In his final chapter Steven Pinker explains his view of the reasons for the decline in violence. As a good academic he begins by outlining some spurious theoretical claims for the causes of both the increase and/or decrease in violence. The problem, as he points out, is that these explanations cut both ways.
- Weaponry and disarmament: deterrence and proliferation can be both blamed or claimed as root causes
- Resources and power: not all disputes lead to violence
- Affluence: not all affluent societies have lower levels of violence
- Religion: sometimes a force for non-violence, sometimes the cause of violence.
These opposites, it seems to me, are at the root of all good storytelling.
The storytelling possibilities expand as he poses the Pacifist’s Dilemma, in which, without outside assistance, a rational person would choose violence. But the payoffs of his quasi-mathematical model can be modified by:
- a state reserving penalties for violent action to itself
- existing or possible future commerce making violence less attractive
- the entrance of women into positions of influence reducing violent male behavior
- the expansion of literacy and education turning the world into a global village.
Again, his descriptions could be the starting point for science fiction, for novels and children’s books of all sorts, or anything that begins with a creative flight of imagination.
A final point: Pinker shows why he thinks the current loathing of modernity and back to nature movements are delusional and how they fly in the face of history. Pinker concludes that “… nostalgia for a peaceable past is the biggest delusion of all.”
Need a touch of irony in your stories? The final three chapters in The Better Angels of our Nature can provide some marvelous starting points.