Bombings, beheadings? Stats show a peaceful world

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Mack and Goldstein emphasize how hard society and peacekeepers have worked to reduce wars, focusing on action taken to tamp down violence, while Pinker focuses on cultural and thought changes that make violence less likely. But all three say those elements are interconnected.

Even the academics who disagree with Pinker, Goldstein and Mack, say the declining violence numbers are real.

“The facts are not in dispute here; the question is what is going on,” John Mearsheimer, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago and author of “The Tragedy of Great Power Politics.”

“It’s been 21 years since the Cold War ended and the United States has been at war for 14 out of those 21 years,” Mearsheimer said. “If war has been burned out of the system, why do we have NATO and why has NATO been pushed eastward…? Why are we spending more money on defense than all other countries in the world put together?”

What’s happening is that the U.S. is acting as a “pacifier” keeping the peace all over the world, Mearsheimer said. He said like-minded thinkers, who call themselves “realists” believe “that power matters because the best way to survive is to be really powerful.” And he worries that a strengthening China is about to upset the world power picture and may make the planet bloodier again.

And Goldstein points out that even though a nuclear attack hasn’t occurred in 66 years _ one nuclear bomb could change this trend in an instant.

Pinker said looking at the statistics and how violent our past was and how it is less so now, “makes me appreciate things like democracy, the United Nations, like literacy.”

He and Goldstein believe it’s possible that an even greater drop in violence could occur in the future.

Goldstein says there’s a turn on a cliche that is apt: “We’re actually going from the fire to the frying pan. And that’s progress. It’s not as bad as the fire.”


Researcher Julie Reed Bell contributed to this report.



Steven Pinker’s web site:

A lecture by Pinker with his statistics and graphics on a “history of violence:”

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