Steven Pinker, the author of THE BETTER ANGELS OF OUR NATURE: Why Violence Has Declined, talks about how humanity has been successful in reducing violence, cruelty and injustice.
First, he presents exhaustive evidence that the tragic view of history is wrong and always has been. A close examination of the data shows that in every millennium, century, and decade, humans have been drastically reducing violence, cruelty, and injustice---right down to the present year. A trend that consistent is not luck; it has to be structural.
So, second, he boldly founds a discipline that might as well be called "psychohistory." As a Harvard psychologist and public intellectual (author of The Language Instinct and The Blank Slate), he sought causes for the phenomenon he's reporting---why violence has declined. Real ethical progress, he found, came from a sequence of institutions, norms, cultural practices, and mental tricks employed by whole societies to change their collective mind and behavior in a peaceful direction.
Humanity's great project of civilizing itself is far from complete, but Pinker's survey of how far we've come builds confidence that the task will be completed, and he illuminates how to get there.
Steven Pinker is an experimental psychologist and one of the world's foremost writers on language, mind, and human nature. Currently Harvard College Professor and Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology at Harvard University, Pinker has also taught at Stanford and MIT. His research on visual cognition and the psychology of language has won prizes from the National Academy of Sciences, the Royal Institution of Great Britain, the Cognitive Neuroscience Society, and the American Psychological Association. He has also received seven honorary doctorates, several teaching awards at MIT and Harvard, and numerous prizes for his books The Language Instinct, How the Mind Works, and The Blank Slate. He is Chair of the Usage Panel of the American Heritage Dictionary, and often writes for The New York Times, Time, and The New Republic. He has been named Humanist of the Year, Prospect magazine's "The World’s Top 100 Public Intellectuals," Foreign Policy's "100 Global Thinkers," and Time magazine's "The 100 Most Influential People in the World Today." His most recent book is The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. (photo credit: Max Gerber)