Video: Is violence in society decreasing?
2023 Author: Seth Attwood | [email protected]. Last modified: 2023-11-26 22:42
Faced with an endless stream of news about war, crime and terrorism, it’s not hard to believe that we are living in the worst period in human history. But Stephen Pinker, in his amazing and exciting new book, shows that the reality is exactly the opposite: over the millennia, violence has declined, and we are probably living in the most peaceful time in the history of our species.
We are publishing an excerpt from Pinker's book, in which he examines the transformation of violence in different social strata of society.
The most striking thing about the decline in the number of murders in Europe is the change in the socio-economic profile of this crime. Hundreds of years ago, the rich were as aggressive or even superior to the poor. Noble gentlemen carried swords and, without hesitation, used them to get even with the offender. The nobles traveled with vassals (also bodyguards), so a public insult or revenge for an insult could escalate into a bloody street fight between gangs of aristocrats (the scene that begins Romeo and Juliet).
The economist Gregory Clark studied the death records of English aristocrats from the late Middle Ages to the start of the Industrial Revolution. I presented the data processed by it in fig. 3–7, from them it is clear that in the XIV and XV centuries. in England, an incredible number of noble persons died by violent death - 26%. This is close to the average of preliterate cultures. The percentage of murders decreases to single-digit values only by the beginning of the 18th century. Today, of course, it is almost zero.
The homicide rate remained perceptibly high, even in the 18th and 19th centuries. violence was part of the lives of respectable members of society such as Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. Boswell quotes Samuel Johnson, who clearly had no difficulty in defending himself with the words: "I beat many, the rest were smart enough to keep their mouths shut."
Over time, representatives of the upper classes began to refrain from using force against each other, but since the law protected them, they retained the right to raise a hand against those who are lower in rank. Back in 1859, the author of The Habits of a Good Society, published in Britain, advised:
There are people who can only be brought to their senses by physical punishment, and we will have to face such people in our life. When a clumsy boatman insults a lady or a nosy cabman annoys her, one good blow will settle the matter … Therefore, a man, a gentleman or not, must learn to box …
There are few rules here, and they rely on elementary common sense. Hit hard, hit straight, hit suddenly; Block the blows with one hand, apply them yourself with the other. Gentlemen should not fight each other; the art of boxing will come in handy to punish an arrogant, big guy from the lower class.
The general decline in violence in Europe was preceded by a decline in violence among the elites. Today, statistics from every European country show that the lion's share of murders and other violent crimes are committed by members of the lower socio-economic classes.
The first obvious reason for this shift is that in the Middle Ages, violence helped to achieve high status. Journalist Stephen Sayler cites a conversation in England in the early twentieth century: “An honorary member of the British House of Lords lamented that Prime Minister Lloyd George was knighting the nouveau riche who had just bought themselves large estates. And when he himself was asked: "Well, how did your ancestor become a lord?" - he sternly replied: "With a battle ax, sir, with a battle ax!"
Gradually, the upper classes laid down their battle axes, disarmed their retinue and stopped boxing with the boatmen and cabmen, and the middle classes followed suit.
The latter, of course, were not pacified by the royal court, but by other cultural forces. Service in factories and offices forced to learn the rules of decency. The democratization processes allowed them to solidify with the governing bodies and public institutions and made it possible to go to court to resolve conflicts. And then came the Municipal Police, founded in 1828 in London by Sir Robert Peel. Since then, the English police have been called "bobby" - short for Robert.
Violence today correlates with low socioeconomic status, largely because elites and the middle class seek justice through the justice system, while the lower classes resort to what researchers call self-help solutions.
We are not talking about books like Women Who Love Too Much or Chicken Soup for the Soul - this term refers to lynching, lynching, vigilantism and other forms of violent retribution, with the help of which people maintain justice in the conditions of non-government intervention.
In the famous article "Crime as Social Control", the sociologist of law Donald Black shows that what we call a crime, from the point of view of its perpetrator, is the restoration of justice. Black begins with a statistic that has long been known to criminologists: only a small proportion of murders (probably no more than 10%) are committed for practical purposes, for example, killing the owner of a house in the process of a robbery, a policeman at the time of arrest, or a victim of a robbery or rape (because the dead do not talk) … The most frequent motive for murders is moral: revenge for an insult, escalation of a family conflict, punishment of an unfaithful or outgoing lover, and other acts of jealousy, revenge and self-defense. Black quotes some of the cases from the Houston court archives:
One young man killed his brother during a heated argument over the sexual abuse of their younger sisters. The man killed his wife because she "provoked" him when they were arguing about paying the bills. A woman killed her husband for hitting her daughter (his stepdaughter), another woman killed her 21-year-old son because he "hung out with homosexuals and used drugs." Two people died from injuries sustained in a fight over a parking space.
Most murders, Black notes, are actually a form of the death penalty, with a single individual as judge, jury, and executioner. This reminds us that our attitude to an act of violence depends on where we look at it from which top of the triangle of violence. Think of a man arrested and held accountable for beating his wife's lover.
From the point of view of the law, the perpetrator is the husband, and the victim is the society, which is now seeking justice (as indicated by the naming of the court cases: "The People vs. John Doe"). However, from the point of view of the lover, the perpetrator is the husband, and he himself is the victim; if the husband escapes the clutches of justice with the help of an acquittal, a pre-trial agreement or the annulment of the process, it will be unfair: after all, the lover is forbidden to take revenge in return.
And from the point of view of the husband, it was he who suffered (he was unfaithful), the aggressor is the lover, and justice has already triumphed; but now the husband becomes a victim of the second act of violence, where the aggressor is the state, and the lover is its accomplice. Black writes:
Often, murderers seem to decide for themselves to place their fate in the hands of the authorities; many patiently await the arrival of the police, some even report the crime themselves … In such cases, of course, these people can be regarded as martyrs. Like workers who violate the ban on strikes and risk going to jail, and other citizens who deny the law for reasons of principle, they do what they think is right and are willing to bear the brunt of punishment.
Black's observations disprove many dogmas about violence. And the first is that violence is a consequence of a lack of morality and justice. On the contrary, violence is often the result of an excess of morality and a sense of justice, at least as the perpetrator of the crime imagines. Another belief shared by many psychologists and public health professionals is that violence is a kind of disease. But the sanitation theory of violence neglects the basic definition of disease.
Illness is a disorder that causes suffering to a person. And even the most aggressive people insist that they are all right; it is the victims and witnesses who believe that something is wrong. A third dubious belief is that the lower class are aggressive because they need it financially (for example, they steal food to feed their children) or because they are demonstrating their protest to society in this way. Violence among lower-class men can indeed give rise to rage, but it is directed not at society at large, but at the bastard who scratched the car and publicly humiliated the avenger.
In a follow-up to Black's article titled “Reducing Elite Homicide,” criminologist Mark Cooney showed that many low-status individuals - poor, uneducated, homeless, and minority people - live essentially outside the state.
Some make a living from illegal activities - selling drugs or stolen goods, gambling and prostitution - and therefore cannot go to court or call the police to defend their interests in economic disputes. In this respect, they are similar to high-status mafiosi, drug lords or smugglers: they also have to resort to violence.
People with low status do without the help of the state for another reason: the legal system is often as hostile to them as they are to it. Black and Cooney write that when faced with poor African Americans, the police "hesitate between indifference and dislike, not wanting to be involved in their showdown, but if you really have to intervene, they act extremely tough." Judges and prosecutors, too, “are often not interested in resolving disputes among people of low socioeconomic status and usually try to get rid of them as soon as possible, and, as the parties involved believe, with an unsatisfactory accusatory bias”. Journalist Heather MacDonald quotes a police sergeant from Harlem:
A kid in the neighborhood was hit by a well-known moron last weekend. In response, his entire family gathered at the abuser's apartment. The victim's sisters knocked down the door, but his mother beat the sisters to a pulp, leaving them bleeding on the floor. The victim's family started the fight: I could bring them to justice for violating the inviolability of their home. But, on the other hand, the mother of the offender is guilty of a severe beating. All of them are the dregs of society, garbage from the streets. They seek justice in their own way. I told them: "We can all go to jail together or put an end to it." Otherwise, six people would be in jail for their idiotic actions - and the district attorney would be beside himself! None of them would have come to court anyway.
It is not surprising that people who occupy a low position in society do not resort to laws and do not trust them, preferring the good old alternatives - lynching and the code of honor.[…] In other words, the historical process of civilization did not completely eliminate violence, but pushed it to the socio-economic margins.
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