What thrills me about Better Angels is that it presents overwhelming empirical proof of what we already know; the world is getting less violent, more kind and more fair. I was born in 1956 when Jim Crow was the law, people with disabilities were invisible and wife-beating was sitcom humor.
Through the din of corporate news and in the grip of Mean World Syndrome it’s easy to forget that rape in the US has been reduced by more than 80% since 1979, that bullying in schools is now treated as a symptom of disorder where it used to be called, “childhood”. Amid the endless and endlessly wrong predictions of doom we might not notice that the great power of Europe, the nations that gave white people a bad name, the folks who gave us the inquisition, the Crusades, trans-oceanic slavery and the Holocaust are now so gentle they won’t extradite mass killers to the US for fear we might hurt them.
Pinker sites lots of reasons for violences’ decline from outsourcing of revenge to our 130 year worldwide increase in IQ scores. He also, rightly says the decline of violence in all categories around the world and the rise of kindness and reason are accomplishment for which all of humanity can – and says me should, take a bow.
Chimps don’t want to be chumps and even a monkey can tell right from wrong. This classic experiment demonstrates that a sense of justice is older and broader than the European enlightenment. The lecturer is rockstar evolutionary biologist Franz de Waal and the experiment was supervised by Dr. Sarah Brosnan
In humans injustice lights up a part of the brain called the anterior insular cortex (insula). It was once thought that only higher apes like us had brains like ours. But as Gomer Pyle would say, “Surprise, surprise, surprise!” Scientists at the Max Planck institute just discovered that monkeys have the same insula neurons as us. We used to think the use of tools made us human. When Jane Goodall saw a chimp modify a stick to fit into an ant hole then use it to pull out ants for food she said it meant we either had to redefine man, redefine tool or admit that chimpanzees are human. What then is our reaction to the monkey sense of economic injustice?
Dominique de Quarvain has done some really interesting work on the neuroscience of revenge and how much hard cash people will lay out to get it. He and Tania Singer have done various on the “Trust Game” scenarios and watched the live MRI images of subjects as the contemplated revenge and turned off their empathic urges… at least men turn off the empathy. Which is what the “difference feminists” have been saying for decades.