Lots of people will never believe you. They’ll call you naive, an egghead. They’ll say you’ve got your head in the sand, or that you’re just looking for a way to make yourself feel better.
But even with this warning, you absolutely should read (or, as I did, listen to) The Better Angels of our Nature by Steven Pinker. When you do, you will encounter what was to me a surprising and simple truth – across the board, and in widely disparate parts of the world, violence is lower than it has even been in our history (or prehistory) as a species. Why? That’s the hard part.
It is quite a daunting book , both in length (every reviewer seems compelled to mention this) and in subject matter. The descriptions of battlefield death and state-sponsored torture will make you wince. If you’re a meat lover like me the section on factory farms will make you think perhaps more than you’d like. (I’m still eating meat, though. The human mind is a fascinating thing.) if you spank your children (I don’t), if you believe in God (I don’t), or if you despise capitalism (I don’t any more) you’ll find much to make you angry, uncomfortable, or both.
While Better Angels is not quite as life-changing as Beginning of Infinity, that may be simply because I read David Deutsch’s book first. In fact, as I listened to Pinker’s 35-hour marathon, I was again and again struck by the parallels between the two works. Most important among these is that both these books are intensely optimistic, sharing the view that reason itself is the greatest of human attributes.
Over the next few days I’ll be writing about little bits of this book at a time. There’s so much there that I could be at it for a very long while. But don’t wait for my final word. By all means read the book yourself, and tell me what you think of it.
More to come soon . . .