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    • In reply to #1 by aquilacane:

      It’s called selfishness.

      Did you read the book? Because selfishness is not a word I would use to describe what Pinker is saying. If anything his point is that violence is seldom the rational decision in a selfish means end analysis and that one of the reasons we are getting less violent as a world is that we are gradually waking up to that fact. If I had to summarize his main point it would be that the major causes for violence are struggles for dominance between men. Men are wired to fight for dominance over each other, over women, and to use violence to assert dominance of their tribe over others. When those instincts take over from rational (selfish) decision making we get murder, rape, and war.

      • Pinker’s a great writer overall. I’ve read How The Mind Works, The Blank Slate, The Language Instinct, The Stuff of Thought, and Better Angels, and I refer back to them far more often than I do to most other works. The first one I read was How The Mind Works, out of interest for how an evolutionary psychology book would go, and I was really impressed with the chapters on emotions and on social behaviours. Better Angels is probably more impactful, though, if only because of the large amount of study and broad scope of the arguments put into it. I don’t remember where I read it, but apparently Pinker crammed hard for at least three years reading up for that book.

        In reply to #9 by elisa86:

        I read the book too. It is really great. What’s especially good is that Pinker uses an incredible amount of data to prove his thesis.

        1160 references in total.

        In reply to #11 by Red Dog:

        In reply to #1 by aquilacane:

        It’s called selfishness.

        Did you read the book? Because selfishness is not a word I would use to describe what Pinker is saying. If anything his point is that violence is seldom the rational decision in a selfish means end analysis and that one of the reasons we are getting less violent as a world is that we are gradually waking up to that fact. If I had to summarize his main point it would be that the major causes for violence are struggles for dominance between men. Men are wired to fight for dominance over each other, over women, and to use violence to assert dominance of their tribe over others. When those instincts take over from rational (selfish) decision making we get murder, rape, and war.

        Well, there was more to it than that. The five main causes of violence he documents are: amoral predation for personal gain; violent retaliation for wrongdoings major or minor, real or imagined; contests of dominance and struggle to show one’s personal or group strength and superiority; sadistic pleasure unhampered by guilt, sympathetic concern, or interest in the victims’ welfare; and a moralistic ideology that uses a prediction of a utopian future (promised for a privileged in-group) to justify unlimited use of utilitarian violence on out-group members. Moreover, some are more important than others: sadism has fewer deaths to its name than ideology, for example, and an overwhelmingly common motivation of violence and murder between tribes and within cities is revenge. Even more impressive is that he also isolates restrictions on violence, both psychologically and historically, which he sums up at the end using the concept of the Prisoner’s Dilemma.

        • In reply to #19 by Zeuglodon:

          Well, there was more to it than that.

          I agree. My only point is that to say the cause of violence is called selfishness (as the commenter that I first replied to did) is clearly not getting what Pinker is saying. He argues that violence isn’t just morally a bad idea but simply not a rational way to solve most problems, that the inevitable unintended consequences mean that violence should be reserved only for the most intractable social problems (we still need some “violence” to put people in jail) and that even from a cold utilitarian perspective non-violence — contrary to what is often assumed by right wing writers — is not the inevitable result of people or nations having disagreements. One of the most interesting results he mentions is that high intelligence is correlated with making better decisions on the Prisoner’s Dilema and other kinds of cooperation games. As a side note, I would love to hear a debate some time between Yosemite Sam Harris and Pinker on the rationality of encouraging people to carry concealed firearms.

  1. I was introduced to “Better Angels of our Nature” by Pinker while reading about Bill Gates. Lately I have been interested in Bill Gates work to eliminate Malaria, Polio , HIV and other world benefiting en devours he is involved with.
    I visit his website from time to time and I am interested in what he is reading, last year I read Bill Gates’s review of Pinker’s book [here] (http://www.thegatesnotes.com/Books/Personal/The-Better-Angels-of-Our-Nature)
    When I read the following quote, I knew I had to take a look at the book:

    “”How would you go about making the world a fundamentally better place? Eliminating violence, particularly violent deaths, would be a great start. Cognitive scientist Steven Pinker shows in his masterful new book just how violence is declining. It is a triumph of a book.

    People often ask me what is the best book I’ve read in the last year. Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined stands out as one of the most important books I’ve read – not just this year, but ever.“” ~Bill Gates~

    Facts about Bill Gates: [Infographic] (http://bit.ly/12tSbSR)

  2. Most people get angry at least once a week, and nearly everyone gets angry at least once a month. …

    You are kidding me! (or put another way), You cannot be serious!
    Joking aside, I have only been angry less than a handful of times in my entire life. Am I living in another reality? (By angry I mean sufficiently motivated to kick an inanimate object, perhaps my understanding of angry is different from Steven Pinker.)

    • In reply to #4 by old-toy-boy:

      Most people get angry at least once a week, and nearly everyone gets angry at least once a month. …

      You are kidding me! (or put another way), You cannot be serious!
      Joking aside, I have only been angry less than a handful of times in my entire life.

      Maybe you are not ‘most people’. Be glad you’re not on the opposite end of the bell-curve ;)

    • In reply to #4 by old-toy-boy:

      Most people get angry at least once a week, and nearly everyone gets angry at least once a month. …

      You are kidding me! (or put another way), You cannot be serious!
      Joking aside, I have only been angry less than a handful of times in my entire life. Am I living in another reality? (By angry I mea…

      You’re onto something that’s a good starting point to understanding oneself better. There is a difference between having or experiencing an emotion, being aware of it, recognizing or identifying it correctly, getting at what is really triggering it, and acting out. For example: Loss should trigger grief which feels bad and the outward manifestation might be a sad expression and tears…normal. But it can get side-tracked, submerged, effected by subconscious influences, come to awareness as anger and be expressed violently…abnormal.

      In the 19th-20th century psychological models resulted in psychotherapeutic techniques for bringing contents of the subconscious into conscious awareness, the idea being that it’s hard to do anything about something one isn’t even conscious of. Before this, I imagine that religion was the greatest force in society that would or could lead the majority people toward introspection and self-examinationone.

      Religion would provide the standard against which one could measure one’s self-understanding. Certain aspects of religious practice, e.g., prayer or contemplation of sacred images perhaps, might promote a mind state conducive to the emergence of subconscious contents. Analogues can surely be found in non-Western spiritual practices employing vision quests, fasts, peyote, mushroom, coca, chanting, dance, etc.

      I think Meditative practice, notably the Buddhist tradition, e.g. zazen, sitting meditation, mindfulness, aimed at “enlightenment”, self knowledge and understanding, goes at it straight on…you can do it entirely on your own with no help, no support but it’s easier if one has the support of a teacher and community of like-minded practitioners (sangha).

      Does Pinker relate any of the progress toward decreasing violence to the presence and evolution of religious practices or does he attribute it purely to secularism? Also, since religion and secular/scientific influences have existed side by side, how does he tease apart the contributions? The time of the golden age of Greece was also a pretty violent era. Reason and science took a bit of a pause until the Renaissance and Enlightenment. Does he rest his case on the progress in science etc. over the past 500 years? There’s little doubt that science and technology have contributed to improvements in quality of life that reduce the violence, even on balance with their negative consequences.

      Of course there is the possibility that they have contributed to human activity like unsustainable population growth, depletion of critical resources, environmental destruction, irreversible climate change and accelerated, massive species extinctions that will ultimately lead to enormous negative consequences, including violent confrontations. On the positive side of the ledger, economic dislocation, dying of starvation, disease from malnutrition, pathogens and environmental pollutants, stress-related diseases probably don’t count as violence? Hopefully rationalism, secularism and science will be all that’s necessary to save us because it looks like we’re headed for a rough patch. Religion sure as hell won’t be able to get us out of it and right wing religious and political movements, short-sighted business interests and absence of systems oriented thinking and costing are digging new holes while more rational actors are trying to fill them.

    • In reply to #4 by old-toy-boy:

      Most people get angry at least once a week, and nearly everyone gets angry at least once a month. …

      You are kidding me! (or put another way), You cannot be serious!
      Joking aside, I have only been angry less than a handful of times in my entire life. Am I living in another reality? (By angry I mea…

      My immediate responses didn’t conform to the model set by Pinker, either. On reflection, what I thought of as anger, was merely mild annoyance. My “angered” memory was a case of being talked over, and my anger provoking behaviour was expressing a point of view that the recipient didn’t share.

      If I dredge deeper, I’m sure better examples will spring to mind and I’ll be able to see the rationalising that goes on.

      It sounds like a great book and I look forward to reading it after finishing “The God Argument” by A C Grayling.

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  4. Pinker is great. I loved his Blank Slate. But although Pinker asserts that violence is down, he is not referring to hatred and bullying which seems to be on the rise. A book which expands on this topic and the roots for this disturbing behavior is Our Road To Hatred–How We Raise our Bullies. http://ourroadtohatred.com/

  5. I read the book too. It is really great. What’s especially good is that Pinker uses an incredible amount of data to prove his thesis. Everybody should read it. It changes the way you look at the world.

  6. In most instances, what people perceive as anger in me is actually frustration with myself, or situations over which I feel a loss of control.

    “Road rage” may be symptomatic of similar feelings; not necessarily wishing another person harm, just incredulity at their apparent stupidity.

  7. In reply to #3 by macw86:

    The one good thing about people with very little emotional intelligence is that they give us great raw insight into human emotional reflexes.

    Very interesting read.

    Keep in mind that one of the findings he describes (not new Robert Trivers says this as well) is that we are amazingly bad at judging our own emotional states. So WE all tend to think of ourselves as logical and reasonable where as we look at others and say THEY have “very little emotional intelligence”

  8. Steven Pinker is a great writer/thinker/teacher. This book had a profound impact on my thinking. I also came to appreciate his contribution to the religion/science/atheism debates, because this is the substantive book rebutting religious claims about their superior morality, the depravity of modernism and secularism etc. This book fits neatly alongside Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, Hitchens, Grayling, Stenger, Krauss and others on the progressive and improving quality of life as we move away from superstition, authority, faith and ignorance and towards reason, secularism, humanism and science.

  9. Think the Victim’s Narrative sounds more whiny than angry, but then people do say I’m infuriating :D

    Truthfully, I am angry most of the time, but seldom with individuals. More at society in general, it seems to be run by idiots. Generally peaceful and docile idiots, but idiots nonetheless.

    Reminds me of a quote from Sherlock:

    “Oh, I may be on the side of the angels, but don’t think for one second that I am one of them. “

  10. Pinker points out in his fantastic and engrossing book that we did get rid of witchcraft, dueling and many other doolally rituals (mostly by direct attacks of the “elite” thinkers at that time). Now let’s finish the work with the only major sanctuary of nutty ideas remaining: Religion. Elite thinkers: giddy-up!

  11. For me, the most thought provoking line in this book was “everyone believes that everyone else believes that it exists”, which can help to explain the madness of crowds, group-think, self-deception and all manner of irrational beliefs.

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