- (Pinker, 2011) ⇒ Steven Pinker. (2011). “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined." Viking New York. ISBN:978-0-670-02295-3
Subject Headings: Human Violence, Societal Prediction.
- (Wikipedia, 2014) ⇒ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Better_Angels_of_Our_Nature Retrieved:2014-9-27.
- The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined is a 2011 book by Steven Pinker arguing that violence in the world has declined both in the long run and in the short, and suggests explanations to why this has occurred. The phrase "the better angels of our nature" stems from the last words of US president Lincoln's first inaugural address. Pinker uses the phrase as a metaphor for four human motivations that, he writes, can "orient us away from violence and towards cooperation and altruism," namely: empathy, self-control, the "moral sense," and reason.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1 A Foreign Country 1
Human Prehistory 2
Homeric Greece 4
The Hebrew Bible 6
The Roman Empire and Early Christendom 12
Medieval Knights 17
Early Modern Europe 18
Honor in Europe and the Early United States 21
The 20th Century 23
2 The Pacification Process 31
The Logic of Violence 31
Violence in Human Ancestors 36
Kinds of Human Societies 40
Rates of Violence in State and Nonstate Societies 47
Civilization and Its Discontents 56
3 The Civilizing Process 59
The European Homicide Decline 61
Explaining the European Homicide Decline 64
Violence and Class 81
Violence Around the World 85
Violence in These United States 91
Decivilization in the 1960s 106
Recivilization in the 1990s 116
4 The Humanitarian Revolution 129
Superstitious Killing: Human Sacrifice, Witchcraft, and Blood Libel 134
Superstitious Killing: Violence Against Blasphemers, Heretics, and Apostates 139
Cruel and Unusual Punishments 144
Capital Punishment 149
Despotism and Political Violence 158
Major War 161
Whence the Humanitarian Revolution? 168
The Rise of Empathy and the Regard for Human Life 175
The Republic of Letters and Enlightenment Humanism 177
Civilization and Enlightenment 184
Blood and Soil 186
5 The Long Peace 189
Statistics and Narratives 190
Was the 20th Century Really the Worst? 193
The Statistics of Deadly Quarrels, Part 1: The Timings of Wars 200
The Statistics of Deadly Quarrels, Part 2: The Magnitude of Wars 210
The Trajectory of Great Power War 222
The Trajectory of European War 228
The Hobbesian Background and the Ages of Dynasties and Religions 231
Three Currents in the Age of Sovereignty 235
Counter-Enlightenment Ideologies and the Age of Nationalism 238
Humanism and Totalitarianism in the Age of Ideology 244
The Long Peace: Some Numbers 249
The Long Peace: Attitudes and Events 255
Is the Long Peace a Nuclear Peace? 268
Is the Long Peace a Democratic Peace? 278
Is the Long Peace a Liberal Peace? 284
Is the Long Peace a Kantian Peace? 288
6 The New Peace 295
The Trajectory of War in the Rest of the World 297
The Trajectory of Genocide 320
The Trajectory of Terrorism 344
Where Angels Fear to Tread 361
7 The Rights Revolutions 378
Civil Rights and the Decline of Lynching and Racial Pogroms 382
Women's Rights and the Decline of Rape and Battering 394
Children's Rights and the Decline of Infanticide, Spanking, Child Abuse, and Bullying 415
Gay Rights, the Decline of Gay-Bashing, and the Decriminalization of Homosexuality 447
Animal Rights and the Decline of Cruelty to Animals 454
Whence the Rights Revolutions? 475
From History to Psychology 480
8 Inner Demons 482
The Dark Side 483
The Moralization Gap and the Myth of Pure Evil 488
Organs of Violence 497
Pure Evil, Inner Demons, and the Decline of Violence 569
9 Better Angels 571
Recent Biological Evolution? 611
Morality and Taboo 622
10 On Angels' Wings 671
Important but Inconsistent 672
The Pacifist's Dilemma 678
The Leviathan 680
Gentle Commerce 682
The Expanding Circle 689
The Escalator of Reason 690
We've all had the experience of reading about a bloody war or shocking crime and asking, "What is the world coming to?". But we seldom ask, "How bad was the world in the past?" In this startling new book, the bestselling cognitive scientist Steven Pinker shows that the world of the past was much worse. With the help of more than a hundred graphs and maps, Pinker presents some astonishing numbers. Tribal warfare was nine times as deadly as war and genocide in the 20th century. The murder rate of Medieval Europe was more than thirty times what it is today. Slavery, sadistic punishments, and frivolous executions were unexceptionable features of life for millennia, then suddenly were targeted for abolition. Wars between developed countries have vanished, and even in the developing world, wars kill a fraction of the people they did a few decades ago. Rape, battering, hate crimes, deadly riots, child abuse, cruelty to animals - all substantially down.
How could this have happened, if human nature has not changed? What led people to stop sacrificing children, stabbing each other at the dinner table, or burning cats and disemboweling criminals as forms of popular entertainment? The key to explaining the decline of violence, Pinker argues, is to understand the inner demons that incline us toward violence (such as revenge, sadism, and tribalism) and the better angels that steer us away. Thanks to the spread of government, literacy, trade, and cosmopolitanism, we increasingly control our impulses, empathize with others, bargain rather than plunder, debunk toxic ideologies, and deploy our powers of reason to reduce the temptations of violence. With the panache and intellectual zeal that have made his earlier books international bestsellers and literary classics, Pinker will force you to rethink your deepest beliefs about progress, modernity, and human nature. This gripping book is sure to be among the most debated of the century so far.
This book is about what may be the most important thing that has ever happened in human history. Believe it or not—and I know that most people do not—violence has declined over long stretches of time, and today we may be living in the most peaceable era in our species’ existence. The decline, to be sure, has not been smooth; it has not brought violence down to zero; and it is not guaranteed to continue. But it is an unmistakable development, visible on scales from millennia to years, from the waging of wars to the spanking of children.
No aspect of life is untouched by the retreat from violence. Daily existence is very different if you always have to worry about being abducted, raped, or killed, and it’s hard to develop sophisticated arts, learning, or commerce if the institutions that support them are looted and burned as quickly as they are built.
The historical trajectory of violence affects not only how life is lived but how it is understood. What could be more fundamental to our sense of meaning and purpose than a conception of whether the strivings of the human race over long stretches of time have left us better or worse off? How, in particular, are we to make sense of modernity—of the erosion of family, tribe, tradition, and religion by the forces of individualism, cosmopolitanism, reason, and science? So much depends on how we understand the legacy of this transition: whether we see our world as a nightmare of crime, terrorism, genocide, and war, or as a period that, by the standards of history, is blessed by unprecedented levels of peaceful coexistence.
The question of whether the arithmetic sign of trends in violence is positive or negative also bears on our conception of human nature. Though theories of human nature rooted in biology are often associated with fatalism about violence, and the theory that the mind is a blank slate is associated with progress, in my view it is the other way around. How are we to understand the natural state of life when our species first emerged and the processes of history began? The belief that violence has increased suggests that the world we made has contaminated us, perhaps irretrievably. The belief that it has xxi decreased suggests that we started off nasty and that the artifices of civilization have moved us in a noble direction, one in which we can hope to continue.
This is a big book, but it has to be. First I have to convince you that violence really has gone down over the course of history, knowing that the very idea invites skepticism, incredulity, and sometimes anger. Our cognitive faculties predispose us to believe that we live in violent times, especially when they are stoked by media that follow the watchword “If it bleeds, it leads.” The human mind tends to estimate the probability of an event from the ease with which it can recall examples, and scenes of carnage are more likely to be beamed into our homes and burned into our memories than footage of people dying of old age.1 No matter how small the percentage of violent deaths may be, in absolute numbers there will always be enough of them to fill the evening news, so people’s impressions of violence will be disconnected from the actual proportions.
Also distorting our sense of danger is our moral psychology. No one has ever recruited activists to a cause by announcing that things are getting better, and bearers of good news are often advised to keep their mouths shut lest they lull people into complacency. Also, a large swath of our intellectual culture is loath to admit that there could be anything good about civilization, modernity, and Western society. But perhaps the main cause of the illusion of ever-present violence springs from one of the forces that drove violence down in the first place. The decline of violent behavior has been paralleled by a decline in attitudes that tolerate or glorify violence, and often the attitudes are in the lead. By the standards of the mass atrocities of human history, the lethal injection of a murderer in Texas, or an occasional hate crime in which a member of an ethnic minority is intimidated by hooligans, is pretty mild stuff. But from a contemporary vantage point, we see them as signs of how low our behavior can sink, not of how high our standards have risen.
In the teeth of these preconceptions, I will have to persuade you with numbers, which I will glean from datasets and depict in graphs. In each case I’ll explain where the numbers came from and do my best to interpret the ways they fall into place. The problem I have set out to understand is the reduction in violence at many scales — in the family, in the neighborhood, between tribes and other armed factions, and among major nations and states. If the history of violence at each level of granularity had an idiosyncratic trajectory, each would belong in a separate book. But to my repeated astonishment, the global trends in almost all of them, viewed from the vantage point of the present, point downward. That calls for documenting the various trends between a single pair of covers, and seeking commonalities in when, how, and why they have occurred.
Too many kinds of violence, I hope to convince you, have moved in the same direction for it all to be a coincidence, and that calls for an explanation. It is natural to recount the history of violence as a moral saga—a heroic struggle of justice against evil—but that is not my starting point. My approach is scientific in the broad sense of seeking explanations for why things happen. We may discover that a particular advance in peacefulness was brought about by moral entrepreneurs and their movements. But we may also discover that the explanation is more prosaic, like a change in technology, governance, commerce, or knowledge. Nor can we understand the decline of violence as an unstoppable force for progress that is carrying us toward an omega point of perfect peace. It is a collection of statistical trends in the behavior of groups of humans in various epochs, and as such it calls for an explanation in terms of psychology and history: how human minds deal with changing circumstances.
A large part of the book will explore the psychology of violence and nonviolence. The theory of mind that I will invoke is the synthesis of cognitive science, affective and cognitive neuroscience, social and evolutionary psychology, and other sciences of human nature that I explored in How the Mind Works, The Blank Slate, and The Stuff of Thought. According to this understanding, the mind is a complex system of cognitive and emotional faculties implemented in the brain which owe their basic design to the processes of evolution. Some of these faculties incline us toward various kinds of violence. Others — “the better angels of our nature,” in Abraham Lincoln’s words — incline us toward cooperation and peace. The way to explain the decline of violence is to identify the changes in our cultural and material milieu that have given our peaceable motives the upper hand.
Finally, I need to show how our history has engaged our psychology. Everything in human affairs is connected to everything else, and that is especially true of violence. Across time and space, the more peaceable societies also tend to be richer, healthier, better educated, better governed, more respectful of their women, and more likely to engage in trade. It’s not easy to tell which of these happy traits got the virtuous circle started and which went along for the ride, and it’s tempting to resign oneself to unsatisfying circularities, such as that violence declined because the culture got less violent. Social scientists distinguish “endogenous” variables — those that are inside the system, where they may be affected by the very phenomenon they are trying to explain—from the “exogenous” ones — those that are set in motion by forces from the outside. Exogenous forces can originate in the practical realm, such as changes in technology, demographics, and the mechanisms of commerce and governance. But they can also originate in the intellectual realm, as new ideas are conceived and disseminated and take on a life of their own. The most satisfying explanation of a historical change is one that identifies an exogenous trigger. To the best that the data allow it, I will try to identify exogenous forces that have engaged our mental faculties in different ways at different times and that thereby can be said to have caused the declines in violence.
The discussions that try to do justice to these questions add up to a big book—big enough that it won’t spoil the story if I preview its major conclusions. The Better Angels of Our Nature is a tale of six trends, five inner demons, four better angels, and five historical forces.
Six Trends (chapters 2 through 7). To give some coherence to the many developments that make up our species’ retreat from violence, I group them into six major trends.
The first, which took place on the scale of millennia, was the transition from the anarchy of the hunting, gathering, and horticultural societies in which our species spent most of its evolutionary history to the first agricultural civilizations with cities and governments, beginning around five thousand years ago. With that change came a reduction in the chronic raiding and feuding that characterized life in a state of nature and a more or less fivefold decrease in rates of violent death. I call this imposition of peace the Pacification Process.
The second transition spanned more than half a millennium and is best documented in Europe. Between the late Middle Ages and the 20th century, European countries saw a tenfold-to-fiftyfold decline in their rates of homicide. In his classic book The Civilizing Process, the sociologist Norbert Elias attributed this surprising decline to the consolidation of a patchwork of feudal territories into large kingdoms with centralized authority and an infrastructure of commerce. With a nod to Elias, I call this trend the Civilizing Process.
The third transition unfolded on the scale of centuries and took off around the time of the Age of Reason and the European Enlightenment in the 17th and 18th centuries (though it had antecedents in classical Greece and the Renaissance, and parallels elsewhere in the world). It saw the first organized movements to abolish socially sanctioned forms of violence like despotism, slavery, dueling, judicial torture, superstitious killing, sadistic punishment, and cruelty to animals, together with the first stirrings of systematic pacifism. Historians sometimes call this transition the Humanitarian Revolution.
The fourth major transition took place after the end of World War II. The two-thirds of a century since then have been witness to a historically unprecedented development: the great powers, and developed states in general, have stopped waging war on one another. Historians have called this blessed state of affairs the Long Peace.2
The fifth trend is also about armed combat but is more tenuous. Though it may be hard for news readers to believe, since the end of the Cold War in 1989, organized conflicts of all kinds — civil wars, genocides, repression by autocratic governments, and terrorist attacks — have declined throughout the world. In recognition of the tentative nature of this happy development, I will call it the New Peace.
Finally, the postwar era, symbolically inaugurated by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, has seen a growing revulsion against aggression on smaller scales, including violence against ethnic minorities, women, children, homosexuals, and animals. These spin-offs from the concept of human rights — civil rights, women’s rights, children’s rights, gay rights, and animal rights — were asserted in a cascade of movements from the late 1950s to the present day which I will call the Rights Revolutions.
Five Inner Demons (chapter 8). Many people implicitly believe in the Hydraulic Theory of Violence: that humans harbor an inner drive toward aggression (a death instinct or thirst for blood), which builds up inside us and must periodically be discharged. Nothing could be further from a contemporary scientific understanding of the psychology of violence. Aggression is not a single motive, let alone a mounting urge. It is the output of several psychological systems that differ in their environmental triggers, their internal logic, their neurobiological basis, and their social distribution. Chapter 8 is devoted to explaining five of them. Predatory or instrumental violence is simply violence deployed as a practical means to an end. Dominance is the urge for authority, prestige, glory, and power, whether it takes the form of macho posturing among individuals or contests for supremacy among racial, ethnic, religious, or national groups. Revenge fuels the moralistic urge toward retribution, punishment, and justice. Sadism is pleasure taken in another’s suffering. And ideology is a shared belief system, usually involving a vision of utopia, that justifies unlimited violence in pursuit of unlimited good.
Four Better Angels (chapter 9). Humans are not innately good (just as they are not innately evil), but they come equipped with motives that can orient them away from violence and toward cooperation and altruism. Empathy (particularly in the sense of sympathetic concern) prompts us to feel the pain of others and to align their interests with our own. Self-control allows us to anticipate the consequences of acting on our impulses and to inhibit them accordingly. The moral sense sanctifies a set of norms and taboos that govern the interactions among people in a culture, sometimes in ways that decrease violence, though often (when the norms are tribal, authoritarian, or puritanical) in ways that increase it. And the faculty of reason allows us to extricate ourselves from our parochial vantage points, to reflect on the ways in which we live our lives, to deduce ways in which we could be better off, and to guide the application of the other better angels of our nature. In one section I will also examine the possibility that in recent history Homo sapiens has literally evolved to become less violent in the biologist’s technical sense of a change in our genome. But the focus of the book is on transformations that are strictly environmental: changes in historical circumstances that engage a fixed human nature in different ways.
... Challenge a person's beliefs, and you challenge his dignity, standing, and power. And when those beliefs are based on nothing but faith, they are chronically fragile. No one gets upset about the belief that rocks fall down as opposed to up, because all sane people can see it with their own eyes. Not so for the belief that babies are born with original sin or that God exists in three persons or that Ali is the second-most divinely inspired man after Muhammad. When people organize their lives around these beliefs, and then learn of other people who seem to be doing just fine without them -- or worse, who credibly rebut them -- they are in danger of looking like fools. Since one cannot defend a belief based on faith by persuading skeptics it is true, the faithful are apt to react to unbelief with rage, and may try to eliminate that affront to everything that makes their lives meaningful. ...
tags: faith, humans, thought-provoking, violence
“The scriptures present a God who delights in genocide, rape, slavery, and the execution of nonconformists, and for millennia those writings were used to rationalize the massacre of infidels, the ownership of women, the beating of children, dominion over animals, and the persecution of heretics and homosexuals. Humanitarian reforms such as the elimination of cruel punishment, the dissemination of empathy-inducing novels, and the abolition of slavery were met with fierce opposition in their time by ecclesiastical authorities and their apologists. The elevation of parochial values to the realm of the sacred is a license to dismiss other people’s interests, and an imperative to reject the possibility of compromise.”
tags: gay-rights, god, religion, scripture, violence, women-s-rights
“Why should the spread of ideas and people result in reforms that lower violence? There are several pathways. The most obvious is a debunking of ignorance and superstition. A connected and educated populace, at least in aggregate and over the long run, is bound to be disabused of poisonous beliefs, such as that members of other races and ethnicities are innately avaricious or perfidious; that economic and military misfortunes are caused by the treachery of ethnic minorities; that women don't mind to be raped; that children must be beaten to be socialized; that people choose to be homosexual as part of a morally degenerate lifestyle; that animals are incapable of feeling pain. The recent debunking of beliefs that invite or tolerate violence call to mind Voltaire's quip that those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”
tags: human-rights, religion
“Morality, then, is not a set of arbitrary regulations dictated by a vengeful deity and written down in a book; nor is it the custom of a particular culture or tribe. It is a consequence of the interchangeability of perspectives and the opportunity the world provides for positive-sum games.”
“The doctrine of the sacredness of the soul sounds vaguely uplifting, but in fact is highly malignant. It discounts life on earth as just a temporary phase that people pass through, indeed, an infinitesimal fraction of their existence…the gradual replacement of lives for souls as the locus of moral value was helped along by the ascendency of skepticism and reason”
“The only people who should be allowed to govern countries with nuclear weapons are mothers, those who are still breastfeeding their babies."--Tsutomu Yamaguchi, the only survivor of both the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings.”
“Institutionalized torture in Christendom was not just an unthinking habit; it had a moral rationale. If you really believe that failing to accept Jesus as one's savior is a ticket to fiery damnation, then torturing a person until he acknowledges this truth is doing him the biggest favor of his life: better a few hours now than an eternity later.”
tags: christianity, morality, religion
“The indispensability of reason does not imply that individual people are always rational or are unswayed by passion and illusion. It only means that people are capable of reason, and that a community of people who choose to perfect this faculty and to exercise it openly and fairly can collectively reason their way to sounder conclusions in the long run. As Lincoln observed, you can fool all of the people some of the time, and you can fool some of the people all of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time.”
tags: rationality, reason
“The theory that religion is a force for peace, often heard among the religious right and its allies today, does not fit the facts of history.”
“In this way of thinking, the fact that women show a lot of skin or that men curse in public is not a sign of cultural decay. On the contrary, it's a sign that they live in a society that is so civilized that they don't have to fear being harassed or assaulted in response.”
“Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. —Voltaire”
“An ideology can provide a satisfying narrative that explains chaotic events and collective misfortunes in a way that flatters the virtue and competence of believers, while being vague or conspiratorial enough to withstand skeptical scrutiny.”
tags: beliefs, bias, ideology, religion
“Since violence is largely a male pastime, cultures that empower women tend to move away from the glorification of violence and are less likely to breed dangerous subcultures of rootless young men.”
tags: feminism, violence
“The Rights Revolutions too have given us ideals that educated people today take for granted but that are virtually unprecedented in human history, such as that people of all races and creeds have equal rights, that women should be free from all forms of coercion, that children should never, ever be spanked, that students should be protected from bullying, and that there’s nothing wrong with being gay. I don’t find it at all implausible that these are gifts, in part, of a refined and widening application of reason.”
tags: gay-rights, human-rights, women-s-rights
“Once again, the point of this discussion is not to accuse Christians of endorsing torture and persecution. Of course most devout Christians today are thoroughly tolerant and humane people. Even those who thunder from televised pulpits do not call for burning heretics alive or hoisting Jews on the strappado. The question is why they don’t, given that their beliefs imply that it would serve the greater good. The answer is that people in the West today compartmentalize their religious ideology. When they affirm their faith in houses of worship, they profess beliefs that have barely changed in two thousand years. But when it comes to their actions, they respect modern norms of nonviolence and toleration, a benevolent hypocrisy for which we should all be grateful.”
“The universality of reason is a momentous realization, because it defines a place for morality. If I appeal to you do do something that affects me—to get off my foot, or not to stab me for the fun of it, or to save my child from drowning—then I can't do it in a way that privileges my interests of yours if I want you to take me seriously (say, by retaining my right to stand on your foot, or to stab you, or to let your children drown). I have to state my case in a way that would force me to treat you in kind. I can't act as if my interests are special just because I'm me and you're not, any more than I can persuade you that the spot I am standing on is a special place in the universe just because I happen to be standing on it.
You and I ought to reach this moral understanding not just so we can have a logically consistent conversation but because mutual unselfishness is the only way we can simultaneously pursue our interests. You and I are both better off if we share our surpluses, rescue each other's children when they get into trouble, and refrain from knifing each other than we would be if we hoarded our surpluses while they rotted, let each other's children drown, and feuded incessantly. Granted, I might be a bit better off if I acted selfishly at your expense and you played the sucker, but the same is true for you with me, so if each of us tried for these advantages, we'd both end up worse off. Any neutral observer, and you and I if we could talk it over rationally, would have to conclude that the state we should aim for is the one where we both are unselfish.
Morality, then, is not a set of arbitrary regulations dictated by a vengeful deity and written down in a book; nor is it the custom of a particular culture or tribe. It is a consequence of the interchangeability of perspectives and the opportunity the world provides for positive-sum games.”
tags: ethics, morality
“It Begins with skepticism. The history of human folly, and our own susceptibility to illusions and fallacies, tell us that men and women are fallible.”
tags: science, skepticism
“It’s a little-known fact that most terrorist groups fail, and that all of them die. Lest this seem hard to believe, just reflect on the world around you. Israel continues to exist, Northern Ireland is still a part of the United Kingdom, and Kashmir is a part of India. There are no sovereign states in Kurdistan, Palestine, Quebec, Puerto Rico, Chechnya, Corsica, Tamil Eelam, or Basque Country. The Philippines, Algeria, Egypt, and Uzbekistan are not Islamist theocracies; nor have Japan, the United States, Europe, and Latin America become religious, Marxist, anarchist, or new-age utopias. The numbers confirm the impressions.” ― Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined
“Perhaps the most extraordinary popular delusion about violence of the past quarter-century is that it is caused by low self-esteem. That theory has been endorsed by dozens of prominent experts, has inspired school programs designed to get kids to feel better about themselves, and in the late 1980s led the California legislature to form a Task Force to Promote Self-Esteem. Yet Baumeister has shown that the theory could not be more spectacularly, hilariously, achingly wrong. Violence is a problem not of too little self-esteem but of too much, particularly when it is unearned.” ― Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined
tags: self-esteem, wrong-concept
“When gentlemen agreed to a duel, they were fighting not for money or land or even women but for honor, the strange commodity that exists because everyone believes that everyone else believes that it exists.”
“Oscar Wilde’s prophecy that “as long as war is regarded as wicked, it will always have its fascination. When it is looked upon as vulgar, it will cease to be popular.”
“I am sometimes asked, "How do you know there won't be a war tomorrow (or a genocide, or an act of terrorism) that will refute your whole thesis?" The question misses the point of this book. The point is not that we have entered an Age of Aquarius in which every last earthling has been pacified forever. It is that substantial reductions in violence have taken place, and it is important to understand them. Declines in violence are caused by political, economic, and ideological conditions that take hold in particular cultures at particular times. If the conditions reverse, violence could go right back up.”
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