The Better Angels of Our Nature

Some weeks ago I had a conversation with some friends about the nature of people. The sad long history of war and famine and poverty throughout our civilizations that constantly look for other civilizations to war with or slowly consume themselves.

There’s a school of thought in popular culture, propagated by the media in all its many forms, as well as many politicians on both sides of the spectrum. This school of thought say things are worse now than ever before. It’s easy to point to drone strikes, it’s easy to point to the complete neglect of African Nations and the Middle East–it’s easy to look at the ISIS crisis and feel as though more things are going wrong now than ever before. In the United States the mass shooting epidemic has reached historic levels with the Orlando incident.

But the problem with this belief that things are worse now than ever before is that’t not true. Do bad things still happen? Yes. Of course. And they will likely continue to happen. But these bad things are much less bad than past happenings.

Nobody is a fan of drones these days, yet drones have played a significant role in the halting the advance of ISIS. Are drones used in dubious ways and are innocent people killed? Certainly. But the carpet bombings of Hanover and fire bombings of Tokyo would be considered war crimes now. Those attacks were deliberately carried out to kill large civilian populations, as much as manufacturing plants. Now, at least we have an educated guess and try to discriminate where bombs land. It hasn’t always been this way. Nor did we care.

This is not an advocate for more drone use. It’s an example that drones are better than carpet bombings.

Steven Pinker, a linguist, has written a book that addresses the fact that things are not worse now than ever before. He argues that things are getting better, and he lays out his case with specifics through human history. This book is called The Better Angels of Our Nature.¬†While this topic seems depressing, it doesn’t have to be. This book certainly isn’t and will have you looking at the world in more uplifting terms.