Despite terrorist attacks and wars, there is less violence in the world. Why – scientists explain
Most consider the twentieth century to be the most terrible period in the history of mankind, because it had two world wars, a huge number of regional conflicts, as well as the emergence of terrorism in all its modern understandings. However, Canadian neuropsychologist Stephen Pinker argues that this is not the case in The Best in Us: Why the World is Less Violent. An online discussion held under the auspices of the Sakharov Center was devoted to the book and the questions raised by the scientist. It was attended by political scientist Ekaterina Shulman, professor at the European University at St. Petersburg Dmitry Travin and sociologist Ella Paneakh . The meeting was moderated by publicist Boris Grozovsky . Lenta.ru publishes excerpts from this discussion.
When we talk about reducing violence in the world, the problem is that as frontal physical violence actually decreases, there is a simultaneous rethinking of the term. Therefore, we, to some extent moving away from the era of human sacrifice, public executions and cannibalism, already understand by violence something else, but not because we have become pampered snowflakes, but because our civilization is changing.
This multifactoriality presupposes not that some kind of virtue and humanism has suddenly entered a person, but that there is the influence of various forces. For example, the development of trade and its globalization, feminization in the sense of increasing women’s participation in social, and then in political life … The emergence of the notorious Leviathan, accumulating violence in itself and thus preventing citizens from killing each other privately.
Then the question arises, under which scenario there will be fewer victims in number, and this is a question of the history of the twentieth century. In terms of the percentage of people killed, the wars of the twentieth century were far from record-breaking. In quantitative terms, they were impressive, because humanity became numerous, and its means of destroying itself acquired unprecedented power. But the wars of the past were much more destructive in relation to the proportion of people that they had the opportunity to kill, both directly and as a result of the devastation and hunger that followed them.
Pinker does not draw a straight line along which humanity comes to a paradise of non-violence. It shows a complex picture of moral change. It seemed to me that the main merit of his work lies in the demonstration of this multifactoriality. In one place in the book, he writes that you can think a lot of bad things about your neighbor, suspect that the layer of civilization is thin, and if the political system changes, it will come with a pogrom to your house. But he will not go to watch the cat being fried for amusement. Unlike a citizen of a medieval city, this does not seem to him a funny, amusing and cute sight. These are truly dramatic changes. They do not prevent wars by themselves, but they even affect the way people at war perceive what they are doing.
Another point that Pinker draws attention to is that Holocaust deniers are considered a very big evil in our time, people who say that none of this happened, all this was invented by the Jews. In previous historical turns, people did not deny the genocide, but were proud of it and tried to exaggerate the number of victims. We can see a monument to this outlook on life in the Book of Joshua. Historians are not completely sure that the nationalities, the complete destruction of which, including women and children, it says, existed at all. But in order for this national structure, to which the book is dedicated, to take place successfully, it was necessary that the forming nation-victor would kill all the surrounding peoples and thereby assert its advantage. This is what a change of morals is. This is the first thing I would like to say.
The second is the transformation of violence. In the chapter on demons, Pinker lists several factors that suggest that violence will still occur. He realistically says that we will not defeat violence and crime – indeed, because something in the social dynamics between people causes this phenomenon. Although he does not deny that violence is a biological necessity, because in a person there is some kind of aggression that prompts him to kill or somehow physically oppress another person. He says that these impulses will not necessarily be converted into one or another type of social behavior. Society determines how a person manifests his impulses, which, it would seem, are biologically determined.
Among these demons, he calls sadism – that is, the desire to hurt another for the sake of pleasure. Thinking about this, he says a thing that throws a somewhat ominous light on the political transformations that are now taking place with us. He writes that there are many more serial killers among men than among women. But female maniacs also exist. Their criminal behavior is radically different from that of men.
If a maniac man is most likely to be a dismemberment, a ripper, chasing his victim and then cutting it into pieces, then a woman with this kind of psychopathology will, for example, get a job as a nanny, nurse or nurse in order to choke her victims with a pillow or do them poisoned injections. That is, she kills them under the guise of caring, nurses them to death.