pinker on why we are becoming less violent

From WorldChanging on an (unidentified) presentation by Steven Pinker:

So why is violence becoming less common? He offers four explanations:

1) Hobbes got it right. “Life in the state of nature is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” In anarchy, there’s a temptation towards preemptive violence, hurting the other guy before he hurts you. But with the rise of the Leviathan – the State – there’s a monopoly on violence. This helps explain why we still see violence in the absence of the state – zones of anarchy, failed states, street gangs.

2) In the past, we had a widespread sentiment that life was cheap. As we’ve gotten better at prolonging life, we take life more seriously and are more reluctant to take life.

3) We’re seeing more non-zero sum games, as people discover forms of cooperation that can benefit both parties, like trade and shared peace dividends. These zero-sum games come with technology, because it allows us to trade with more people. People become more valuable live than dead – “We shouldn’t bomb the japanese because they built my minivan.”

4) Finally, Pinker leans on Peter Singer to speculate about “the expanding circle”. By default, we empathize with a small group of people, our friends and family. Everyone else is subhuman. But over time, we’ve seen this circle expand, from village to clan to tribe to nation to other races, both sexes and eventually other species. As we learn to expand our circles wider and wider, perhaps violence becomes increasingly unacceptable.

I would add a fifth reason: we are becoming more and more socially organized, learning to ever better regulate our own behavior. We are forcing ourselves to be less violent, because this seems to foster inherently better (more comfortable) living situations.

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