The Better Angels of Our Nature





The Better Angels of Our Nature


Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined argues that the level of violence realized in the world has declined on both short run and long run terms. The contents on his explanation are derived from his personal suggestions to the drop in levels of violence across the globe. The phrase of better angles in our nature originates from the inaugural address of former United States President, Lincoln. The phrase signifies human motivations responsible of orienting of altruism and cooperation from acts of violence and negatives in the society. Statistical data and analysis is represented in the in demonstrations by the author over the past millennium. He argues that it does not mean that the violence looks set to end, rather, it guarantees continuity albeit at reduced levels. Five historical forces are sighted, which favor the motives towards peace. Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined is not a true reflection of the actual violence rates in the world.


Data Use

The author is attentive to specific historical data of the twentieth century regarding the deaths of people. For example, during the reign of Hitler and the Nazi revolution, the number of deaths in comparison to the population is factored in the argument. Similarly, historical leaders all over the world are scrutinized in equal measure. For example, Mobutu in the democratic Republic of Congo, Mao in People’s Democratic Republic of China among other well renowned historical rulers are enlisted as part of the data analysis (Pinker 42). The accounts of deaths that were realized during their reigns faced with the cruelties like wars, ferocious slaying of individuals and intentional executions are dissected by the author in laying the basis of his claims. In addition, the statistics of deaths in the later years are included with the exception through pitfalls like diseases, hunger, accidents, natural causes and others.


Pinker highlights the insights brought about by the use of data in his analysis on the human retreat from violence. Firs of all, he talks of the pacification process. This refers to the gradual shift and introduction of agricultural civilizations from the ages of horticultural societies, gathering and anarchy of hunting. He explains that this mechanism reducing the feuding nature of humans and raids. The civilizing process was characteristic of the middle ages. He notes that this was realized in the European countries whereby consolidations of feudal territories were being merged to form large kingdoms. The humanitarian revolution is noted by the author as a significant period of reasoning and enlightenment. Organized movements aimed at abolishing judicial torture, slavery, sadistic punishments, superstitious killings and animal cruelty were effected at the time.

            The fourth major transition suggested by the author towards his insights was the long peace. Pinker (57) describes the period after the world war two had ended as having witnessed collaboration and unity among the greater powers and nations. He argues that they stopped waging war at each other and thereby reduced the number of casualties from the activities. The new peace contains a different approach by the author compared to the other insights. During this period after the cold war of 1989, the author points out to the fact that the autocratic governments, genocides and civil wars had declined in general across board. The rights revolution as mentioned by the author is significant of the growing rights movements from the period of 1950 to the present times. Such human rights are claimed to have improved the nature of violence towards humanity.  

Rival Explanations

In the course of his writing, the author encounters rival explanations towards his argument that the violence levels of the world have declined. Several opposes to the claim attribute to the growing number of statistical deaths in almost all countries of the world attributed to death and growing concerns of globalization. In the first instance, Pinker rubbishes the claims that the world is indeed a violent environment (Singer 1). He claims that the media has had a tremendous effect of such portrayal by having enormous coverage of the dynamism. He claims that it is an illusion facilitated by humans’ propensity of the mind into having memories of the recent events. He counters such arguments by boldly claiming that the civilizing process is responsible for the decline in the numbers to violence such as mistreatment of gays, blacks, animals, women, murders, genocides and rape.

            Disagreements in terms of the scholarship and statistical analysis of the author’s argument present his use of science on cases presented as empirical assumptions. From the analysis of the transitions of historical times and the centenary events, Pinker counters rival explanations by questioning the rationale of the analytical tools used by the others. He pits his statistical barometer on the factors responsible for the deaths according to records and nature of the violence circumstances that surrounded those (Pinker 187). His rejection of the motive of aggression in humans to committing of the acts is a distant opposition to the rivals’ explanation. He attributes the aggregate of more than one psychological system in differentiation to the triggers of the environment as responsible for the acts. The systems are based in the internal and neurological basis of individuals.   


The theory on global reduction in violence and subsequent deaths contains varied implications. One of the theories developed is the hydraulic theory of violence. It highlights the nature of humans as having innate aggression drives, which build up over time and necessitate their discharge either periodically or intrinsically. The theory is circumspect on the blood thirst or instinct for death in man. The contemporary understanding of scientific explanation towards violence psychology demystifies Pinker’s assertions. One of the decisions aimed at the author’s argument is developed through the social distribution and environmental factors opposing the reduction of deaths through violence (Singer 1). Critics have fronted the author’s use of the metric for evaluation as containing falsehood in the numbers. Key references are pointed towards the use of deaths from wears as justification according to the author’s theory.


The author’s explanations of the decline in deaths from violence in the world contain an element of persuasive nature. By using the statistical available data from the historical reigns of renowned world rulers, the explanation is convincing to an extent especially on the numerical disparities. The major trends of the shifts in developments that have shaped violence acts as stated by the author are clear in the reflection of the numbers he presents. The historical revolutions across the world from the turn of the millennium and the twenty-first centuries attest to the growing concern of deaths through violence acts. However, the limited selection of data is not entirely persuasive according to the author’s claims. The aggregate consequences of actions responsible for derivation of violence are not used (Singer 1). The interests in the reduced figures only seem to favor the author’s view rather than the logical point.

            Through the data used by the author, there are better explanations to the reduction in violence and subsequent deaths. The author does not consider the separation of violence forms from the actual causes of the deaths in his data. For example, when he mentions the turn of the pacification process, the highlight is based on agricultural civilizations (Pinker 430). The period of anarchy through hunting, life-based on horticultural societies was on a naïve time. The author should have considered the necessities of acquiring land, possession, natural resource in the transition period as a contributor of the violence and deaths that came about. A better explanation can be obtained from the disregard of the hydraulic theory of violence by the author. Humans should have been portrayed to constitute sadistic, dominating and predatory nature of their tendencies before accepting civilization forms.

            The author is effective in the use of evolutionary psychology and biology in his explanations. The use of the coherent developments in human history enhances his reputation towards the violence and death claim. Characterization of the antecedents in movements aimed at reduction of judicial torture, slavery, sadistic punishment and superstitious killings enhanced the systematic pacifism by the author. The rational choice theory was indeed a masterstroke considering the metric of deaths through such forms as homicide.  Cultural materialism incorporated into the author’s investigations help strengthen his argument on the cause. For example, the clamor for unification and formation of larger kingdoms as opposed to separate territories indeed had a significant impact towards avenues of feuding nature. Revenge and retribution urges stemming from past events hold a vital role in the investigation as concerns the kind of justice and punishment offered to the perpetrators leading to significant number of deaths.

            The author’s argument would not have been strengthened without the incorporation of the above perspectives. This is because; the dimensions of the world and humanity are in the ever-changing phase. In the past years, due to relevance of the shift towards civilization, the deaths caused by deliberate acts of violence could not be quantified. The author is strengthened by these acts. In considerations of globalizations, changes through technology increase in feuding for resources, wealth and energy, the author’s argument is left weaker. A study on the psychological trends and natural evolutions of the same argument offer contradictory explanations to human nature as regards violence. Critics offer a journalistic approach of the author as opposed to science, religion and statistical extrapolations. The descriptive use of the rational choice only offers limited objection on moderation.


The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined by Steven Pinker is an argumentative book that seeks to investigate and explain the author’s claim on reduction of levels of violence and deaths that are resultant. Statistical data and analysis is represented in the in demonstrations to lay emphasis on the relevance of the theory. Five historical forces are sighted, which favor the motives towards peace. As informative and interesting as the claim by the author is contained in the explanations, it fails to assure on the reality and relevance of the violence levels. With the increased rates of conflicts between tribes, states, countries, religions and clamor for resources, energy and  territory, the book fails to justify the true rates of violence and deaths in the world.   

Works Cited:

Pinker, Steven. The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. New York: Viking, 2011. Print.

Singer, Peter. “Is Violence History?” The New York Times 6 October 2011. Print.

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