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The better angels of our nature: A history of violence and humanity

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Duration: 1:00:58 | Added: 06 Mar 2014
Steven Pinker gives a compelling account of the unacknowledged worldwide decline of violence in the 2014 Haldane Lecture

Professor Pinker details how humanity has gone through a series of stages over the past 6,000 years through which rates of violence have declined dramatically. For example it has been determined that approximately 15% of Palaeolithic skeletons found show signs of unhealed violent trauma, suggested violence caused deaths, while the comparative worldwide number for the twentieth century is 0.06%. From interstate warfare to homicide, he shows how we are far less likely to die a violent death than any previous generation. Pinker concludes by assessing the various reasons for this decline in violence. He believes that the move towards peace is helped by ‘our better angels’: self-control, empathy, moral sense, and reason. A number of historical developments have contributed to this move, particularly the state monopolising violence, increasing commerce, an expanding circle of empathy, and the increase in literacy, education, and public discourse. He cautions, however, that this movement was not teleological and could be subject to pauses and reversals.

The lecture is introduced by the President of Wolfson College, Professor Dame Hermione Lee.

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