I think I'm finally coming out of the gloom I couldn't quite shake while reading (listening to) The Better Angels of Our Nature.
Not that the thesis was depressing! Far from it! Hugely optimistic thesis!
But, as the author states as part of his powerful conclusion, "In writing this book I have adopted a voice that is analytic, and at times irreverent, because I believe the topic has inspired too much piety and not enough understanding. But at no point have I been unaware of the reality behind the numbers. To review the history of violence is to be repeatedly astounded by the cruelty and waste of it all, and at times to be overcome with anger, disgust, and immeasurable sadness."
In a book about violence, even if it is about the shockingly successful reduction in violence that has been achieved in the past 1000+ years of human history, there is a whole lot of violence to consider.
It clings to you for a while, like the smell of rot.
But it's been a few weeks since I listened to the final chapter and finally the miasma has mostly lifted and I the optimism is shining through!
No post could do this book justice, but I have so many thoughts about it, thoughts that keep emerging and recombining and evolving as I hear the news and consider the election and watch my children fighting, playing, forgiving, and clinging to their grudges.
My point is, my thoughts are going to have to come out in dribs and drabs. They would anyway, but it's nice to have the excuse of being busy with school. ;)
For today, I just want to see how succinctly I can state the main ideas:
- World-wide, violence today is orders of magnitude less common than it was through most of human existence
- Saviors: strong states (trusted, fair, capable of restraining violence with a minimum of violence), scientific reasoning, art that invites taking the perspective of other individuals (he focuses particularly on novels and the argument is surprisingly convincing)
Just for fun, as a haiku:
Violence shrinks away,
praise reason, novels, justice,
men no longer duel!