Monday, October 17, 2011

Better Angels, Part 3

    Looking at the decline of violence on a more recent time scale, Rebecca Solnit says in Hope in the Dark that when she was born in 1961 there weren’t even words for things like domestic violence, hate crimes, homophobia, or sexual harassment.   I was a young adult then and that stuff was just called  life.
    Back in the 40s and 50s, gays and lesbians were considered sick and wrong so it was OK to persecute them.  People with brown or black skin were considered subhuman so it was OK to punish them for being uppity.  My mother’s pediatrician told her to throw cold water on me when I cried, child abuse today.  When I got my first dog in the mid eighties, collar jerk “corrections” was how you trained  dogs.  In the 90s and 00s, Karen Pryor brought no-punishment clicker training to dog training and Temple Grandin advocated for humane slaughter of livestock animals.
    Why the change to less violence?  Pinker says there are four reasons: 1.  With the rise of modern states, police forces keep the peace.   The state has a monopoly on violence, vastly reducing violence between individuals.   2. Life used to be cheap.   People led short and painful lives, so it was no big deal to inflict pain and death on someone.  3.  It benefits both parties to trade with neighbors instead of fighting them.  Robert Wright says in Non Zero we now have developed “expanding networks of reciprocity.”   4.  More empathy for people who are not like us because we can identify with them through journalism, memoir, film, and realistic fiction.  By now, because of the previous three factors we can actually practice the compassion inherent in all faiths, which include some form of the Golden Rule.  
    In conclusion, I am proud to have contributed in a small way to the diminution of violence.  I’ve published a couple of short memoirs, generating empathy for people who’ve had experiences like mine.  I’m a clicker trainer for dogs, a system that uses only rewards to modify animals’ behavior. 
       King's often repeated statement, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice" was his summation of 19th century Unitarian minister Theodore Parker, who, in "Of Justice and the Conscience" (1853) asserted: "I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice."
    Parker divined the bend towards justice by conscience; Pinker proved it with statistics.  We humans still have a ways to go; our standards rise faster than our actions, but I have hope by the next millennium, violence will have become what people used to do to each other.

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