Steven Pinker has just published a book on the long-term decline of violence in human society. It’s a fascinating thesis he’s been developing for the past several years. Here’s a review plus interview on the Guardian; a rebuttal by John Gray; and more in-depth charts and analysis on edge.org.
I must admit, I have a lot of sympathy for his ideas. In the early Buddhist texts, there are casual descriptions of tortures and brutal punishments that would horrify anyone today. For adultery, for example, a woman has her hands and feet cut off and she is left to bleed to death on the charnel ground. This cultural background makes the Buddha’s non-violence and compassionate approach to discipline seem all the more extraordinary.