Steven Pinker argues that humans are becoming less violent. That may seem a bizarre claim to make in the face of daily reports of terrible conflict around the world. But, despite the continuing litany of horrific events, Pinker’s research shows that we are much less likely to die at someone’s hands than ever before. Violence – both murder and warfare – has declined over centuries and decades. What’s more, Pinker argues, despite the global carnage of the last century, modernity is actually making us less violent.
So how do we encourage the further decline of violence? How do we foster increasingly peaceful societies? What is the role of reason in that process? What do continued acts of violence tell us about our society? And how does the reduction of physical aggression transform the nature of power?
To help us begin to answer these vital questions, Professor Pinker will discuss the insights from his important new book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: A History of Violence and Humanity, with philosopher Robert Rowland Smith. They will discuss Pinker’s analysis of how modernity’s cultural institutions – art, religion, planned government, progressive ideology, international trade and even table manners – influence our attitude to arms. Whether you agree with him or not, this is a rare opportunity to examine the forces that replace violence with one of the most influential thinkers of our time.
Steven Pinker is Harvard College Professor and Johnstone Family Professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University. He conducts research on language and cognition, writes for publications such as the New York Times, Time and The New Republic, and is the author of eight books, including The Language Instinct, How the Mind Works, Words and Rules, The Blank Slate, The Stuff of Thought, and most recently The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.
This event was part of our series of conversations where leading international thinkers share big ideas for changing the world. It took place at Conway Hall, London on 16 October 2012