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  1. #1
    Senior Member Sahara's Avatar
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    Default The history of violence

    A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE

    In sixteenth-century Paris, a popular form of entertainment was cat-burning, in which a cat was hoisted in a sling on a stage and slowly lowered into a fire. According to historian Norman Davies, "[T]he spectators, including kings and queens, shrieked with laughter as the animals, howling with pain, were singed, roasted, and finally carbonized." Today, such sadism would be unthinkable in most of the world. This change in sensibilities is just one example of perhaps the most important and most underappreciated trend in the human saga: Violence has been in decline over long stretches of history, and today we are probably living in the most peaceful moment of our species' time on earth.

    In the decade of Darfur and Iraq, and shortly after the century of Stalin, Hitler, and Mao, the claim that violence has been diminishing may seem somewhere between hallucinatory and obscene. Yet recent studies that seek to quantify the historical ebb and flow of violence point to exactly that conclusion.

    Some of the evidence has been under our nose all along. Conventional history has long shown that, in many ways, we have been getting kinder and gentler. Cruelty as entertainment, human sacrifice to indulge superstition, slavery as a labor-saving device, conquest as the mission statement of government, genocide as a means of acquiring real estate, torture and mutilation as routine punishment, the death penalty for misdemeanors and differences of opinion, assassination as the mechanism of political succession, rape as the spoils of war, pogroms as outlets for frustration, homicide as the major form of conflict resolution—all were unexceptionable features of life for most of human history. But, today, they are rare to nonexistent in the West, far less common elsewhere than they used to be, concealed when they do occur, and widely condemned when they are brought to light.

    At one time, these facts were widely appreciated. They were the source of notions like progress, civilization, and man's rise from savagery and barbarism. Recently, however, those ideas have come to sound corny, even dangerous. They seem to demonize people in other times and places, license colonial conquest and other foreign adventures, and conceal the crimes of our own societies. The doctrine of the noble savage—the idea that humans are peaceable by nature and corrupted by modern institutions—pops up frequently in the writing of public intellectuals like José Ortega y Gasset ("War is not an instinct but an invention"), Stephen Jay Gould ("Homo sapiens is not an evil or destructive species"), and Ashley Montagu ("Biological studies lend support to the ethic of universal brotherhood"). But, now that social scientists have started to count bodies in different historical periods, they have discovered that the romantic theory gets it backward: Far from causing us to become more violent, something in modernity and its cultural institutions has made us nobler.

    To be sure, any attempt to document changes in violence must be soaked in uncertainty. In much of the world, the distant past was a tree falling in the forest with no one to hear it, and, even for events in the historical record, statistics are spotty until recent periods. Long-term trends can be discerned only by smoothing out zigzags and spikes of horrific bloodletting. And the choice to focus on relative rather than absolute numbers brings up the moral imponderable of whether it is worse for 50 percent of a population of 100 to be killed or 1 percent in a population of one billion.

    Yet, despite these caveats, a picture is taking shape. The decline of violence is a fractal phenomenon, visible at the scale of millennia, centuries, decades, and years. It applies over several orders of magnitude of violence, from genocide to war to rioting to homicide to the treatment of children and animals. And it appears to be a worldwide trend, though not a homogeneous one. The leading edge has been in Western societies, especially England and Holland, and there seems to have been a tipping point at the onset of the Age of Reason in the early seventeenth century.

    At the widest-angle view, one can see a whopping difference across the millennia that separate us from our pre-state ancestors. Contra leftist anthropologists who celebrate the noble savage, quantitative body-counts—such as the proportion of prehistoric skeletons with axemarks and embedded arrowheads or the proportion of men in a contemporary foraging tribe who die at the hands of other men—suggest that pre-state societies were far more violent than our own. It is true that raids and battles killed a tiny percentage of the numbers that die in modern warfare. But, in tribal violence, the clashes are more frequent, the percentage of men in the population who fight is greater, and the rates of death per battle are higher. According to anthropologists like Lawrence Keeley, Stephen LeBlanc, Phillip Walker, and Bruce Knauft, these factors combine to yield population-wide rates of death in tribal warfare that dwarf those of modern times. If the wars of the twentieth century had killed the same proportion of the population that die in the wars of a typical tribal society, there would have been two billion deaths, not 100 million.

    Political correctness from the other end of the ideological spectrum has also distorted many people's conception of violence in early civilizations—namely, those featured in the Bible. This supposed source of moral values contains many celebrations of genocide, in which the Hebrews, egged on by God, slaughter every last resident of an invaded city. The Bible also prescribes death by stoning as the penalty for a long list of nonviolent infractions, including idolatry, blasphemy, homosexuality, adultery, disrespecting one's parents, and picking up sticks on the Sabbath. The Hebrews, of course, were no more murderous than other tribes; one also finds frequent boasts of torture and genocide in the early histories of the Hindus, Christians, Muslims, and Chinese.

    At the century scale, it is hard to find quantitative studies of deaths in warfare spanning medieval and modern times. Several historians have suggested that there has been an increase in the number of recorded wars across the centuries to the present, but, as political scientist James Payne has noted, this may show only that "the Associated Press is a more comprehensive source of information about battles around the world than were sixteenth-century monks." Social histories of the West provide evidence of numerous barbaric practices that became obsolete in the last five centuries, such as slavery, amputation, blinding, branding, flaying, disembowelment, burning at the stake, breaking on the wheel, and so on. Meanwhile, for another kind of violence—homicide—the data are abundant and striking. The criminologist Manuel Eisner has assembled hundreds of homicide estimates from Western European localities that kept records at some point between 1200 and the mid-1990s. In every country he analyzed, murder rates declined steeply—for example, from 24 homicides per 100,000 Englishmen in the fourteenth century to 0.6 per 100,000 by the early 1960s.

    On the scale of decades, comprehensive data again paint a shockingly happy picture: Global violence has fallen steadily since the middle of the twentieth century. According to the Human Security Brief 2006, the number of battle deaths in interstate wars has declined from more than 65,000 per year in the 1950s to less than 2,000 per year in this decade. In Western Europe and the Americas, the second half of the century saw a steep decline in the number of wars, military coups, and deadly ethnic riots.

    Zooming in by a further power of ten exposes yet another reduction. After the cold war, every part of the world saw a steep drop-off in state-based conflicts, and those that do occur are more likely to end in negotiated settlements rather than being fought to the bitter end. Meanwhile, according to political scientist Barbara Harff, between 1989 and 2005 the number of campaigns of mass killing of civilians decreased by 90 percent.

    The decline of killing and cruelty poses several challenges to our ability to make sense of the world. To begin with, how could so many people be so wrong about something so important? Partly, it's because of a cognitive illusion: We estimate the probability of an event from how easy it is to recall examples. Scenes of carnage are more likely to be relayed to our living rooms and burned into our memories than footage of people dying of old age. Partly, it's an intellectual culture that is loath to admit that there could be anything good about the institutions of civilization and Western society. Partly, it's the incentive structure of the activism and opinion markets: No one ever attracted followers and donations by announcing that things keep getting better. And part of the explanation lies in the phenomenon itself. The decline of violent behavior has been paralleled by a decline in attitudes that tolerate or glorify violence, and often the attitudes are in the lead. As deplorable as they are, the abuses at Abu Ghraib and the lethal injections of a few murderers in Texas are mild by the standards of atrocities in human history. But, from a contemporary vantage point, we see them as signs of how low our behavior can sink, not of how high our standards have risen.

    The other major challenge posed by the decline of violence is how to explain it. A force that pushes in the same direction across many epochs, continents, and scales of social organization mocks our standard tools of causal explanation. The usual suspects—guns, drugs, the press, American culture—aren't nearly up to the job. Nor could it possibly be explained by evolution in the biologist's sense: Even if the meek could inherit the earth, natural selection could not favor the genes for meekness quickly enough. In any case, human nature has not changed so much as to have lost its taste for violence. Social psychologists find that at least 80 percent of people have fantasized about killing someone they don't like. And modern humans still take pleasure in viewing violence, if we are to judge by the popularity of murder mysteries, Shakespearean dramas, Mel Gibson movies, video games, and hockey.

    What has changed, of course, is people's willingness to act on these fantasies. 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. These are precisely the functions that today's cognitive neuroscientists attribute to the prefrontal cortex. But this only raises the question of why humans have increasingly exercised that part of their brains. No one knows why our behavior has come under the control of the better angels of our nature, but there are four plausible suggestions.

    1 - The first is that Hobbes got it right. Life in a state of nature is nasty, brutish, and short, not because of a primal thirst for blood but because of the inescapable logic of anarchy. Any beings with a modicum of self-interest may be tempted to invade their neighbors to steal their resources. The resulting fear of attack will tempt the neighbors to strike first in preemptive self-defense, which will in turn tempt the first group to strike against them preemptively, and so on. This danger can be defused by a policy of deterrence—don't strike first, retaliate if struck—but, to guarantee its credibility, parties must avenge all insults and settle all scores, leading to cycles of bloody vendetta. These tragedies can be averted by a state with a monopoly on violence, because it can inflict disinterested penalties that eliminate the incentives for aggression, thereby defusing anxieties about preemptive attack and obviating the need to maintain a hair-trigger propensity for retaliation. Indeed, Eisner and Elias attribute the decline in European homicide to the transition from knightly warrior societies to the centralized governments of early modernity. And, today, violence continues to fester in zones of anarchy, such as frontier regions, failed states, collapsed empires, and territories contested by mafias, gangs, and other dealers of contraband.

    2 - Payne suggests another possibility: that the critical variable in the indulgence of violence is an overarching sense that life is cheap. When pain and early death are everyday features of one's own life, one feels fewer compunctions about inflicting them on others. As technology and economic efficiency lengthen and improve our lives, we place a higher value on life in general.

    3 - A third theory, championed by Robert Wright, invokes the logic of non-zero-sum games: scenarios in which two agents can each come out ahead if they cooperate, such as trading goods, dividing up labor, or sharing the peace dividend that comes from laying down their arms. As people acquire know-how that they can share cheaply with others and develop technologies that allow them to spread their goods and ideas over larger territories at lower cost, their incentive to cooperate steadily increases, because other people become more valuable alive than dead.

    4 - Then there is the scenario sketched by philosopher Peter Singer. Evolution, he suggests, bequeathed people a small kernel of empathy, which by default they apply only within a narrow circle of friends and relations. Over the millennia, people's moral circles have expanded to encompass larger and larger polities: the clan, the tribe, the nation, both sexes, other races, and even animals. The circle may have been pushed outward by expanding networks of reciprocity, à la Wright, but it might also be inflated by the inexorable logic of the golden rule: The more one knows and thinks about other living things, the harder it is to privilege one's own interests over theirs. The empathy escalator may also be powered by cosmopolitanism, in which journalism, memoir, and realistic fiction make the inner lives of other people, and the contingent nature of one's own station, more palpable—the feeling that "there but for fortune go I".

    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.

    But the phenomenon does force us to rethink our understanding of violence. Man's inhumanity to man has long been a subject for moralization. With the knowledge that something has driven it dramatically down, we can also treat it as a matter of cause and effect. Instead of asking, "Why is there war?" we might ask, "Why is there peace?" From the likelihood that states will commit genocide to the way that people treat cats, we must have been doing something right. And it would be nice to know what, exactly, it is.
    The thing didn;t post properly
    "No one can be free of the chains that surround them"

  2. #2
    Senior Member Sahara's Avatar
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    Ok, so the reason I posted this is because I actually found it very uplifting, I think other infp's feeling disappointed in mankind might get the same effect from reading it.

    I find my thoughts have been dwelling quite a bit on how cruel and horrible the world is at times, wondering why we are always killing each other, wondering why out of the billions of people on this planet, only a select few even give a shit, or are actively prepared to do something to fight against injustice and cruelty wherever it may be.

    The lines between good and bad just aren;t defined enough, people telling me that I should understand those who are cruel and forgive them through this understanding or acceptance of other ways of life.

    The war on terror not really a war on terror, just a war to line pockets, even if the rest of us wish it wasn;t, even if we wish it true was fighting what it says on the packet.

    Watching violent movies based on real life, watching the news, surfing online at amnesty internation, rawa.org etc, and debating heavily at another forum which deals with violence and cruelty daily, has twisted my perception beyond belief.

    On a side note, which reason given do you think is the reason mankind is less violent nowadays? 1, 2, 3 or 4?
    "No one can be free of the chains that surround them"

  3. #3
    Senior Member ptgatsby's Avatar
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    #2 and #3 I believe, because it scales up throughout the ages.

    It also has been shown that both are factors even in smaller groups, so I tend to drift that way. They also feed each other - as cooperation works, less violence occurs, the less violence one sees the more cooperative people become.

  4. #4
    Tenured roisterer SolitaryWalker's Avatar
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    I am going with Hobbes. He is correct that life left to run on its own course is nasty brutish and short. As Schopenhauer would also suggest that human nature is always in a state of constant craving...and does not cease untill it is fully satisfied..and in this world..there is nothing that we could be satisfied by at all..so we are bound to be imposing our stupidity on others demanding that they give us something that they never owed..just so we can compensate for our own inner poverty..

    That suffices for the origin of violence..we do that only to appease our sadistic impulses because we dont know how to channel our energy elsewhere..and its tearing us apart from the inside..we cant control our inner world so we try to control the external and we do this by coercing those who are weaker than we are. This makes us feel good about ourselves because noone can challenge us, so we feel powerful and that also gives us an illusory external vision of inner security that we all long for and what drives us to do the things that we do..
    "Do not argue with an idiot. They drag you down to their level and beat you with experience." -- Mark Twain

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  5. #5
    にゃん runvardh's Avatar
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    Ah, violence... never pleasant yet it can be so effective when done right. You could say I have a love/hate relationship with the concept.
    Dreams are best served manifest and tangible.

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    I accept no responsibility, what so ever, for the fact that I exist; I do, however, accept full responsibility for what I do while I exist.

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  6. #6
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    This is a topic I think about most of the time, the true nature of evil and how it relates to me personally and what I can do about it.

    I will try to do my best to relate what I think about it but for some reason for sometime now I have had trouble adequately relating what I think and feel about deeper issues, so forgive me if this seems vague or crude.

    The outward life humans is a reflection of their inner life. When humans get into groups, the group will reflect what the collective of the inner state of all its individuals is. If we want to heal the world we must make a study of what evil really is and to trace its source right down to our own psyche. We must one by one overcome the baser aspects of our shadow self. We have to one by one face evil right in our ownselves and find our true selves. We must face ourselves.

    Humans are sick inside of because they are out of touch with their true selves and because we won't face their shadows for what they are, we can be unconsciously controlled by our shadows. We project outwards onto the world our desires for inner order and try to work out upon the world outside of ourselves what we should be working out internally. There is a desire to cut out or kill the parts of ourselves that are toxic, no longer working for our best interests or to transmute them into something better. When we don't get that it is internal, we unconsciously project these desires outwards onto the world. This creates a sickness where humans want to become control freaks on each other right up to the point of killing each other off.

    When we conform too much to what this world, corrupted by individuals one by one projecting their inner toxicity outwards, we begin to murder off parts of ourselves. We may very well murder the best part of yourself and seek to silence the inner voice of conscience. Soul murder. No one can murder our souls except for us alone.

    We give permission to the outside world to condition us to conform against our best interests, we kill our own inner being, we murder our own connection to the inner savior by silencing its voice. The guilt over doing this can be overwhelming and all around one can see the people in psychological shock over the inhumane things they have allowed themselves to be driven to do over their lifetime, the many knife cuts of their own murdering of their soul.

    In varying degrees they become cynical and hardened and sneering about their former idealism. They mistake this for wisdom and personal growth but it is really a sign of movement away from self and they spread their toxicity around to others like a infectious plague. They may even begin to unconsciously hate themselves so much and the fake, corrupt world they help to create that they may derive delicious pleasure out of trying to kill it off, but it is never satisfying enough because what they really would like to do is to kill of their own inner toxicity but being cut off from their inner being they cannot do this and they escalate their sadism and control freakism in desperation to achieve what can not be achieved by these means.

    When we can no longer hear the inner voice at all, empathy is dead.

    When empathy dies, psychopathy comes in.

    We're not so far removed from violence to make me feel that much better, in fact I don't want to feel better about the nature of the world. I want to keep on facing the truth about human nature even if it makes me feel uncomfortable. I want to face the truth about my own nature even if it makes me feel uncomfortable. It is this uncomfortable feeling that provides the impetus for us to examine our own selves and that is the only way the world can possibly change, one individual at a time.

    I tend to think that outside controls put a temporary band aid on the issue and that this whole inner conflict projected outwards is part of what is leading us in the west into this mindset of control freak keeping tabs on what everyone does and a video camera on every corner.

    Some people would feel very comfortable with a chip in every brain to control any violent tendancies because they know that they cannot trust themselves and they project the fear onto others because of this. Part of our peace in modern times in developed countries comes from being so controlled by laws but their is also no freedom in this and violence rages beneath the surface, supressed but not transformed. God help us all if something were ever to happen here that caused our laws to breakdown and we had to deal with that supressed rage coming unbottled or if the laws began to sanction more violence.

    If the individuals within a culture are behaving out of fear and external control, that control will only last as long as the law and those people will be cruel and violent to each other in any of the ways they can get away within the law. If their behavior is governed by internal control through transmutation of the self, that is a more long lasting, sure and overall cure for violence. They will be less violent in their behavior even when it is something the law has not prescribed for them and they may also find themselves very outsiders within their culture.

    "Mankind’s “self-alienation" has reached such a degree that it can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order" - Jerry Mander

  7. #7
    Senior Member wildcat's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sahara View Post
    Ok, so the reason I posted this is because I actually found it very uplifting, I think other infp's feeling disappointed in mankind might get the same effect from reading it.

    I find my thoughts have been dwelling quite a bit on how cruel and horrible the world is at times, wondering why we are always killing each other, wondering why out of the billions of people on this planet, only a select few even give a shit, or are actively prepared to do something to fight against injustice and cruelty wherever it may be.

    The lines between good and bad just aren;t defined enough, people telling me that I should understand those who are cruel and forgive them through this understanding or acceptance of other ways of life.

    The war on terror not really a war on terror, just a war to line pockets, even if the rest of us wish it wasn;t, even if we wish it true was fighting what it says on the packet.

    Watching violent movies based on real life, watching the news, surfing online at amnesty internation, rawa.org etc, and debating heavily at another forum which deals with violence and cruelty daily, has twisted my perception beyond belief.

    On a side note, which reason given do you think is the reason mankind is less violent nowadays? 1, 2, 3 or 4?
    When I was a young child I read the Grimm Tales.
    And then I read The Arabian Tales. The One Thousand and One Nights.

    There is a difference between those two tales.
    And what is the difference?

    The aspect of rationality.

    Emotionality does not decrease cruelty. It adds to it.

    You can not divide the option into departments.

    Logic is indivisible.

    The Romans made Europe.
    Through a conquest?
    A military victory?

    Or by recognition?
    And what is recognition?

    The acceptance of what is.

    Quote Originally Posted by Sahara View Post
    The thing didn;t post properly
    On the subject matter and the timing of the subject matter of Norman Davies and the ones like him.

    On the payroll of the KGB?

    Especially if you time up his research with the the actual events at the time of his writing.

    A charlatan, if you ask me.
    Last edited by MacGuffin; 09-07-2007 at 05:29 PM. Reason: merged posts

  8. #8
    Senior Member reason's Avatar
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    In all aspects of life, when passing a judgement upon anything, always ask the question: compared to...? The vast majority of intellectual error proceeds from a failure to ask that question, and the uncritical acceptence of "perfection" or "infallibility" as the standard of comparison.

    Our despair always has its root in the standards we set for ourselves, whether politics, personal or philosophical, since a problem is only a problem relative to some standard of comparison, but that standard is not something objective, it is something we set for ourselves and can choose to change.
    A criticism that can be brought against everything ought not to be brought against anything.

  9. #9
    Senior Member wildcat's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by nocturne View Post
    In all aspects of life, when passing a judgement upon anything, always ask the question: compared to...? The vast majority of intellectual error proceeds from a failure to ask that question, and the uncritical acceptence of "perfection" or "infallibility" as the standard of comparison.

    Our despair always has its root in the standards we set for ourselves, whether politics, personal or philosophical, since a problem is only a problem relative to some standard of comparison, but that standard is not something objective, it is something we set for ourselves and can choose to change.
    Yes.
    This is what I tried to say.

    Europe is not perfect.
    It is the best there is.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by wildcat View Post
    On the subject matter and the timing of the subject matter of Norman Davies and the ones like him.

    On the payroll of the KGB?

    Especially if you time up his research with the the actual events at the time of his writing.

    A charlatan, if you ask me.

    Davies historical scholarship on the Holocaust has been questioned in the past as being too Polono-centric and not accurately portraying what reality was for many Jewish people, a criticism he has denied has any merit. He does rightfully say that the mass murders committed by Stalin must be held up as equally horrendous.

    The main author of the article [Steven Pinker, published that article in The "New Republic", which is a "New Democrat" mainstream political magazine. Sure, not labeling itself as Neo-conservative, but highly supportive of our current left - right political paradigm as the authorized dialectic of our political choices here in the USA..

    Quote Originally Posted by Steven Pinker
    This doctrine, "the idea that humans are peaceable by nature and corrupted by modern institutions—pops up frequently in the writing of public intellectuals like José Ortega y Gasset ("War is not an instinct but an invention"), Stephen Jay Gould ("Homo sapiens is not an evil or destructive species"), and Ashley Montagu ("Biological studies lend support to the ethic of universal brotherhood")," he writes. "But, now that social scientists have started to count bodies in different historical periods, they have discovered that the romantic theory gets it backward: Far from causing us to become more violent, something in modernity and its cultural institutions has made us nobler."
    I cannot agree that cultural institutions applying external controls on people is what creates real and lasting changes in people's levels of violence or in the explotive or abusive nature of people, but it is only through internal changes in each individual that real change occurs. Over time, more individuals changing in a society would apply pressure for more humane culture. It is the individuals developing that change the shape of society outwards not from the external to the internal.

    I cannot agree with Pinker's assertion that the "Ghost in the Machine" premise is mistaken. I am not yet ready to let go of that idea. I think that we are on some level more than just flesh, bone and brain chemistry but that maybe offensive to some people's sense of logic.

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