EXPLAINING DECLINES IN VIOLENCE (COMMENT). When I first posted three months ago on Pinker’s contention that human violence has declined, “erik” commented that rather than changes in human nature, “The most likely explanation would be that modern culture gives us another way to resolve our difficulties namely, argumentation.” In this interview, Pinker advances some explanations for the decline in violence that he thinks has occurred. He first mentions the outsourcing of revenge to government—“a more or less disinterested third party”. Second, he mentions the growth of commerce—“When it’s cheaper to buy something than to steal it….” Pinker also gives weight to Norbert Elias’ theory that people became more civilized—knights could succeed at court by being courtiers rather than fighters. Pinker says that his best guess to explain the “humanitarian revolution” of the 17th and 18th centuries is increased literacy. He gives the example of slavery: “…If you start to argue with someone, if someone says, ‘Hey, slavery really can’t be defended,’ and you try to defend it, you’re eventually going to lose the argument, just the way you’d lose a fallacious mathematical argument.” “Argumentation” is not a bad one-word summary of Pinker’s explanations.

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