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The Better Angels of Our Nature

Many scientists wrote that today the country fight less. For example, Bill Gates even called the book of Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker’s “The Better Angels of Our Nature” among his favorites. Moreover, I believe that the author claims correctly.

Indeed, over the past 70 years there have been no global conflict, the great powers did not meet on the battlefields. Countries sorted things out in the wars of the regional scale. More or less large conflicts were only three: in Korea and Vietnam, as well as between Iran and Iraq. Everything else is the small border quarrel (between Eritrea and Djibouti, India and Pakistan, Ukraine and Russia and others).

This trend was noticed, and many observers with Mr. Pinker concluded that the development of democracy and international law led to the reduction of violence. In the “The Better Angels of Our Nature" there is even correlation between the decrease of violence in international relations at the level of small social groups. Statistics show that violence declines in families, between neighbors, tribes and armed groups in the same way as among peoples and nations. Indeed, from 1945 to 2000, wars have killed more than 40 million people, but as a percentage of the total population, it is still much lower than in previous historical periods.

Some scientists believe that the fact that people renounce violence at their own will, and in that state have limited possibilities of war. Of course, this is not the newest idea. After all, the doctrine of nuclear deterrence, for example, emerged almost simultaneously with the new type of arms. The number of military losses per capita is the most reliable statistical indicators of the state propensity to violence, and yet convenient, because people can compare the different historical periods and countries of different sizes.

It should be noted, that the organization of society in a more rallied state structures leads to a reduction of military losses per capita, with this process is markedly accelerated after World War II. Statistics speak for itself. For example, in 1800 a billion people lived on the planet, in 1960 there were 3 billion, today we have 7 billion. In the XIX century, French military losses amounted to 70 people per 100 thousand. In the first half of the twentieth century 60 man to 100 million people and in this era there is 0.3 per 100 thousand (Borenstein, 2011). Moreover, during the Enlightenment, in the XVII-XVIII centuries, in Europe and in the countries under the European influence, there was another important change. People began to look at the condemnation of violence those previously considered acceptable: slavery, torture, duels, and brutal forms of punishment. In those days, voices in defense of animals even began sounding.

Mortality because of wars does not lag behind the population explosion of recent decades. There is no growth in losses due to the progress in the weapons and scale of its application as compared with the growth of population. In addition, the development of medicine and a general increase in quality of life only improve the situation.

In addition, if to use the database of military interstate conflicts “Correlates of War Project”, which takes into account all cases where one or more countries threatened or used force, demonstrated against one or more other countries in the period from 1816 to 2012 (The Plone Foundation, 2015). Despite the ups and downs of the number of conflicts, their total number remained largely stable since the end of the XVIII century until the First World War. Then it began to grow mainly because of the independence of the former colonies. The number of conflicts has increased, but the number of victims showed no upward trend.

If to look at this issue from a historical perspective, it should be noted that over time, when empires fall and new countries are created, the average state become less and less, to the same they are farther apart. These small and weak countries has much smaller geographic features and political reasons to fight each other. Of course, the United States, which armed forces are deployed around the world, may decide that the civil war in Syria affects their interests and intervene in the situation in the Middle East, but only few have such opportunities. For example, Uruguay could only go to war with Argentina or Brazil, and then only in theory, because its army is weak, the economic impact is negligible, the geographical position is unprofitable. This country could not even reach up to Paraguay, to say nothing of Iran. In other words, the possibility and the reasons are needed for the war. A large country with many neighbors and global interests is more often disaffected and often engaged in a war.

A kind of Pinker’s “enemy”, Bear Braumoeller, conducted a study and argued that the willingness of states to go to war over time has not changed. Yes, there were times when war becomes something less, something more, but the clear trend in either direction cannot be replaced. However, after analyzing of Braumoeller’s studies, Pinker noticed that Bear equated together large and small conflicts. Still, shooting into the air across the border and to bomb the city is not the same thing. Not every conflict can escalate into full-scale war. Here, not everything depends on “let the cards fall where they may.” After all, the scale of military action is not the result of random coincidences and deliberate decision. For example, in 1998, the United States launched several missiles on Sudan, and in 2003, US launched a ground invasion of Iraq – it is obviously different things (Myers, 1998).

In the last half century, many states deliberately cut spending on the army and defense industry as a percentage of GDP (The Economist, 2013). In my view, if countries are also ready for war, as before, they would have no reason to lower their defenses. If we look at the conflict in Syria as an example, it should be said that the invasion of Syria in 2013 did not happen not only because of the diplomatic dispute, but also because of the reluctance of the citizens of the great powers to get involved in the war. In addition, there is a restraining influence of international law and humanitarian norms, as well as the fact that the United Kingdom, the United States and others are afraid of war.

In recent years, there has been a significant improvement of human nature and manners as such. The collapse of the totalitarian ideologies like communism and Nazism took place on a planetary scale. In addition, most of world religions surrendered their positions. I can identify three factors that reduce military activity, worthy of consideration.

The first factor is the notorious nuclear deterrence that made World War lose-lose. Thus, new trends of debate were the deployment of US missile defense system and the creation of a “nuclear-free world” through radical reduction of nuclear arsenals. The possible implementation of these projects leads to a breakdown of nuclear parity, for example between Russia and Washington. Considering this factor it should be also recalled that the total globalization of the economy, with mutually beneficial participation (unlike, for example, from colonialism) of ideological and political opponents (for example, the United States and China, Europe and Russia). It is impractical to destroy own companies or banks.

The second factor is the intensification of farming as opposed to extensive old methods. With the development of science and technology, the weakening of dependence of economy forces from the occupied territory was felt more strongly. In addition, for several last years, there has been a decoupling of the military success of the army / population, which is a function of the territory. It becomes more profitable to buy a missing resource on the open market or find a substitute than to rob a neighbor. It should be said about the growing importance of intellectual property. Previously, people could fight for the invention of other countries, now everything can be solved by the law. Roughly speaking, the Microsoft “won” Skype for $ 8.5 billion, and Facebook bought Instagram for $ 1 billion, and so on.

The third factor is the spread of democratic forms of government, despite the fact that this form of government is too young compared to the other. Of course, democracy has influenced peacekeeping to a certain extent. The lack of any major wars between liberal democracies gives grounds for cautious optimism about the fact that the spread of democratic governance, war will become less common. The hypothesis of the democratic world is also the rationale. Democracy, by its definition, is more centrist, moderate and balanced than the state, subordinate to one person or a group of authoritarian whose pathological aspirations in this case is impossible to appease. It is logical to assume that open and “transparent” states are able to establish closer contact with each other than the closed state and opaque.

Since 1945, we are witnessing a phenomenon called “long-term peace.” For nearly seventy years, the world's leading powers and developed nations do not wage war against each other. Since then, when the “cold war” was over, a “new peace” was established in the world. This, of course, it is not an absolute peace, but there is an undeniable decline in all types of organized conflicts, including civil war, genocide, political persecution and terrorism.

There are other circumstances that have evolved in parallel with the decline of violence, but it is very difficult to determine the causal relationship. For example, it is not clear whether a strong government, a greater wealth of the nation, health, education, trade, women is the reason for the decline of aggression of one country to another. If we find out, we can use this knowledge in order to maintain and extend the existing peace. In the two chapters on human psychology, Pinker exhaustively tries to figure out what limits our demons and angels of our releases.

The increased power of the mind gives humanity the opportunity to break away from our immediate life and the limited prospects to arrange thoughts in a more abstract and universal form. This in turn leads to a higher morality, a constituent part of which is nonviolence. This kind of thinking skills developed in the 20th century. There was a “moral Flynn effect” that raised humanity as to the height of abstract mind and the wider moral responsibility. It is an opportunity to look at this height is the longest of the peace and the legal revolution. For example, since 1946, there is a relationship between IQ of American presidents and the number of American soldiers who died on the battlefields, in which America was involved. In short, the president was smarter than the less his men perished in the wars (Shermer, 2015).

Pinker’s book is extremely important. Such a large-scale interdisciplinary study is a major scientific achievement. Pinker demonstrated convincingly that throughout history we have seen a dramatic decline in violence. His arguments explaining this process, are also worthy of attention. However, today we have a much better understanding of the nature of violence. Pinker’s book is a clear proof of the fact. We can effectively preserve peace and reduce crime.