Found in 25 comments on Hacker News
bmmayer1 · 2023-01-12 · Original thread
> I'm not sure that the total danger of conflict to any individual would have been that much greater to any individual then than now

It is, in fact, much safer to be alive today than any other point in history. And a much lower chance of dying from violence due to other humans.

In fact there's a whole book about this if you're interested:

cs702 · 2020-01-26 · Original thread
By the standards and attitudes of Medieval Europe with respect to torture and violence, this "flute of shame" looks pretty tame, actually.

It's hard to fathom from a present perspective, but Medieval Europe was insanely more violent and willing to torture than today's Western societies. Consider: Homicide rates were one to two orders of magnitude (~10 to ~100 times) greater back then.[a] There was a proliferation of devices designed to inflict pain and suffering that would make even Dr. Evil blush.[b] Just search for "medieval torture" online to see what I mean.

Steven Pinker has a good summary of the violent nature of Medial Europe in his book, "The Better Angels of Our Nature."[c]





Step away from "news" and read Better Angels of our Nature by Stephen Pinker:

Not only is the world better than ever, it is getting better faster than ever, and it's accelerating.

The news is getting more negative as the world gets better.

This is happening because as subscription revenue dries up, the media is incentivized toward click-bait, and the human brain is biased toward negativity. As a hunter-gatherer, a negative incident can have much worse consequences than can a positive one, so we've evolved toward a negative bias for survival reasons.

rubyn00bie · 2018-06-28 · Original thread
If you want more facts like this I’d highly suggest anything but Steven Pinker especially:

thaumasiotes · 2016-06-14 · Original thread
> we see the use of actual force happen more and more. Why?

False premise; this is the opposite of what we see.

You can only make people stop fighting by (a) killing them; or (b) convincing them that fighting you is a mistake. There are no other ways.

maroonblazer · 2016-04-14 · Original thread
Don't confuse a local maxima with a global minima. On the whole, across centuries, violence is in decline. Pinker wrote an entire book on this[0]


I always saw it as constructing versus running models. Historians dispassionately collect and interpret data. In doing so they can come to surprising conclusions, e.g. around how violence [1] or hegemony [2] propagate. Counterfactualists run these models to simulate decisions, both past and present.



lisper · 2015-07-23 · Original thread
> Pretending that the opposite it true, that violence is our most natural and basic state, is equally naive

That depends on what you mean. It is certainly true that our natural state is not to be psychopaths, indiscriminately killing everything in sight. But the evidence (and the theoretical foundations) indicate that a certain amount of violence is an inherent part of our basic nature, and so achieving peace requires work.

I do want to emphasize, though, that it can certainly be done. The internet, airplanes, McDonalds -- none of these are part of our basic nature either, and yet we've managed to achieve them. Peace is not out of reach, and indeed, the historical trend is towards an ever more peaceful world [1].

--- [1]

Kurtz79 · 2015-06-15 · Original thread

Recommended read by Gates and Zuckerberg.

Ollinson · 2015-05-28 · Original thread
Anyone looking for more information on the topic of the peace we live in today might be interested in the book The Better Angels of our Nature by Steven Pinker: Why Violence Has Declined

> since this minority is specifically "disabled people", they can't really do much, so the game-theoretic driver of "possible revolt" isn't there

In The Better Angels of Our Nature [1] Steven Pinker describes the process by which, in the past, humanity has expanded its "circle of empathy". Children, animals and countless other voiceless minorities have gained rights through this process.

One specific process he identified for expanding our collective circles of empathy is the expansion of literacy. "Reading is a technology for perspective-taking. When someone else's thoughts are in your head, you are observing the world from that person's vantage point" [2].



tim333 · 2014-12-24 · Original thread
It's easy to get the impression that things are going to hell from the news because that's what gets viewers. If you want evidence for the opposite I recommend Pinker's very good book:

Or to save the cost and hassle of getting his book, watch Pinker talking about it:

This is actually not entirely true. Although WWI and WWII were large spikes, death rates for many wars before the 20th century – both in terms of combatants and civilians – were significantly higher and have generally been on the decline throughout human history. See Pinker's "Better Angels of Our Nature" for a detailed analysis of this exact issue.


varunsrin · 2014-07-18 · Original thread
There are many objective reasons why the world is becoming a better place if you take a macro viewpoint (i.e. at the decade or century level).

Violence for example is one, and Steven Pinker makes a great argument for it in this book:

Its hard to see these patterns if you just rely on news/anecdotal evidence as your barometer for whether the world is becoming a better place, because the news reports whatever will get views, and nothing gets views like bad news.

holograham · 2013-12-16 · Original thread
A great book to read on the decline of violence in the world: The Better Angels of our Nature: Why Violence has Declined by Steven Pinker.

The Hacker News community should like it as it focuses on the stats and facts rather than anecdotal stories the media slings.

The main thesis: Violence (in nearly every form) has been on a precipitous decline in the modern era. War deaths (and civilian causalities) are at all time lows and still declining.

jseliger · 2013-11-05 · Original thread
considers the world far too precarious to start a family

By virtually every metric, the world is a much safer, healthier place than it used to be: .

Trade openness is one of the strongest predictor of peace [1] (also see: Better Angels of our Nature [2]).

Free trade would also be an economic boon to Europe and the U.S. A study by the Bertelsmann Foundation together with the Munich-based Center for Economic Studies found that "if the United States and the European Union are able to come together on a far-reaching free trade agreement, Germany would be one of the greatest beneficiaries. Fully 181,000 new jobs could be expected and per-capita income would spike by 4.68 percent." GDP/capita could rise "by 13.4 percent in the US and by 9.7 percent in the UK. More than a million new jobs would result in America. That number would be 400,000 in Britain." [3]

The benefits of free trade are one of the points economists have found consensus on.

[1] "Trade Does Promote Peace: New Simultaneous Estimates of the Reciprocal Effects of Trade and Conflict" (Hegre, O'Neal, & Russett, 2009)

[2] The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined by Steven Pinker


woodchuck64 · 2013-06-04 · Original thread
See Steven Pinker's "The Better Angels of our Nature"( to see why I remain much more optimistic than you.
jamii · 2013-06-03 · Original thread
There is substantial evidence that the rate of human violence has decreased dramatically over the course of human history. Two of the biggest turning points were the rise of the nation-state and the spread of democracy. Yes, individual politicians are often corrupt, violent or plain stupid and the political system has serious issues but politicians as a whole have been a boon to civilized society.

kerno · 2013-04-16 · Original thread
"The Better Angels of our Nature" by Steven Pinker shows that this is the least violent time in history.

igravious · 2013-04-08 · Original thread
I picked up Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature the other day† and I have to say that it allows me to view this whole episode quite clearly.

Pinker documents the increasing ratcheting down of violence in humanity, perhaps not in absolute terms but certainly in percentage of population terms. Take modern Western Europe, it has statistically the lowest homicide rate compared to anywhere and any time.

The decrease in violence has occurred with what Pinker calls Rights Revolutions at two points in history, around about the time of the American and French revolution and mid-twentieth century onwards. So we have people asserting the rights of man in general leading to the abolition of chattel slavery, the rights of woman in particular, gay rights, the rights of children, and recently the rights of animals. In England the last blood sport (fox hunting) was recently outlawed in the teeth of much protest from the good old boys that think cruelty to animals is A OK.

These rights revolutions stem from ideas born out the Age of Reason and the Age of Enlightenment which led most famously the amendments to the US constitution but which have there parallel in most of the Western world. Forces that work against these ideas are thus called counter-enlightenment forces. Getting back to the issue at hand (I've got a point I tells ya!) these laws represent a back-sliding and we should take these counter-enlightenment forces very seriously - we are talking about a centuries long struggle to eliminate violence (of whatever type) from our societies. I guarantee you that future generations will look back at our times and recoil in horror at the way we treat animals in much the same way that systemic torture, bear-baiting, corporal punishment, domestic abuse and so on leave most of us (apart from the odd sadist and sociopathic outlier) sickened nowadays.

† I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Here it is on Amazon:

ProCynic · 2012-11-20 · Original thread
You'll probably find this interesting then. It's about how violence rates have changed over time, and some guesses about causation.
001sky · 2012-11-16 · Original thread
Interjecting is what you call it when you disregard the topic being discussed, qualifications made to observations, you don't read the data in the footnotes...etc.

Steven Pinker: The surprising decline in violence

Filmed Mar 2007 • Posted Sep 2007 • TED2007

to which the counter=argument is somthing like this:

The biggest problem with [Pinker], though, is [his] overreliance on history, which, like the light on a caboose, shows us only where we are not going. We live in a time when all the rules are being rewritten blindingly fast—when, for example, an increasingly smaller number of people can do increasingly greater damage. (Scientific American)[1]

I don't fully dis-agree with this latter qualication. If you go back and read my initial comments, you will see this.

[1] from:; See also:

tokenadult · 2012-10-07 · Original thread
Read Heinlein's "Revolt in 2100".

Is that intended as a recommendation of a scientific source about long-term trends cross-culturally? I got a big volume of the collected "future history" stories by Robert Heinlein out of the library a year ago, and I was disappointed by how poorly those stories have aged. I also figured out, by rereading Heinlein (a favorite author of mine when I was a kid) that he never informed any of his stories with much perspective from non-Western cultures (although I give him credit for being aware of that kind of issue). Since I spent three years in the 1980s and later another three years spanning the turn of the last century living in a non-Western country, I don't turn to Western science-fiction stories anymore for my social commentary. I like to read real science based on verifiable history to puzzle out social trends. I can recommend a source

and invite other readers here to recommend other sources. I'm not worried about fundamentalist religion "getting control" of science.

tokenadult · 2012-03-26 · Original thread
extreme violence of the 20th century

Maybe he should read Steven Pinker's new book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.

Here's a discussion of the main point of that book:

Any amount of violence of one human being against another is deplorable, but the most recent century of human history is characterized by how remarkably little violence it has had compared to any previous human century since hunter-gatherer bands turned into tribes and then nation-states.

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