Last year I discovered a book that articulated and extended much of what I had been pondering about increasing complexity and win-win in human affairs. The Better Angels of Our Nature; Why Violence Has Declined by Steven Pinker was worth spending $24 for a hardback copy. Moreover, for a nerd like me, figuring out the mathematical, statistical, and philosophical patterns in the book was as much fun as figuring out the patterns in a sudoku puzzle. Pinker establishes, unequivocally in my mind, that all kinds of violence have been decreasing over the ten thousand years of human history.
At the beginning of our history ten thousand years ago, we all lived as hunter gatherers. According to Matt Ridley [blog 1-28-13 Mind and Matter WSJ] almost one-third of people in such societies die in raids and fights, a higher proportion than the people in worst hit areas during World War II.
Fast forward seven thousand years to the Near East world of three thousand years ago. The society that produced such wisdom as “Love justice and do mercy” was rife with slayings, smitings, and stonings. The Bible tells us so.
By the turn of the 20th century, slavery and cruel and unusual punishments had been outlawed in the civilized world, but there was still a lot of violence in everyday life toward those who didn’t really matter: racial minorities, homosexuals, women, children, and animals.
When I was a young adult in the 1960s, spanking children, jerk and pull dog training, and gay bashing were still part of everyday life. Fifty years later, time outs, clicker training, and marriage equality have replaced these hoary customs.
When people challenge my contention that there is less violence in the modern world, I tell them to imagine themselves in front of our local courthouse. What will they not see? Lots of things: a stake to burn witches, a pillory, a stocks, a gallows, a slave market, a debtor’s prison in the basement. What they might see: same sex or mixed race couples strolling arm and arm without fear of being attacked.
Pinker sees the process of declining violence as a consequence of more and more win-win systems. Win-win is a non-supernatural process that can be analyzed using game theory, although for me it evokes awe and wonder. Although he identifies as a Jewish atheist, Pinker says his views are compatible with a theology that makes God inherent in the nature of the universe. Maybe that’s what God is – where win-win wins. Win-win wins gets us to the Omega point.