Err, no.

In measuring human violence, Steven Pinker (Profile) appears, understandably, to favour a per capita rate of homicides over the centuries. A revealing alternative would be killings as measured against their time span, ie how many humans are actually slaughtered in the shortest-possible time. In this case, our era is by far the bloodiest and most innovatively violent ever.

The point that Pinker is making is that what you have just described there is the conventional view.

Yes, lovely, now look at it Pinker\’s way. What is the chance of your dying a violent death? From war, murder, violence of all kinds?

Vastly lower now than it was, which is very much Pinker\’s point.

While there are those who still argue about it the average for certain tribal societies was 20-30% of men dying by being murdered. That\’s actually higher than the death rate for Brits in WWII: might even be higher than that in WWI, not sure.

That\’s the point that he\’s making and it\’s a good one too.

6 thoughts on “Err, no.”

  1. So Much For Subtlety

    At its high point, the British Army during WW1 had some 4 million men serving in its ranks. That is not the total for the war, just at that time.

    During the whole conflict somewhere around 650,000 to 700,000 men died.

    So your chances were better than 20%.

  2. In one of my GCSE History textbooks, there were figures giving the number of deaths in some Native American war compared to one of the World Wars. Fewer Native Americans died. You can probably guess the conclusion that we were meant to draw.

  3. RH – “In one of my GCSE History textbooks, there were figures giving the number of deaths in some Native American war compared to one of the World Wars. Fewer Native Americans died. You can probably guess the conclusion that we were meant to draw.”

    Read Lawrence Keely’s “War Before Civilization”.

    Native American conflicts were not known for their low casualty toll. I particularly liked the guy who ate the previous occupants of a house and then took a dump in their fire before leaving

  4. The Noble Savage myth is just that – a myth, but it has proved curiously resilient against all attempts to disprove it with actual numbers. There have been Amazonian tribes where the likelihood of a male member being the victim of homicide have approached or even topped 50%. The death rate for British males during WW2 was around the 1% mark. Commonwealth military dead were approx 5%. The highest per-capita rate of deaths of both sexes during the war was Belarus (then an SSR) at around 25%. None of the Western allies suffered anything like that.

    I’d take Steven Pinker over some random twat writing letters to the Graun.

  5. A revealing alternative would be killings as measured against their time span, ie how many humans are actually slaughtered in the shortest-possible time. In this case, our era is by far the bloodiest and most innovatively violent ever.

    The ability to kill huge numbers in a single blow – through nukes, bioweapons and the like – does means that even if this is or is among the most placid times in human history that’s not the only measure of the danger we’re in.

    On the other hand, I’ve no idea how he got from “killings measured against time span” to “bloodiest”. That’s like saying a road that’s seen 8 fatalities is more dangerous than a road that’s seen 100 because those 8 were wiped out by a single car.

  6. There is also the War of the Triple Alliance in South America which killed most of the male population of Paraguay. The Mongol invasions were gruesome also, proportionally far worse than the Second World War. The difference of course with the 20th Century is the degree of mechanisation involved

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