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Are humans gradually evolving into a more civilised and less violent species?


gcarth Plus
15 3.4k 1 United Kingdom
7 Feb 2020 12:38PM


Until recently I’ve been unsure what to think on this issue.
Most of us are well aware from the History books that life was very brutal centuries ago.
However, there was not the industrial scale of slaughter that we have had in more recent times.
Then on reading some of Steven Pinker’s “The Better Angels of our Nature: The Decline of Violence in History and its Causes”, I’ve come round to thinking life definitely is better for most of us, though in my opinion, there is much more risk of a total wipe out of humankind.
Steven Pinker asserts that proportionately, in terms of per capita of the entire population, there were more deaths and general violence in centuries past. He says that killings and violence occurred much more often and according to his findings he uncovered many genocidal incidents throughout History. You only have to read the Bible to find countless tales of genocidal behaviour and frequent and brutal acts of revenge.

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lemmy 12 2.8k United Kingdom
7 Feb 2020 1:16PM
I think life is better for most of us if by 'most of us' we mean the developed nations. 36% of the globe's population live in extreme poverty which is as bad as - possibly worse than - earlier ages. Starvation and disease are common to both.

I'd have though that Pinker was correct in saying that proportionally there is less violence now but wouldn't that be a statistical matter? With such a massive population, to kill 30% of them as the plague did in Europe would require bombs and violence on a scale we simply don't have. Even Hitler, with the intention of wiping out an entire section the population managed 'only' 6 million which hardly marks the overall numbers.
Tianshi_angie 5 2.9k England
7 Feb 2020 1:20PM
Personally I think that there was probably more violent mass slaughter in the past but I am not sure that a lessening of mass deaths is any indication of civilisation. My own feeling is that cruelty has increased, lack of respect for other individuals has increased, there is less empathy and less care in society, all of which I think points to a more brutal civilisation. Too many folk are extremely self-centred and selfish and certainly with mass media has come mass bullying and mass mental persecution with many mores thrown out of general thinking.
Tianshi_angie 5 2.9k England
7 Feb 2020 1:24PM

Quote:Even Hitler, with the intention of wiping out an entire section the population managed 'only' 6 million which hardly marks the overall numbers.


I would like to add to this comment that there were around 20 million Russians who were killed in the second World War, a fact which many folk ignore.
Carabosse 17 41.4k 270 England
7 Feb 2020 3:08PM
In 1939 world population was 2.3 billion. It is now 7.7 billion. Even WW2, in which it is estimated 70-85 million perished ( LINK ), barely made a dent.

The more sentient beings (rats or humans) you put into a given space the greater the likelihood of conflict - "rats in a sack" etc.
gcarth Plus
15 3.4k 1 United Kingdom
7 Feb 2020 3:20PM

Quote:In 1939 world population was 2.3 billion. It is now 7.7 billion. Even WW2, in which it is estimated 70-85 million perished ( LINK ), barely made a dent.

The more sentient beings (rats or humans) you put into a given space the greater the likelihood of conflict - "rats in a sack" etc.

Yes. I think that is how Steven Pinker sees things.

gcarth Plus
15 3.4k 1 United Kingdom
7 Feb 2020 3:26PM

Quote:Too many folk are extremely self-centred and selfish and certainly with mass media has come mass bullying and mass mental persecution with many mores thrown out of general thinking.



Yes. Though I agree with Pinker so far – I’ve got much more to read – I think he has an optimistic nature, but he seems to have done a lot of research into this subject and so is not necessarily biased by his optimism.
However, philosopher John Gray is more dismissive of the Enlightenment thinkers and their contribution to a more civilised society. He points out that a number of Enlightenment notables like Lock, Hume, Voltaire, etc., accepted slavery or believed that Europeans were superior to other races.
Gray seems to take the opposite view - like you perhaps - to Pinker in that he doesn’t believe in human evolution – at least in terms of progression.
I think in fairness, Pinker is still correct to praise the overall positive effect of the Enlightenment on humanity because people in the latter period of the Enlightenment, like Wilberforce, helped to ban slavery and eventually facilitated Trade Unions that gave workers more rights. That said, I have to say that I feel less respect for thinkers like Lock, Hume and Voltaire than I did – they were obviously not so enlightened after all!
lemmy 12 2.8k United Kingdom
7 Feb 2020 5:08PM

Quote: My own feeling is that cruelty has increased, lack of respect for other individuals has increased, there is less empathy and less care in society
I think those are present or missing in the same degree as they ever were. It depends on where you look. For example

When 20,000 souls, men women and children some Cathars, took refuge behind the walls of Beziers when it was besieged by the Catholic Crusaders 800 years ago, Arnaud-Aumery leader of the Albigensian Crusaders told his men to go in and slaughter the Cathars. When the men asked how they would know the Cathars from the Catholics, he made the famous remark "kill them all. The Lord will know his own". On the other hand in Syria there have been several occasions during sieges when aid agencies have managed to have cease-fires agreed in order to get help to the civilian populations. That would say that cruelty etc has not increased.

I know it would be possible to find occurrences in the 13th century and today that speak to the contrary. Like everything else, there isn't any truth or absolute, just a sea of grey and a point of view.
gcarth Plus
15 3.4k 1 United Kingdom
7 Feb 2020 5:52PM

Quote:
Quote: My own feeling is that cruelty has increased, lack of respect for other individuals has increased, there is less empathy and less care in society
I think those are present or missing in the same degree as they ever were. It depends on where you look. For example

When 20,000 souls, men women and children some Cathars, took refuge behind the walls of Beziers when it was besieged by the Catholic Crusaders 800 years ago, Arnaud-Aumery leader of the Albigensian Crusaders told his men to go in and slaughter the Cathars. When the men asked how they would know the Cathars from the Catholics, he made the famous remark "kill them all. The Lord will know his own". On the other hand in Syria there have been several occasions during sieges when aid agencies have managed to have cease-fires agreed in order to get help to the civilian populations. That would say that cruelty etc has not increased.

I know it would be possible to find occurrences in the 13th century and today that speak to the contrary. Like everything else, there isn't any truth or absolute, just a sea of grey and a point of view.

Yes, I think this topic, of all topics, is impossible to argue about in absolute terms. My own inclination - at the moment - is to favour Steven Pinker's ideas. He received a lot of praise for his book, but he also had a few critics too - like John Gray.
I have to say that I find John Gray's style less accessible whereas Pinker's style is more accessible while still being thorough.
If it is true that we have evolved and become less violent, I certainly think it has been a very, very slow process and is very much a "work in progress".
It could be said the Industrial Revolution gave us the more civilised society we have today - with all the new technology and scientific discoveries: However - ironically - the Industrial Revolution also incurred great suffering and hardship in it's exploitation of slave labour and child labour in factories and mines.
lemmy 12 2.8k United Kingdom
7 Feb 2020 6:26PM

Quote:It could be said the Industrial Revolution gave us the more civilised society we have today - with all the new technology and scientific discoveries: However - ironically - the Industrial Revolution also incurred great suffering and hardship in it's exploitation of slave labour and child labour in factories and mines.

I'm no mystic but It does seem that for every positive in human existence there is a balancing negative in much the same way that a positive electrical charge will always have a negative counterpart. The only trouble is that whereas we can rationally decide what is a positive and negative electrical charge, social good and bad is a matter of perspective.

We rightly abhor child labour in India but when enlightened protest in the west highlights the problem and the factory is closed down, the main effect is on the child's family who once had some income and now do not. Our enlightenment is their starvation.
7 Feb 2020 10:37PM
Better not! President Trump, Vladimir Putin, and the Republican Party would not like that one bit!
gcarth Plus
15 3.4k 1 United Kingdom
22 Feb 2020 2:06PM

Quote:We rightly abhor child labour in India but when enlightened protest in the west highlights the problem and the factory is closed down, the main effect is on the child's family who once had some income and now do not. Our enlightenment is their starvation.

Yes. It seems to me the problem lies with India - it is up to India to reform it's social and economic structure. There is a great deal of wealth in India nowadays but it is heavily distributed in favour of the top rich controlling elite.

I think the trouble is that in the West, when we talk about 'enlightenment' and being 'civilised', we are far too complacent.
We may rightly condemn the medieval beliefs and practises of certain nations and religions: We may rightly condemn the evil head choppers, homophobes and jihadist terrorists etc. but are we not guilty of ignoring the atrocities that we in the West commit and have committed over the years. Western so-called 'humanitarian interventions' have blown men, women and children to bits just as surely as jihadists blow us to bits with their suicide bombs - indeed the jihadists seem to be mainly driven to terrorism in revenge for Western illegal invasions and general interference. Of course the killing of innocents can never be justified by either side.
We in the West tend to talk about terrorists being brainwashed: I'm sure that is true but are we not also brainwashed in our 'civilised' part of the world by our own biased corporate media where only a handful of brave and honest journalists refuse to be cowed into submission.


Noam Chomsky stated:
‘Personally, I’m in favor of democracy, which means that the central institutions in the society have to be under popular control. Now, under capitalism we can’t have democracy by definition. Capitalism is a system in which the central institutions of society are in principle under autocratic control.’

Rebecca Fisher, a member of a non-profit making group of publishers and researchers named ‘Corporate Watch’ said:

‘the major decisions affecting the vast majority of the world’s populations are made by a very small elite of individuals and transnational corporations, who prioritise the demands of capital accumulation above any human or environmental concerns.’

If we are becoming more civilised it is very much a 'work in progress' situation and there is a very long way to go before we reach anywhere near our potential to be a better society.
I think we are slowly improving but we can only hope we evolve in time to prevent a complete destruction of the human race.

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