Tuesday, 10 November 2009

In the pink

I'm conscious that many of my posts are concerned with how much better things were back in the day, the era when giants stalked the earth - we shan't see the like of Auberon Waugh, Richard WidmarkThe Specials, Kingsley Amis and Marty Feldman again (well, not until the next Specials reunion tour) - back in a time when small children were resourceful enough to make guys and go-carts, when girls addressed me as 'moi dorrl'in', and real men wore cravats. Manifestly superior in many ways, I think you'll agree.

But having intensively studied the subject I can reveal that an old-ish git's nostalgia is not a sensible way in to assessing, objectively and with balance, the merits of our past in relation to our present. And when I'm not feeling intimations of mortality and a hankering for youthful pleasures, I can readily see that we're living in something of a golden age (or perhaps a silver age? Anyway precious metals figure somehow).

I adverted to this in a previous post. And it's one of the reasons I instinctively react against all those miserable doomsters, predicting the world's going to end because present-day man is fallen; malign when not being useless. So it was heartening to come across a well-founded and convincing argument that we live in an age of peace and harmony, at least relative to all the other ages that have gone before.

Below is a lecture by Stephen Pinker (right), introduced to me by Mark, a commenter on Bryan Appleyard's recently returned blog. It's just under twenty minutes long and is a sharpish trot through a lot of excellently summarised research. Worth watching but here's the argument's headline: in the present day, versus each of the prehistoric, medieval, early modern, and the pre-1945 modern eras, proportionately fewer people are being killed by other people. In comparison to the earlier eras vastly fewer.

I would have thought we could all agree that 'the relative number of people being killed by other people' is not a bad metric by which to measure some form of moral progress. Unless, I suppose, you believe that as a consequence fewer people are getting their just deserts and discipline has gone to the dogs. As I overheard on a train journey a few years ago: "capital punishment never did me no harm when I was at school"...o tempora, o mores!

8 comments:

Recusant said...

Does that include those killed in global wars, such as WWI & II? If it does, then there must have been a heck of a lot of murdering being done. If not, then it seems we have outsourced killing to the state, like everything else.

Gaw said...

Yes it does include people killed in wars and genocides. And yes there does appear to have been a lot of freelance killing going on in the old days.

worm said...

gonna have to watch the video later - I often watch stuff on that website, its always a good way to while away a spare 10 minutes

By the way, should stephen pinker ever decide to jack in the whole academic lark, he'd make an AWESOME David Essex impersonator

Vern said...

I'm sure it's just a blip in the slaughter. We'll be up to our necks in gore again in no time.

Gadjo Dilo said...

Worm beat me to it again, the rat! That is David Essex - Wikipedia has been fooling you. I'd like to see the statistics about killing taking the world as a whole; but I do suspect that the (near-)demise of communism has reduced the number of body bags somewhat.

Brit said...

Definitely David Essex.

Gaw said...

Vern: It's been quite a long blip: the decline begins about 400 years ago.

Others: Looks like Noddy Holder to me (Pinker that is).

Vern said...

400 years? A drop in the ocean.