Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. — Matthew 5:9 (NIV 1984)
‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace. — Jeremiah 6:14 (NIV 1984)
Is the world getting to be a better place, or are we just in the calm between storms?
From Yahoo News/AP — Bombings, beheadings? Stats show a peaceful world (written by Seth Borenstein):
It seems as if violence is everywhere, but it’s really on the run.
Yes, thousands of people have died in bloody unrest from Africa to Pakistan, while terrorists plot bombings and kidnappings. Wars drag on in Iraq and Afghanistan. In peaceful Norway, a man massacred 69 youths in July. In Mexico, headless bodies turn up, victims of drug cartels. This month eight people died in a shooting in a California hair salon.
Yet, historically, we’ve never had it this peaceful.
That’s the thesis of three new books, including one by prominent Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker. Statistics reveal dramatic reductions in war deaths, family violence, racism, rape, murder and all sorts of mayhem.
In his book, Pinker writes: “The decline of violence may be the most significant and least appreciated development in the history of our species.”
The number of people killed in battle — calculated per 100,000 population — has dropped by 1,000-fold over the centuries as civilizations evolved. Before there were organized countries, battles killed on average more than 500 out of every 100,000 people. In 19th century France, it was 70. In the 20th century with two world wars and a few genocides, it was 60. Now battlefield deaths are down to three-tenths of a person per 100,000.
Pinker says one of the main reasons for the drop in violence is that we are smarter. IQ tests show that the average teenager is smarter with each generation. The tests are constantly adjusted to keep average at 100, and a teenager who now would score a 100 would have scored a 118 in 1950 and a 130 in 1910. So this year’s average kid would have been a near-genius a century ago. And that increase in intelligence translates into a kinder, gentler world, Pinker says.
“As we get smarter, we try to think up better ways of getting everyone to turn their swords into plowshares at the same time,” Pinker said in an interview. “Human life has become more precious than it used to be.”
But the article has a cautionary note as well:
“The facts are not in dispute here; the question is what is going on,” John Mearsheimer, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago and author of “The Tragedy of Great Power Politics.”
“It’s been 21 years since the Cold War ended and the United States has been at war for 14 out of those 21 years,” Mearsheimer said. “If war has been burned out of the system, why do we have NATO and why has NATO been pushed eastward…? Why are we spending more money on defense than all other countries in the world put together?”
What’s happening is that the U.S. is acting as a “pacifier” keeping the peace all over the world, Mearsheimer said. He said like-minded thinkers, who call themselves “realists” believe “that power matters because the best way to survive is to be really powerful.” And he worries that a strengthening China is about to upset the world power picture and may make the planet bloodier again.
And Goldstein points out that even though a nuclear attack hasn’t occurred in 66 years — one nuclear bomb could change this trend in an instant.
I rejoice to see a reduction of violence around the world, and am very thankful for those who work hard for peace, sometimes even at the cost of their own lives.
At the same time, I see much to be concerned about: unstable economies, religious and ethnic hostilities, a volatile Middle East, unsustainable energy policies, proliferation of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, and violence in entertainment. Democracy and education may have curbed the violent side of human nature, but history demonstrates that it can quickly return on a massive scale.
Grace and Peace