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Research Shows Global Violence On Decline

Civilization, Despite What You Might Think, Is Getting More Civilized

Despite what you might think about the state of our world, there’s some good news; violence across the globe is actually decreasing, significantly and steadily. In fact, it may be that even as we feel like civilization is eroding from beneath us that, statistically at least, we’re more civilized than we’ve ever been before. According to The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, a recent book by Harvard Psychologist Steven Pinker, statistics reveal dramatic reductions in a variety of violent human tendencies, from war deaths, murder, and rape to domestic violence and racism. Pinker writes, "The decline of violence may be the most significant and least appreciated development in the history of our species,” facilitated, no doubt by a sensationalist media and the cyber footprint of mass hysteria.

Pinker’s findings, which are based on historical documents, surveys, and examinations of graveyards, find that a more educated and tolerant world is largely behind such a precipitous drop in violence and mayhem. The drop in deaths and destruction associated with war has been one of the most significant decreases. The number of people killed in battle, estimated per 100,000 people of a given population, has steadily declined over the centuries. In 19th century France (Napoleonic Wars, among others) that number was 70. In the 20th century, with two World Wars, the number was 60. Now the number of war-related deaths per 100,000 people is roughly .3, or three tenths of one person. Democracies, which have historically yielded a higher number of educated people with more stable systems of law, are at an all time high, at 100 worldwide. In addition, autocratic regimes are down from 90 in 1976 to just 25 (and dwindling in the Middle East).

Pinker attributes much of this global shift toward education, where a better-educated populace values life more highly, and seeks to find non-violent and mutually compatible methods of existing. In fact, Pinker points out, “IQ tests show that the average teenager is smarter with each generation. The tests are constantly adjusted to keep average at 100, and a teenager who now would score a 100 would have scored a 118 in 1950 and a 130 in 1910. So this year's average kid would have been a near-genius a century ago.

It may be small consolation to people living through the devastation and hardship of today, because wars, murders, and rapes are still occurring within our societies, that violence is, in fact, decreasing. However, as we take a broader, more academic look at where we have come as a human race, it may be encouraging to show that progress is being made. We are, as one people, moving messily, steadily, inexorably toward a more enlightened existence.