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July 02, 2008

Comments

Matthew Sinclair

Surely the issue with Kling's statement is this bit: "replace all of the babies at conception with babies conceived today". If you're placing the 1708 babies in today's world then they would, surely, face the same incentives we do? I.e. they would be just as peaceful as the rest of us if brought up in the same world where co-operation makes us better off.

For Kling's belief to be correct it would take extremely rapid genetic change.

Dr Dan H.

The change might be something as simple as child-rearing tactics changing. Kids mostly learn from their peer-group, and if the peer-group is strongly constrained by adult pressure into being civilised and violence is strongly punished, then the kids will tend to be fairly civilised.

This is most strongly seen in rich or middle-class areas;kids are highly controlled by the adults around them and have few chances to stray, so the habit of obedience to law is ingrained young and stays ingrained.

Contrast this to the poorest parts of big cities, where the kids essentially have no control exerted over them, and run almost wild save for adults being prevented by law from exacting revenge for the grossest misbehaviours. In such places, kids (who think that they're immortal and don't fear dying) tend to rule and only calm down as they grow up and the prospect of mortality becomes obvious.

So my view is that the primary driver in reduction of violence is reduction in breeding rate and increase in free time of adults, so kids get supervised much more than in times of yore.

kinglear

Come off it Chris, the violence is all around us everyday - people are killed for taking a parking place, and children are being knifed every day because they " don' show me da respec'"

eliane

And here I've always thought that much of the most irrational human behavior is driven by the desire so many of us have to believe that we are in some way superior to our fellows. Since my dialectic brain can't help connecting this with a innate fear of inferiority, I tend to view this as evidence of the fundamental emotionally insecure nature of man. Exhibit number 1: see above.

Don

Hang on - wasn't the C20th the most violent in human history, with more people killed in war and genocidal massacres than at any other time? How is organized violence on a mass scale less 'cruel'? We don't burn cats, we just do ethnic cleansing and invade countries for no reason, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands.

Bob B

Arnold Kling's speculative hypothesis is at least a welcome variation on the alternative claim by Alf Garnett and his many friends and associates about a supposedly unchanging and monolithic 'uman nature.

The awful slaughter on the battlefields of the 20thC, in the death camps and by ethnic cleansing may be as much a consequence of technical progress as any increase in human malevolent intent.

We incline to indulge a mistaken belief in a mythology that the famous battles of the 19thC were invested with a spirit of chilvalry, unlike recent warfare. Not so.

The combined casualty rate of both sides at Waterloo in 1815 exceeded 6,000 an hour:
http://www.napoleonic-literature.com/WE/Casualties.html

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"wasn't the C20th the most violent in human history, with more people killed in war and genocidal massacres than at any other time?"

Only because there were more people around to kill.

19th century wars, for example, include the Napoleonic Wars in Europe, British Indias conquest of non-British India, the Latin American Wars of Independence, a sequence of imperialistic jihads in West Africa, the rise of the Zulus in South Africa, the Taiping rebellion in China...and so on for a long, long list.

Adam McNestrie

It's a fascinating suggestion that cooperation, non-violence etc. is a sort of ideology of power adapted by the successful members of society to further their own interests against society's weaker members who will suffer under this set of values.

British society, as I understand it, has become less violent since the 18th century. The West in general has. Charles Taylor argues that there has been a sort of quickening of conscience, or a growth of squeamishness. The modern self, since the invention of sentiment in the eighteenth century, has become increasingly unable to cope with the pain of others.

Adam McNestrie

It's a fascinating suggestion that cooperation, non-violence etc. is a sort of ideology of power adapted by the successful members of society to further their own interests against society's weaker members who will suffer under this set of values.

British society, as I understand it, has become less violent since the 18th century. The West in general has. Charles Taylor argues that there has been a sort of quickening of conscience, or a growth of squeamishness. The modern self, since the invention of sentiment in the eighteenth century, has become increasingly unable to cope with the pain of others.

John Meredith

Isn't there a simpler economic explanation which is simply that the cost of violence has gone up? After all, a person living in the 18th century could not expect to live nearly as long as the average chap today, so he stands to lose much less in a duel or other violent act. If you expect to be killed by the ague before you reach 40, you are risking less when you get in a fight at 30 than if your reasonable expectation is to keep going to 80.

John Meredith

"Hang on - wasn't the C20th the most violent in human history, with more people killed in war and genocidal massacres than at any other time?"

No. You would think so, but the figures suggest otherwise (I am sure Chris D could link to the relevant study). Even with the 20th century's massacres and world wars, the evidence is that young men much less likely to meet a violent death in modern industrial societies than in primitive tribal ones.

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"After all, a person living in the 18th century could not expect to live nearly as long"

Life expectancy was lower mostly due to higher child mortality. If you reached your teens you had a pretty good chance of reaching your sixties.

John Meredith

"Life expectancy was lower mostly due to higher child mortality. If you reached your teens you had a pretty good chance of reaching your sixties."

Much less than today, however, where life expectancy is averaging about 80 years even accounting for infant mortality (I think).

John Meredith

If any one has the relevant figs on life expectancy, adjusted to take account of infant mortality rates, I would love to see them.

J

Chris Williams

This is essentially the argument that Norbert Elias came out with in _On Time_. As social complexity increases and with it increasing functional differentiation, we come to rely on more and more people to meet our needs. Thus the returns of a resort to violence are low, and the potential costs massive.

Elias also wrote about the growth of empathy in _The Civilising Process_. The best use of Elias's ideas to explain the decline in violence in England (which existed) is by my mate and colleague John Carter Wood, who blogs here:
http://obscenedesserts.blogspot.com/

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