believe me, but the evidence is very clear about the increasing value of life for human beings. Sometimes I use this as an example to explain the validity of the Enlightenment notion of human progress, but many just close their ears to this. I think what is difficult for people to comprehend is that human beings can be so hideous to one another and that, ever though we often treat one another in repellent ways, we now treat one another slightly less repellently than we have in the past.

From a spiritual point of view, I see this as an part of the unfolding evolution of human and planetary consciousness (Teilhard de Chardin would have a lot to say about this). This is a good thing, but it reminds us of our shadow side, and we don’t like it and cannot accept that we still have it with us. So part of the process involves recognizing our shadow components, accepting them while not indulging them, and moving toward a more harmonious level of awareness.

The best way to do this is not to deny the our nature as aggressive beings, but to harness our competitive impulses to make the world a better place

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DR. LAURENCE H. KANT (LARRY KANT), MYSTIC SCHOLAR: Engaged Mysticism and Scholarship in the Pursuit of Wisdom; Discovering meaning in every issue and facet of life; Integrating scholarship, spirituality, mysticism, poetry, community, economics, and politics seamlessly. Historian of Religion: Ph.D., Yale University, 1993 (Department of Religious Studies); Exchange Scholar, Harvard University, Rabbinics, 1983-84; M.A., 1982, Yale, 1982 (Department of Religious Studies); M.T.S., Harvard Divinity School, 1981; B.A., Classics (Greek and Latin), Tufts University, 1978; Wayland High School (Wayland, MA), 1974. Served on the faculty of Cornell University (Ithaca, NY), York University (Toronto), and Lexington Theological Seminary (Lexington, KY). Works in many languages: Ancient Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Aramaic, Syriac, English, French, Italian, German, Modern Greek (some Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish). Holder of numerous honors and awards, including The Rome Prize in Classics (Prix de Rome) and Fellow of the American Academy of Rome.

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