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Monday, June 5, 2017

Summer nonfiction read


     I have just finished reading Steven Pinker's book "The Better Angels of our Nature: Why Violence has Declined."   If you asked people today if they think that violence has increased or decreased most people would say that it has increased and they would be wrong.  This book shows with statistics how we are living in a time with the least violence in history.   Do you know that school shootings are no more common today than they were in the past? The amount of attention given to violence by the media gives people the opposite impression.  Here is how the book describes the changes:

    "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."

    Interestingly the most important reason for the decline in violence is community lack of tolerance to violence against certain groups.  This applies to once societal accepted violence against women, children, minorities and animals.  The human and civil rights movements of the past 50 years have had an impact on the use of violence on these groups.  The use of derogatory words and descriptions of targeted groups gives those with a more violent tendency the license to act out violently.  Think about that the next time you hear someone deriding "political correctness."


      Interesting quote from the book written in 2011, "While there is no such thing as the IQ of speech...political psychologists have identified a variable called integrative complexity that captures a sense of intellectual balance, nuance and sophistication.  A passage that is low in integrative complexity stakes out an opinion and relentlessly hammers it home without nuance or qualification.  It's minimal complexity can be quantified  by counting words like absolutely, always, certainty, definitely, entirely, forever, indisputable, irrefutable, undoubtedly and unquestionably."
     Now listen to this video.

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