Author Steven Pinker Answers Your Questions

Last week we solicited your questions for author and Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker on his new book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. You responded quickly with more than 50 questions. Now, Pinker is back with his answers to 10 of them. The result is a fascinating discussion (exactly the kind we like to have around here) on the roots of violence, the rationale for wars of the past and what a decrease in violence says about modern society. As always, thanks to everyone for participating.

Q Any thoughts on the negative side effects of decreased violence? Overpopulation? More sedentary populations? Decreased role for survival of the fittest? Not to say that violence is preferable, just wondering about the downsides of peace. - BL1Y

Bring Your Questions for Author Steven Pinker

With Libya finishing off a bloody revolution, the war in Afghanistan nearly a decade old, and Mexico engulfed in a savage drug war -- it might not seem like it, but we're living in the most peaceable time in history. That's more of a commentary on just how violent our past is, rather than the tranquility of the present.

In his new book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker lays out the difference in stark contrast, quantifying the dramatic decrease in violence over the ages, and uncovering the reasons for its decline. Pinker operates under the premise that the past is like a foreign country, and that we need to be reminded of its brutality. Starting with a tour of human history that stretches back to 8000 BCE, Pinker offers glimpses along the way, and shows how in the early going, violence persisted even as society and culture evolved.

Carrots and Sticks at the RSA

Watch a clip of Freakonomics contributor Ian Ayers speaking to the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, about his book, Carrots and Sticks.

Dangerous Ideas

I once had the honor of sharing a meal with Steven Pinker. He was as fun and brilliant in person as he is in his writing. The Chicago Sun-Times recently published a piece by him (which we’ve mentioned before) that’s also the preface to a book entitled “What is Your Dangerous Idea? Today’s Leading Thinkers […]