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The Procrastinating Angels of Our Nature, or How Violence Has Been Transformed and Postponed

Reviews April 1, 2014 at 7:56 am 0 comments

The best-selling book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined received generally positive reviews upon its release in 2011. The book attempted to overturn the popular notion that the present is more violent than the past. This critique considers that Pinker made a strong case, but only within his limited discussion of changes in society’s tolerance of acts of direct violence and his analysis of statistics on direct violence (war and crime), which are good only if one assumes that the data on levels of past and present violence are reliable, or even knowable. More importantly, the book ignores important changes in the nature of indirect, or structural, violence that accompanied the Industrial Revolution and the decline of direct violence. In so doing, it draws attention away from other forms of suffering that are pressing concerns of the modern age − labor abuses, poverty, ecological destruction, famine, and failed economic models among them. In particular, this paper highlights the exploitation of energy resources as a possible factor in both the decline of direct violence and in the increase of indirect violence. Energy resource exploitation has played a central role in human development, but it has also caused enormous ecological harm and human suffering. The article concludes that these negative side-effects of modernity must be accounted for, lest pronouncements about the decline of violence seem Panglossian to those not receiving its benefits.