Here is a Summary of Pinker's approach in supporting his argument;
The Better Angels of Our Nature is a tale of
• Six Trends,
• Five Inner Demons
• Four Better Angels, and
• Five Historical Forces.
(chapters 2 through 7).
To give some coherence to the many developments that make up our species’ retreat from violence, I group them into six major trends.
The first, which took place on the scale of millennia, was the transition from the anarchy of the hunting, gathering, and horticultural societies in which our species spent most of its evolutionary history to the first agricultural civilizations with cities and governments, beginning around five thousand years ago.
With that change came a reduction in the chronic raiding and feuding that characterized life in a state of nature and a more or less fivefold decrease in rates of violent death.
I call this imposition of peace the Pacification Process.
The second transition spanned more than half a millennium and is best documented in Europe.
Between the late Middle Ages and the 20th century, European countries saw a tenfold-to fiftyfold decline in their rates of homicide.
In his classic book The Civilizing Process, the sociologist Norbert Elias attributed this surprising decline to the consolidation of a patchwork of feudal territories into large kingdoms with centralized authority and an infrastructure of commerce.
With a nod to Elias, I call this trend the Civilizing Process.
The third transition unfolded on the scale of centuries and took off around the time of the Age of Reason and the European Enlightenment in the 17th and 18th centuries (though it had antecedents in classical Greece and the Renaissance, and parallels elsewhere in the world).
It saw the first organized movements to abolish socially sanctioned forms of violence like despotism, slavery, dueling, judicial torture, superstitious killing, sadistic punishment, and cruelty to animals, together with the first stirrings of systematic pacifism.
Historians sometimes call this transition the Humanitarian Revolution.
The fourth major transition took place after the end of World War II.
The two-thirds of a century since then have been witness to a historically unprecedented development: the great powers, and developed states in general, have stopped waging war on one another.
Historians have called this blessed state of affairs the Long Peace.2
The fifth trend is also about armed combat but is more tenuous.
Though it may be hard for news readers to believe, since the end of the Cold War in 1989, organized conflicts of all kinds— civil wars, genocides, repression by autocratic governments, and terrorist attacks—have declined throughout the world.
In recognition of the tentative nature of this happy development, I will call it the New Peace.
Finally, the postwar era, symbolically inaugurated by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, has seen a growing revulsion against aggression on smaller scales, including violence against ethnic minorities, women, children, homosexuals, and animals.
These spin-offs from the concept of human rights—civil rights, women’s rights, children’s rights, gay rights, and animal rights—were asserted in a cascade of movements from the late 1950s to the present day which I will call the Rights Revolutions.
Five Inner Demons
Many people implicitly believe in the Hydraulic Theory of Violence: that humans harbor an inner drive toward aggression (a death instinct or thirst for blood), which builds up inside us and must periodically be discharged.
Nothing could be further from a contemporary scientific understanding of the psychology of violence.
Aggression is not a single motive, let alone a mounting urge.
It is the output of several psychological systems that differ in their environmental triggers, their internal logic, their neurobiological basis, and their social distribution.
Chapter 8 is devoted to explaining five of them.
Predatory or instrumental violence is simply violence deployed as a practical means to an end.
Dominance is the urge for authority, prestige, glory, and power, whether it takes the form of macho posturing among individuals or contests for supremacy among racial, ethnic, religious, or national groups.
Revenge fuels the moralistic urge toward retribution, punishment, and justice.
Sadism is pleasure taken in another’s suffering.
And ideology is a shared belief system, usually involving a vision of utopia, that justifies unlimited violence in pursuit of unlimited good.
Four Better Angels
Humans are not innately good (just as they are not innately evil), but they come equipped with motives that can orient them away from violence and toward cooperation and altruism.
Empathy (particularly in the sense of sympathetic concern) prompts us to feel the pain of others and to align their interests with our own.
Self-control allows us to anticipate the consequences of acting on our impulses and to inhibit them accordingly.
The moral sense sanctifies a set of norms and taboos that govern the interactions among people in a culture, sometimes in ways that decrease violence, though often (when the norms are tribal, authoritarian, or puritanical) in ways that increase it.
And the faculty of reason allows us to extricate ourselves from our parochial vantage points, to reflect on the ways in which we live our lives, to deduce ways in which we could be better off, and to guide the application of the other better angels of our nature.
In one section I will also examine the possibility that in recent history Homo sapiens has literally evolved to become less violent in the biologist’s technical sense of a change in our genome.
But the focus of the book is on transformations that are strictly environmental: changes in historical circumstances that engage a fixed human nature in different ways.
Five Historical Forces
In the final chapter I try to bring the psychology and history back together by identifying exogenous forces that favor our peaceable motives and that have driven the multiple declines in violence.
The Leviathan, a state and judiciary with a monopoly on the legitimate use of force, can defuse the temptation of exploitative attack, inhibit the impulse for revenge, and circumvent the self-serving biases that make all parties believe they are on the side of the angels.
Commerce is a positive-sum game in which everybody can win; as technological progress allows the exchange of goods and ideas over longer distances and among larger groups of trading partners, other people become more valuable alive than dead, and they are less likely to become targets of demonization and dehumanization.
Feminization is the process in which cultures have increasingly respected the interests and values of women.
Since violence is largely a male pastime, cultures that empower women tend to move away from the glorification of violence and are less likely to breed dangerous subcultures of rootless young men.
The forces of cosmopolitanism such as literacy, mobility, and mass media can prompt people to take the perspective of people unlike themselves and to expand their circle of sympathy to embrace them.
Finally, an intensifying application of knowledge and rationality to human affairs—the escalator of reason—can force people to recognize the futility of cycles of violence, to ramp down the privileging of their own interests over others’, and to reframe violence as a problem to be solved rather than a contest to be won.
As one becomes aware of the decline of violence, the world begins to look different.
The past seems less innocent; the present less sinister.
One starts to appreciate the small gifts of coexistence that would have seemed utopian to our ancestors: the interracial family playing in the park, the comedian who lands a zinger on the commander in chief, the countries that quietly back away from a crisis instead of escalating to war.
The shift is not toward complacency: we enjoy the peace we find today because people in past generations were appalled by the violence in their time and worked to reduce it, and so we should work to reduce the violence that remains in our time.
Indeed, it is a recognition of the decline of violence that best affirms that such efforts are worthwhile.
Man’s inhumanity to man has long been a subject for moralization.
With the knowledge that something has driven it down, we can also treat it as a matter of cause and effect.
Instead of asking, “Why is there war?” we might ask, “Why is there peace?” We can obsess not just over what we have been doing wrong but also over what we have been doing right.
Because we have been doing something right, and it would be good to know what, exactly, it is.
Many people have asked me how I became involved in the analysis of violence.
It should not be a mystery: violence is a natural concern for anyone who studies human nature.
I first learned of the decline of violence from Martin Daly and Margo Wilson’s classic book in evolutionary psychology, Homicide, in which they examined the high rates of violent death in nonstate societies and the decline in homicide from the Middle Ages to the present.
In several of my previous books I cited those downward trends, together with humane developments such as the abolition of slavery, despotism, and cruel punishments in the history of the West, in support of the idea that moral progress is compatible with a biological approach to the human mind and an acknowledgment of the dark side of human nature. 3
I reiterated these observations in response to the annual question on the online forum www.edge.org
, which in 2007 was “What Are You Optimistic About?”
My squib provoked a flurry of correspondence from scholars in historical criminology and international studies who told me that the evidence for a historical reduction in violence is more extensive than I had realized.4 It was their data that convinced me that there was an underappreciated story waiting to be told.