It seems the world is always going to hell in a handbasket. The news headlines proclaim it daily. More dead in Iraq. Another suicide bombing in Gaza. Genocide grinds on in Darfur. We seem to live in bloody times indeed. Enough to make one believe the end times are really near.
Headlines aside, however, the empirical evidence points in the opposite direction. While far from perfect, violence has decreased through the millenia & even now, with all the anecdotal support to the contrary, we are in a more peacable world than humankind has ever known. That’s the hopeful conclusion Harvard Psychologist & public intellectual Stephen Pinker reaches in his intriguing March 2007 TEDTalk lecture “A History of Violence“.
Robert Wright, referenced by Pinker in the essay, reaches the same conclusion and provides a game-theoretic explanation of this development in his excellent book Nonzero, summarized in a dryly humorous TedTalk Wright gave in February 2006.
In considering the historical arcs of increasing sociability & lessening cruelty, I wonder how these trends play into the thesis introduced by psychologist Clare Graves and expanded on by Don Beck in his book Spiral Dynamics and by philosopher Ken Wilber in his Integral Theory conception of altitude, that not only does individual human consciousness follow a developmental arc leading from ego-centric to world-centric, but the same progression flows through the population to increasing numbers throughout history. Is this expansion of consciousness an interior reflection of the logic of nonzerosumness? Are the social advances we have made caused by interior changes in awareness or are interior changes allowed for by the lessened savagery in our social milieu? (I’m sure Wilber would say the interior and exterior co-create each other & are “tetra-evolving”.)
Regardless of the answer, Pinker & Wright clearly give us something significant to be appreciative of as Thanksgiving approaches.