I often listen to the radio in my car, as I shuttle back and forth every day between home and workplace – there’s often something interesting to listen to. Much of it is ephemera – it might remain on BBC’s iPlayer, for instance, for a few days but then will be gone for ever. Occasionally, however, I’ll make an effort to find it later on the internet, make an audio recording of it before it vanishes, and then perhaps write up a transcript. This is what I did after hearing a brief interview with psychologist Steven Pinker on the BBC’s PM programme last week – you can read the transcript here.
The Better Angels of Our Nature is a book I’m now intending to read. Steven Pinker’s argument (that the long-term trend is of a reduction in human violence) seems to fit in, generally, with lines of thought expressed by some others, such as Daniel Ben Ami in Ferraris for All and Matt Ridley in The Rational Optimist – he is saying that despite the fact that there are places in the world where violent incidents are happening, there are many more places where such events are not happening, and that the overall incidence of violence is going down. This may be cold comfort for residents of the Syrian city of Homs, for example, in recent months, but of course there are vast expanses of the Earth where violence on that scale is not occurring and where peace largely reigns, unreported by the media.
We have become used to the idea that the world is heading for hell in a handbasket and that as humanity becomes more numerous the dangers of ecological collapse and societal breakdown loom ever closer. So it seems odd to learn that the world is actually becoming more peaceful. Just as people experience storms and floods, and look back to a mythical time of climate stability and “normal” weather, we also watch explosions and shootings on the TV news, and hark back to a slower, gentler, more peaceful era in human history – that never really was.