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article imageReview: According to study, world less violent than ever

By Glen Olives     Dec 28, 2014 in Crime
The world is safer and less violent now than ever in human history? What are these crackpot elitist university professors smoking? As it turns out, facts.
We're all familiar with the same journalistic axioms "if it bleeds it leads" and "fear sells" or "if it's not happening now it's not news." That's one reason most people believe that we live in a much more violent, dangerous world that the facts present us with.
In a December 22 piece for Slate entitled "The World Is Not Falling Apart", Steven Pinker of Harvard and Andrew Mack of Simon Fraser, in claiming that "We've never lived in such peaceful times", posit that News is about things that happen, not things that don’t happen. We never see a reporter saying to the camera, “Here we are, live from a country where a war has not broken out”—or a city that has not been bombed, or a school that has not been shot up. As long as violence has not vanished from the world, there will always be enough incidents to fill the evening news. And since the human mind estimates probability by the ease with which it can recall examples, newsreaders will always perceive that they live in dangerous times. All the more so when billions of smartphones turn a fifth of the world’s population into crime reporters and war correspondents.
Really, though? We live in the the most peaceful time in human history? What about ISIS? The Crimea? Syria? Gaza? Domestic violence and school shootings? Cops killing black citizens? Genocides? The recent spate of wars and revolutions?
We find ourselves nodding in agreement to statements such as that recently uttered by Martin Dempsy, the chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff, who said, "[T]he world is more dangerous than it has ever been."
Turns out, it just ain't so.
For a long time many people have armchair-theorized about this phenomena of misperception that we are less safe than we actually are. They note that we are more likely to be killed by lightening than by terrorists, or more likely to be killed by bees than shot in a school. But Pinker and Mack have gone a step--really a leap--further. They not only expose the psychological biases that creep into our minds such as randomness, orders of magnitude, etc. They also count the violence and mayhem, from homicide rates in the U.S., Britain and Mexico, rapes and sexual assaults, victimization of children, democracy and autocracy, prevalence of mass killings, deaths from genocide, the number of armed conflicts and wars, battle deaths from armed conflicts, as well as other metrics. All are at historic lows.
The paper is chalk-full of data, but also data that is easy to read and decipher for the non-specialist reader through various graphics and charts. Admitting that counting victims might seem ghoulish, the authors' acknowledge that it is really the only way to accurately understand how violent and oppressive the world we live in is. They conclude that "the small picture is very bad" (referring to recent wars in the Middle East) "but the big picture of violence around the world is about as good as it's every been."
Which is not to say we don't have a long way to go towards a less violent, and more peaceful world.
More about world violence, safer world, harvard studies, world less violent now, Domestic violence
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