Harvard professor shares his theories on decline of violence
This week in Ohio a man was sentenced to life in prison for burning a woman to death. A bombing in Syria killed eight. A Utah doctor is on trial for drowning his wife.
However, compared to the mass genocides and public executions that were commonplace in biblical times, and the tribal warfares of the 20th century, we’re actually living in the least violent era in history, said best-selling author Steven Pinker.
Pinker, Johnstone professor of psychology at Harvard, will be in Spokane next week to explain his theory.
He said he’ll be speaking about his book, “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined,” which explains why and how humanity has evolved into a peaceful society.
Pinker said there are many reasons things have changed, including people becoming more enlightened, valuing human rights and empathizing with their fellow human beings.
He said the notion that the world is becoming increasingly violent is because the media reports on crime, not peace. Those headlines travel quickly because of social media and electronics, he added.
Terrorists and mass murderers account for a tiny number of deaths, Pinker said, but the media reports endlessly on such villains.
“That’s probably their motive. They become famous posthumously. They know they’ll get the world’s attention,” he said.
Pinker said his message that violence is decreasing is significant because it means humanity is doing something right. It should energize people, he said.
“If people’s understanding of the world is that most of the world is a hell hole and you can’t do anything about it, then you get compassion fatigue and apathy,” he said.
Pinker, a cultural Jew and an atheist, said his research is based on evidence and data, which he’ll present during his lecture.
His visit to Spokane is sponsored by Eastern Washington University and the Daniel and Margaret Carper Foundation Lecture Series.
This is the second controversial academic EWU has brought to Spokane this year. The university sponsored a lecture by Bart Ehrman in May.
Georgia Bonny Bazemore, assistant professor of history at EWU, said Eastern is becoming a powerhouse of academia.
“I think one of the reasons why we have this lecture series is to bring Spokane up a notch,” she said. “Spokane may be conservative, but it’s a sophisticated little town. We have the symphony orchestra, a wonderful park, a business center, and EWU and the Carper Foundation Lectures are right in there with all those things.”
Bazemore also serves as the Chertok endowed chair at EWU and teaches a course dedicated to critical analysis of current academic discussions. The lecture series is a component of that course.
She said Eastern has a long list of academics they want to bring to town.
“We’re excited that he (Pinker) consented to come all the way across the country to EWU. It’s a great honor,” she said.
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