“Why am I Mr. Pink?”
“‘Cause you’re a FAGGOT. That’s Why!”
– Reservoir Dogs
So, this guy named Mr. Pinker, he believes that the world is collectively outgrowing war and turning into nice, domesticated, peace-loving adults, because he’s Mr. Pinker, while this guy named Mr. Gray has a darker, storm-clouds-ahead view of the world because, you know, he’s Mr. Gray.
I am of course talking about Steven Pinker whose best-selling book Better Angels of Our Nature, argues that war and violence is in decline. English political philosopher John Gray (not to be confused with the American inspirational speaker of the same name) says in his essay that Pinker is full of BS, his statistics are hogwash, and his academics deserve a dunce cap.
But the argument seems so utterly pedantic. For example, Pinker theorizes that the increase of wealth and the diffusion of enlightened values have contributed to the decline of violent conflicts world wide. Gray counters that, although largely forgotten, the original Enlightenment thinkers were a bunch of anti-Semitics, racists, bigots, and misogynists. He points out that Jacobins and Bolshevics, who endorsed violence, were off shoots of Enlightenment thinking, not to even mention the pseudo-scientific racism of the Nazis. Pinker counters that such impure thoughts do not count because they are aberrations from the true creed of Enlightenment. And then the argument delves into a penis size contest over who is more intellectual based on the understanding of what “enlightened” really means. (Don’t tell me about Enlightenment! Nobody knows Enlightenment better than me! I am the most Enlightened person you will ever meet!)
What really irks me is Gray saying “There is something repellently absurd in the notion that war is a vice of “backward” peoples” because so many wars were introduced to formerly peaceful legions by colonial powers. From my point of view, that only proves that the colonial powers were more “backward” than the colonized. Then he goes on to say “the idea that violence is declining in the most highly developed countries is questionable. Judged by accepted standards, the United States is the most advanced society in the world” but the US has the world’s highest incarceration rate. Therefore, highly developed countries can be violent. Why does Gray keep insisting that his choice of countries are always the “most advanced”? Would it have anything to do with the fact that he is a white Englishman from Oxford University? In his view, “colonial powers” and the United States must be the most civilized places in the world, and because they are violent, it is not the “backward” countries that are violent. By extension, he is saying that if you are not from Western Europe or North America, you are automatically backward whether you are violent or not. I find this guy repellently absurd.
As for the actual statistics, it gets even more pedantic. Gray cites Nassim Nicholas Taleb who argues convincingly in his essay that Pinker’s conclusion that war is decreasing may only be statistical noise, a transient anomaly that can easily be cancelled out when placed in a larger context. That gives Taleb the right to call Pinker’s assertion a fallacy, but it does not prove Pinker wrong. Post hoc ergo propter hoc is a fallacy. “The ground is wet after the rain. The rain must be the cause of the wetness” can be right or wrong.
The truth is, there is now no conflict that can be classified as wars in North America, South America, Western Europe, South Asia, South East Asia, East Asia, Southern Africa, and Australia. The only actual wars are confined in Ukraine, the Middle East, and Northern to Mid Africa. we are indeed seeing the decline of war. This may be a transient fluke or it could be a trend.
The penis size contest between two white men is totally irrelevant. What is incontrovertible is that we are at a low point in the history of violence. What can we do to turn this into a trend? That is the question we should be asking. Not whether John Stuart Mill was right or wrong.
What ideas should we project to the world that will make it a better, more humane, and more livable place? What are the obstacles? What are the trends we should nurture and what are the trends we should stifle? We should not rest on our laurels at seeing the world more peaceful than ever. We need to understand why it is more peaceful and work to keep it going.
If anyone out there wants a Nobel Prize, I can tell you how to get one: Construct a philosophy backed by statistical analysis that tells you how to make the world a safer, more peaceful place. Do not be Mr. Pinker who only says the world is getting more peaceful, but analyze what is happening and devise a plan to make the world more peaceful.
(Sorry that I deviated from the topic of writing, but then again, someone might be inspired to write a book about Long Peace.)