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Another Update to the World is Getting Safer

(Though many don’t want to believe it, the world is getting safer. There will be an end to war, someday, if the world works towards it. To read the rest of our posts on “The World is Getting Safer”, click here.)

We had so many links about the world getting safer, that we had to split last week’s post into two. Here’s the second set of updates...

Steven Pinker, Yet Again, Makes the Case the World is Getting Safer

Stephen Pinker’s first TED talk on the decreasing likelihood of war turned us on to this topic, and helped make it a passion. (Same with John Horgan’s research from a Radiolab episode.) But it never hurts to re-review the evidence.

And Pinker does this in this Slate article published in December, “The World is Not Falling Apart”. Most relevantly, Pinker and co-writer Andrew Mack admonish us to ignore the headlines. They explain that headlines, especially in a cable news and Twitter world, focus on violent events much more than non-violent events. They point out that homicides in the US, UK and worldwide have dropped, violence against women is at historic lows, and wars are increasingly less likely.

Here’s our favorite quote (from the conclusion):

Too much of our impression of the world comes from a misleading formula of journalistic narration. Reporters give lavish coverage to gun bursts, explosions, and viral videos, oblivious to how representative they are and apparently innocent of the fact that many were contrived as journalist bait. Then come sound bites from “experts” with vested interests in maximizing the impression of mayhem: generals, politicians, security officials, moral activists. The talking heads on cable news filibuster about the event, desperately hoping to avoid dead air. Newspaper columnists instruct their readers on what emotions to feel.

"There is a better way to understand the world. Commentators can brush up their history—not by rummaging through Bartlett’s for a quote from Clausewitz, but by recounting the events of the recent past that put the events of the present in an intelligible context. And they could consult the analyses of quantitative data sets on violence that are now just a few clicks away.

John Horgan responded to Pinker, arguing that America needs to do more to make the world safer. (This may have inspired a debate between Eric C and myself. Coming soon.)

And Vox Also Makes the Case

Not much more to say than this, but Vox has a article “26 charts and maps that show the world is getting much, much better” that, like other posts, pretty convincingly makes the argument that the world is, indeed, getting much, much better.

My personal favorite graphs are:

1. The worldwide deaths from war per capita. It’s down to almost nothing.

2. Comparing European homicide rates through the ages.

And the World is More Democratic

And here’s another compilation of evidence that the world is getting better. It relates to the comments section of one of our last posts on the world getting safer. A reader pushed back, citing North Korea as an example of a violent nation, because it isn’t democratic. The people of North Korea, he argued, live under a constant threat of violence from the state.

We actually agree. Dictatorships are inherently violent. A peaceful world that consists of only dictatorships? That’s not progress. But it turns out this is the world is getting more democratic as well.

If you want to debunk the world is getting safer argument, you need to avoid obvious logical fallacies. Don’t cite anecdotes, cite statistics. You can’t say, “The world isn’t getting safer because X event happened.” (In this case, North Korea being undemocratic.) You have to research whether the world is becoming less democratic overall.

Will Global Warming Cause More War?

Indeed, some have even blamed the conflict in Syria on global warming. As the climate changes, this will disturb populations, the thinking goes, spreading conflict. A paper even came out showing a causal link! Wonkblog’s Brad Plumer says not so fast, the evidence isn’t all quite in.

Finally, a “Quote Behaving Well”

In our post, “The Best Comment On Violence Has Ever Received”, we simply reposted a commenter’s thoughts--”Martin”--verbatim. He spoke about de-escalating a conflict with troublesome students, and we applied it to another future war in the Middle East (Israel, the U.S. and Iran). Stephen Walt echoed a similar theme when he relayed an amazing Churchill quote along these lines. (Not a quote behaving badly because Walt included the link to the actual book passage where Churchill wrote this.)

“In War: Resolution. In Defeat: Defiance. In Victory: Magnanimity. In Peace: Goodwill."

One comment

Two things:

First, playing Devil’s advocate based on one study (though I always take these studies with skepticism), over the last two years the number of democratic countries has lowered, but the number of people in democracies has grown.

Second, we also had a recent comment on Facebook that “the world is getting safer for cartoonists”. In reality, this was an anti-Muslim right-winger using our post to popularize his pet political issues, but the issue he wouldn’t answer was, “Is the world safer for free expression than fifty, one hundred, two hundred years before”

Obviously, in response to my question, he brought up gun control.