“violence around the world”

from steven pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature, chapter 3: The Civilizing Process (links and emphases added by me):

“VIOLENCE AROUND THE WORLD

“The Civilizing Process spread not only downward along the socioeconomic scale but outward across the geographic scale, from a Western European epicenter. We saw in figure 3–3 that England was the first to pacify itself, followed closely by Germany and the Low Countries. Figure 3–8 plots this outward ripple on maps of Europe in the late 19th and early 21st centuries. [click on image for LARGER view. – h.chick]:

FIGURE 3–8. Geography of homicide in Europe, late 19th and early 21st centuries.

In the late 1800s, Europe had a peaceable bull’s-eye in the northern industrialized countries (Great Britain, France, Germany, Denmark, and the Low Countries), bordered by slightly stroppier Ireland, Austria-Hungary, and Finland, surrounded in turn by still more violent Spain, Italy, Greece, and the Slavic countries. Today the peaceable center has swelled to encompass all of Western and Central Europe, but a gradient of lawlessness extending to Eastern Europe and the mountainous Balkans is still visible. There are gradients within each of these countries as well: the hinterlands and mountains remained violent long after the urbanized and densely farmed centers had calmed down. Clan warfare was endemic to the Scottish highlands until the 18th century, and to Sardinia, Sicily, Montenegro, and other parts of the Balkans until the 20th. It’s no coincidence that the two blood-soaked classics with which I began this book — the Hebrew Bible and the Homeric poems — came from peoples that lived in rugged hills and valleys.”
_____

this is the same pattern we’ve seen several times now: an epicenter of england (+ poss. the netherlands) with some feature originating and spreading out from there (or thereabouts) to eventually encompass most of “core” nw europe — england, france, belgium, the netherlands, northern italy, germany, denmark and maybe sweden/norway — but missing out the periphery of europe — highland scotland, ireland, parts of southern france, spain and portugal (especially to the south), southern italy, the balkans including greece, and eastern europe.

we see this pattern in the history and spread of manorialism in medieval europe (the epicenter is actually more northern france/belgium in this case); we see it in the hajnal line; we see the pattern in the varying levels of civicness in different european populations; pinker’s seen it in the dropping levels of violence in europe over the course of history (see also this post); and, of course, it seems to be the general pattern of the history of outbreeding in europe, i.e. more/longer in the epicenter, and less and less the further away you get from it. as ya’ll know, i think that last one is important.

here’s more from pinker from earlier in the same chapter:

“In 1981 the political scientist Ted Robert Gurr, using old court and county records, calculated thirty estimates of homicide rates at various times in English history, combined them with modern records from London, and plotted them on a graph. I’ve reproduced it in figure 3–1, using a logarithmic scale in which the same vertical distance separates 1 from 10, 10 from 100, and 100 from 1000. The rate is calculated in the same way as in the preceding chapter, namely the number of killings per 100,000 people per year. The log scale is necessary because the homicide rate declined so precipitously. The graph shows that from the 13th century to the 20th, homicide in various parts of England plummeted by a factor of ten, fifty, and in some cases a hundred—for example, from 110 homicides per 100,000 people per year in 14th-century Oxford to less than 1 homicide per 100,000 in mid-20th-century London.

“FIGURE 3–1. Homicide rates in England, 1200–2000: Gurr’s 1981 estimates.

“The graph stunned almost everyone who saw it (including me—as I mentioned in the preface, it was the seed that grew into this book). The discovery confounds every stereotype about the idyllic past and the degenerate present. When I surveyed perceptions of violence in an Internet questionnaire, people guessed that 20th-century England was about 14 percent more violent than 14th-century England. In fact it was 95 percent less violent….

“Were the English unusual among Europeans in gradually refraining from murder? Eisner looked at other Western European countries for which criminologists had compiled homicide data. Figure 3–3 shows that the results were similar. Scandinavians needed a couple of additional centuries before they thought the better of killing each other, and Italians didn’t get serious about it until the 19th century. But by the 20th century the annual homicide rate of every Western European country had fallen into a narrow band centered on 1 per 100,000….

FIGURE 3–3. Homicide rates in five Western European regions, 1300–2000.”

of course the scandinavians needed a couple of extra centuries to become not-so-violent — they were a couple of centuries behind the rest of nw europe in converting to christianity and, therefore, in starting their outbreeding project. but once they did, they took the cousin marriage regulations to heart — the swedes, at least, continued to ban first cousin marriage even after the protestant reformation. and the italians — well, they just never took the church’s precepts seriously, especially in the south.

huh. i just noticed that there was an increase in homicides in nw europe in the nineteenth century — see those bumps there on the last chart? apparently, there was also an increase in cousin marriage rates in many countries in europe in the nineteenth century (see second half of this post). hmmmm….

previously: outbreeding, self-control and lethal violence

(note: comments do not require an email. better angels << you'll like this one! (~_^) )

18 Comments

  1. @andrew – “I’d like to hear further thoughts about it from you.”

    lemme finish reading it first! (~_^)

    i’ve only gotten through about a third of it so far — plus some random sections here and there (i’m terrible for doing that — reading things out of order — and then never finishing them….)

    so far i think it’s pretty great. a strong state — either democratic or autocratic — keeps violence down. yeah, that sounds right. dunno if he offers a good explanation for why this low violence business started in england the way it did. guess i’ll find out. (^_^)

    Reply

  2. The main thing that (yet again) amazes me about the book was that apparently the majority of modern people remain baffled by the idea that the past was super-violent, and that the present is incredibly peaceful. Even Pinkers academic colleagues are described as being baffled. Maybe he’s painting his colleagues as more pedestrian and ignorant than they are, to flatter the reader… but I suspect that he’s being fairly honest, from the personal anecdotes about Pinker that I know from his undergrads.

    I’m recurrently amazed by this, again and again. By how many people find this idea of the violent past vs peaceful present counterintuitive. I think I internalized these ideas very young (I read Lorenz’ “ON AGGRESSION” as a 12-year-old, and a bunch of other books in a similar vein), but I wonder at how even a casual interest in history, or in human behavior in primitive, impoverished, or fearful conditions, could fail to lead to this startlingly straightforward intuition.

    We’re acting like no monkeys have ever acted before.
    Western Educated Industrialized Rich Democratic = WEIRD

    Reply

  3. huh. i just noticed that there was an increase in homicides in nw europe in the nineteenth century — see those bumps there on the last chart?

    “The Dickensian aspect”. Urbanization, squalor, high population density, conflict.

    Reply

  4. @hbd* chick: Don’t worry, that happens with me whenever I try to read the Russian classics of the last few hundred years…I just can’t. I feel no empathy for those spoiled aristocratic people whining about their non-problems, and yet I love “The Great Gatsby”!

    And yeah, a libertarian country (yours being America, mine being Canada) would not work. I honestly think we’d need populations filled with Asperger-y types for true libertarianism to work.

    Let me know what you think about this when you get to it later in the book. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War#Youth_bulge_theory

    Thanks!

    Reply

  5. Enjoy it while it lasts. This fragile bubble of peaceful civilisation is being pricked at from all directions by something more primitive and violent. It is growing rapidly, and it knows where you live.

    RD Kaplan’s “The Coming Anarchy” may be more predictive of future violence than Pinker’s glass of warm milk. Immigration and differential birthrates suggest as much, anyway.

    [edit: this comment was stuck in the spam box for some reason. dunno why. sorry! – h.chick]

    Reply

  6. Quote: “England was the first to pacify itself”

    I think that an important point to remember here is that because of their colonial activities abroad, the English were able to export their more violent young men to foreign countries to help build the British empire.

    Reply

  7. @ Al Fin – Enjoy it while it lasts. This fragile bubble of peaceful civilisation is being pricked at from all directions by something more primitive and violent. It is growing rapidly, and it knows where you live.

    We did not become more peaceful because we became “better people”, we became more peaceful because it made us richer and more powerful. Note that all these “peaceful” countries developed an unprecedented military capability at the same time their homicide rates were dropping and they were never hesitant to deploy deadly force when they found it advisable to do so. If we were to rate species on their impulse to use deadly force, then tigers would be ruling the planet and we would still be climbing trees to stay alive, but actually it is the fierce tigers that face extinction while we nerds determine their fate and occasionally go out of our way to save them from extinction!

    We always have a tendency to extrapolate present trends and use our extrapolation to predict the future, but few phenomena are linear.

    Reply

  8. @joe – “I think that an important point to remember here is that because of their colonial activities abroad, the English were able to export their more violent young men to foreign countries to help build the British empire.”

    england was already pacifying itself between the 1300-1400s (perhaps even earlier — who knows? — we don’t have the records). they weren’t sending convicts to australia back then.

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  9. @ihtg – “‘The Dickensian aspect’. Urbanization, squalor, high population density, conflict.”

    yeah, probably. the counter-intuitive(?) thing, though, is that europeans started marrying their cousins more during this time period. you’d think that when they all started moving to the cities, with opportunities to hook up with new people, that outbreeding would’ve increased, but it didn’t. teh scientists put it down to increasing population size — i.e. more cousins available to marry so more cousin marriage.

    (btw — stay safe!)

    Reply

  10. @redzen – “I’m recurrently amazed by this, again and again. By how many people find this idea of the violent past vs peaceful present counterintuitive.”

    yeah, freudianism is screwy wrt a lot of stuff (fear of pregnancy, for example!), but projection is pretty right, i think. and most people today just project their peaceful little lives back to some idyllic rural setting in the past — which, of course, never existed!

    Reply

  11. @andrew – “I honestly think we’d need populations filled with Asperger-y types for true libertarianism to work.”

    (^_^) yup! that and mostly of the same ethnic group (mostly white folks, in other words).

    @andrew – “Let me know what you think about this when you get to it later in the book.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War#Youth_bulge_theory

    yeah, i thought that made a lot of sense. it doesn’t, in and of itself, explain changing levels of violence, or explain 100% why populations go to war, but i’m sure it can be a contributing factor.

    Reply

  12. @al fin – “RD Kaplan’s ‘The Coming Anarchy’ may be more predictive of future violence than Pinker’s glass of warm milk.”

    thanks for the reference! yeah, pinker was a bit too optimistic for my tastes. it’s nice to be hopeful, but a book about the coming anarchy sounds more in my line. (~_^)

    Reply

  13. “(^_^) yup! that and mostly of the same ethnic group (mostly white folks, in other words).”

    Aww. I guess I’ll send half of myself back to South America, and half back to Asia. I’ll send Razib the memo, too. :)

    Reply

  14. @andrew – “I guess I’ll send half of myself back to South America, and half back to Asia.”

    don’t do that! that might hurt. (~_^)

    and i do think libertarianism would work best with white folks — anglos mostly. (not with my people, anyway. h*ll no!)

    Reply

  15. […] as the Scandinavians indicate. There—a few centuries after the adoption of Christianity, the society underwent a transformation from the violent, clannish world of the Vikings to the peaceable one much like we know today—in essentially an […]

    Reply

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