WERE SAVAGES NOBLE? in his article in The Edge, Steven Pinker lays down a challenge to “the idea that humans are peaceable by nature and corrupted by modern institutions.” Instead, Pinker says: “The romantic theory gets it backward: Far from causing us to become more violent, something in modernity and its cultural institutions has made us nobler.” Pinker relies upon percentages and probabilities (while acknowledging that there are moral issues in making comparisons). He relies on estimates based on marks of violence on skeletons of early men which show—surprisingly—that the death rate in tribal warfare was much greater than in modern battles. He says that: “If the wars of the twentieth century had killed the same proportion of the population that die in the wars of a typical tribal society, there would have been two billion deaths, not 100 million.” The estimate of the chance for a nomadic hunter-gatherer meeting a violent death is 50%. Murder has also declined. One criminologist’s estimates of homicides from records that were kept after 1200 showed that murder rates declined sharply: “for example, from 24 homicides per 100,000 Englishmen in the fourteenth century to 0.6 per 100,000 by the early 1960s.”

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  1. Does he do a correlation between rates of murder and the chances of getting caught? I suppose in the Bad Old Days the danger was that you weren’t going to be able get very far from the scene of the crime and everyone in the village probably knew who did it and why. (Also, if you did get away, how would you find a new place to fit in?) But, on the other hand, modern forensics should hold back all but the most impulsive killers, I would think. Now, of course, tv is a how-to for potential killers, if they have the patience to watch some of these shows. I guess everyone knows about bleach nowadays.

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