Tuesday, 26 January 2010

More cheer

I'm afraid I have more good news for you (we obviously don't like it or else we'd hear more, wouldn't we?). Having recently learnt that the world's poor are becoming significantly better off despite huge increases in global population comes this:
Armed conflicts worldwide have decreased 40 percent since [the early '90s], proving that globalization's recent and rapid spread around the world has not led to more state-on-state wars. In fact, such wars have essentially disappeared. Instead, what we are left with falls almost exclusively into the category of intra-state mass violence, including governments battling non-state actors, civil strife among non-state actors, and civil conflicts that sometimes attract interventions by great powers and the U.N.

This is from last year's Report from the Human Security Resource Project of Canada's Simon Fraser University. Rather bizarrely this year's report goes on to show that the lethal effect of these 'intra-state wars' is more than mitigated by improvements elsewhere:
...when it comes to chronic conflicts in the world's developing regions, "nationwide mortality rates actually fall during most wars." That's not to imply that warfare is good or improves mortality rates, but rather to note that intrastate conflicts have become so shrunken in their impact and lethality that their negative byproducts (i.e., indirect deaths by disease and malnutrition) are consistently overwhelmed by society-wide advances in these realms, in large part thanks to international aid focused on health care (especially early childhood care).

And wars are smaller despite the planet's population almost tripling since the '50s:
The average war in the 1950s killed 10,000 people a year and ran for 3 to 4 years, yielding an average cumulative "direct death" total of 33,000 lives. By contrast, the average war today lasts less than a year and yields an annual average of roughly 1,000 direct deaths.

We used to have football matches that were more lethal. So why is there less war? And why is what is left less deadly? A pithy summary: the interconnectedness of globalisation, pax Americana, health care improvements and humanitarian aid. Read the whole thing for more detail. I've also written before about why we should be more positive about the now, people.

(BTW, if you're interested in global strategy keep up with the excellent blog of the clean-cut, no-nonsense, probably-smokes-a-pipe Thomas PM Barnett (right)).


worm said...

well now the french are lulled into a sense of false security, it could be the time to strike

Sean said...

Thats not news garth, we have known for many years that war is killing a lot less people, its not really an issue.

Its a bit like the great moderation argument in Economics, more connections less risk, but as we found out with our banks, what we got was less small blow outs and one great big one instead.

Sure more population has so far been a boon to the world but their is always a tipping point, the question is where is it, IMO its in resources and technology.

Pakistan are the canary in the coal mine, for years they tried to develop a nuclear bomb, starting in the early 70s, then computing power increased which they used to shorten the engineering problems they had, they then developed a crude nuclear weapon , which was used as a sort of benchmark, applied more computing power and in short order had a powerful nuke with miniaturized technology you can fit a bathtub.

We cant put the lid on thought but we can fight wars on intervention and try to clear the swamp, the Bush doctrine stands.

On a lighter Note Chris Morris is BACK and looks very funny, just remember that the Jihadist might be idiots now, thankfully British university trained ones at least, but by trial and error they will get BETTER

Hurt Locker, watched it on Bluray last night (something worth loving btw) No such thing as just war garth, war is war.

malty said...

From John Gray's Black Mass - Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia.

During the past twenty years western governments led by America, have tried to export a version of liberal values to the world. These policies have been distinguished by the nebulous grandeur of their goals, but the overall aim was a mutation in the nature of of war and power, which would come about as a result of the universal adoption of democracy. The attempt to remake the international system has had effects similar to those of previous Utopias. The disaster that continues to unfold in Iraq is the result of an entire way of thinking, and it is this that must be abandoned.

I would suggest that those statistics are similar to those produced by the warmers, a blip appears and they play it for all it's worth.

War and the attendant deaths are mainly the result of one group of people attempting to shove their Utopian ideas down the throats of another group of people.

Human nature comes complete with aggression, right place, right time and up it pops, Gray suggests ways of at least some containment.

Gaw said...

Worm: And how do we know they haven't been lulling us? Even more reason.

Sean: Don't agree with the parallel with the financial crisis, which had its own specific drivers. Looking forward to the Chris Morris film - about time we laughed at these numpties.

Malty: Whilst I find Gray's theories of being, knowledge and of history interesting and quite persuasive, I think he's got recent economic history badly wrong. I don't think this discipline makes comfortable territory for him. I explain why here (it was a post that didn't garner many comments so fire away!).

Peter Burnet said...

By any objective measure, give or take the occasional Congo, we do indeed live in a golden age of freedom, safety and prosperity, and many of us hate it. I've spent quite a bit of time in the past year hanging around a couple of civil leftist blogs, and the impression that they leave me with more than any other is of people so desperately yearning to slay a dragon that they will spend most of their waking hours trying to convince themselves and you that the harmless iguana over there in the trees is a menacing dragon. The same syndrome can be seen increasingly on the "new right". I believe there are lots of polls that indicate pessimism, emotional insecurity and a penchant for doomsday scenarios are also on the rise. Mankind doesn't do boredom, and too much of it will make us either yearn for a Berlin street battle or invent a new religion. I think for many it takes responsibility for raising children to see things clearly.

I've always thought one of the most overlooked biblical stories is the Tower of Babel. As with most Old Testament tales of Divine displeasure, it's short on details of what observors would have witnessed in real time. I suspect it might have all come apart when they started killing one another over punctuation.

Brit said...

I think, on balance, that John Gray is wrong about everything.

But he shouldn't worry because so is everyone else.

worm said...

Peter, have you read any Ballard? The bourgeois ennui you allude to is precisely the sort of thing he skewered in books like Cocaine Nights (where the bored future rich decide to stage a few murders and rapes, because the frisson of illicit danger is what makes them feel alive, and thus happy)

Gaw said...

Peter: I think worm has an excellent spot there. Ballard captured it. I would also add that there's a desire to feel justified that drives people to do all sorts of things. This desire derives from eschatological religions, either directly or in sublimated form.

Brit: Nihilist!

Brit said...

Very much not. By "everyone" I mean those who assert or insist.

Why are there no question marks or "possibly"s in Gray's paragraph? His worldview, like those of his opponsents, is near-insultingly simplistic. It wouldn't take much brainpower to refute or throw into doubt every single word, starting with "twenty years", then "western governments" then "led by" then "America." But this isn't about Gray. The more I read the grand explanations for global affairs, the more I find them a bit embarrassing; or sometimes, irritatingly presumptuous.

Gaw said...

Your point about 'everyone' being 'wrong about everything': isn't this relativism, and a short hop away from nihilism? I must be misunderstanding something.

Re Gray, it's quite amusing how - as I point out in my review of his review (which I'm now reviewing) - he ends up falling into the same trap as those he accuses. He's as rigidly paradigmatic as the lot of them.

A doubt-filled hypothesis about how the facts as known can be strung together, on the other hand, can be harmlessly enlightening. But only if it's not mistaken for absolute truth (and perhaps this is your point?).

Peter Burnet said...

This desire derives from eschatological religions...

One doesn't like to be snobbish, but it can also derive from being one of life's losers.

worm, no, I haven't read Ballard, but I'll put it on the list for my March holiday. Thanks.

Brit said...

It's not relativism. I'm not fully sure what my point is yet. I suspect it might even be alarmingly simple: something like, the whole genre of geo-political/historical analysis should be avoided if you wish to better your understanding of the world.

Brit said...

But what I really want to know is why Sean keeps calling you "Garth".

Gaw said...

Peter: Oh yes! One overlooks the most obvious reasons sometimes.

Brit: Re Garth: I don't know. But I like it as I think it gives me something of an occult air of mystery.

Your desire (potentially) to avoid hi-falutin' historical analysis is itself a mode of historical analysis. Did you ever read my post on Richard Cobb as he provided one take on this, one that I think you'd find particularly sympathetic (if you do try to also read the obit link - it's very funny).

Brit said...

Aha yes - "...One just went to the records, read them, thought about them, read some more, and the records would do the rest, they would dictate the exact limits of the subject, and provide both inspiration and material. All the historian had to do was to be able to read, and, above all, to write clearly and agreeably."

That's my kind of history.

Re: Gray, the problem is that I agree with his anti-utopianism, but he applies 'utopianism' to too many things, ie. to everything. "Progress" doesn't have to be towards perfection(utopianism), it can also describe improvement without a clear goal in mind. As someone somewhere said: melioration is not the same thing as perfectibilism. Also he's confusing/confused on religion. He calls everything a 'religion', using it interchangeably as insult and compliment.

worm said...

I like the Garth thing too, if only because the name Garth is inherently amusing

Gaw said...

Worm: Of course, how could I forget Wayne's World?

Brit: Gray is peculiarly bad for a philosopher at defining terms and sticking to them. In the piece I looked at he continuously confused markets and contemporary economic theories about them.

Brit said...

Gray is a big pal of The Yard btw, who insists that Gray is, despite all evidence to the contrary, a cheerful chap and very funny.

malty said...

Can I take that as a no, Brit?

ghostofelberry said...

Garth Knight, i liked Gray's Straw Dogs book. In some places it's superficial but there are also some very interesting passages, about paganism, for example. He tends to simplify but then that tends to happen to everyone as soon as they say or write anything.

A mutual (virtual) acquaintance-friend said Gray had reached a similar conclusion as myself about monotheism & science, which is impressive - not because i'm clever but because i am and was a polytheist, whereas i presume Gray isn't, though he probably was a long time ago, in a galaxy not far away. i was just pontificating about being myself, but Gray was presumably exercising his imagination and intellect.

ghostofelberry said...

Re-reading that comment, i realise i sound:

a) unbearably smug, and
b) snide about Gray.

In fact i meant what i wrote literally - that all i was doing was pondering my situation, whereas Gray was actively using his imagination and learning - and i was surprised he could reach my conclusion by imagination alone - but it somehow sounds sarcastic and assholey.

ghostofelberry said...

That last comment is even worse. It's just one of those awful days.

Hey Skipper said...

Very much not. By "everyone" I mean those who assert or insist.

Why are there no question marks or "possibly"s in Gray's paragraph?

I just finished reading Thomas Sowell's A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles.

Its premise is that there are fundamentally two ways of looking the sources of ideological conflict. There is a dichotomy of outlooks: constrained and unconstrained. Those whose outlook is constrained consider human nature as essentially immutable, and reality far more complex and interrelated than humans can fully comprehend.

Invert the preceding for the unconstrained outlook.

Everyone here has a constrained vision. (Well, OK, worm excepted. He is his own category. Nobody expects the worm.) The left is defined by their unconstrained vision: they know what is best for all of us. Emphasis on know.

Anyway. While Sowell's book is a model of balance and clarity, I don't think it is possible to come away from it without concluding that the unconstrained vision is the root of a great deal of evil.

Which malty says in a sentence: War and the attendant deaths are mainly the result of one group of people attempting to shove their Utopian ideas down the throats of another group of people.

Gray is peculiarly bad for a philosopher at defining terms and sticking to them. In the piece I looked at he continuously confused markets and contemporary economic theories about them.

Does he edit The Economist?

Gaw said...

Elb: I too liked Straw Dogs. It's when he comes to apply his insights to contemporary economic history he loses me. Your posts all sounded fine to me!

Skip: That's a useful distinction that I haven't seen expressed in those terms before. I haven't read the Economist in years but I noted you'd fallen out of love with it. It always used to have a straight-down-the-line Thatcherite stance (as it used to be known).

Brit said...

Thanks Skip - that does sound an interesting way of expressing it, I'll have to check it out.

Malty - heh, yes, sorry. Nearly sleepless all weekend and yesterday a grinding headache: irritation at max, Gray the tipping point.

worm said...

embarrasing to note that its only me who lowers the tone around here! sorry!

Gaw said...

Worm, there are few things that aren't improved by the addition of humour and my blog posts are certainly not one of them.

Hey Skipper said...


embarrasing to note that its only me who lowers the tone around here! sorry!

I meant that as pure compliment. You are, word for word, funnier than anyone I have ever read. Your top of the thread comment was perfect.

Unfortunately, when pixels are the medium, sincerity too often appears as sarcasm.