Despite the Bad News… The World is Safer Today
Despite the Bad News… The World is Safer Today
The news of bombings by Al Qaeda and Iranian militias and ISIS’s crimes have left the Middle East’s map stained with blood. However, if we were to look beyond this and our devastated region, examining the broader world, we would see that the rates of violence have receded to a degree unparalleled in human history. That means that we are more peaceful than our ancestors of passed decades and even centuries, when blood was at times spilled because of mere personal insults or even just for fun. The world wars of the past are no more (the last world war began 70 years ago), and the odds of new world wars erupting between great powers are close to nil. It is a well-established fact that democracies do not wage wars against one another, and that is precisely why Western powers strive to transform the majority of the world’s countries into democracies, to reduce the chances of barbaric wars, which are usually caused by tyrannical regimes (like those of Hitler, Mussolini, Saddam Hussein, and others).
With all the mistakes committed by Bush Jr.’s administration in Iraq, the main idea behind the war was planting Middle Eastern democracies in which citizens could live in freedom and power changes hands peacefully, which would reduce tensions and reduce acrimony. Of course, in hindsight, we can see that it was naïve, but the goal was to reduce violence in the near term, even if that demanded the use of force for a limited period. However, the two world wars took more than 70 million lives, and it is difficult to imagine seeing those kinds of figures today. The main reason for this is the rise of the United States, a global liberal capitalist force that made the world in its image and prevented new wars from erupting. Because of the absence of this overwhelming political force, world wars separated by only a few years erupted in the first half of the 20th century, and they disappeared after that.
Strangely, the rise of the idea of the state, which had in the past been a cause for violence, is what reduced violence in the end. After it matured and expanded, it tamed its behavior and became defined by its monopoly on the use of violence, which is constrained by the law, which means that no one else can use violence. In the past, tribes and ethnic and religious groups would enforce their laws themselves and commit murder on a broad scale. However, the rise of the state as the only entity allowed to use force brought social, class-based, and other kinds of violence to an end, and states became the ones to make the decisions.
Some states are unable to confront some tribal customs, like honor killings, and we see violence rising in those places. Some bogus regimes have also contributed to increasing violence and dedicated entire apparatuses to commit crimes. A short while ago, a barbaric mob killed a young woman on charges of insulting the Holy Quran in Pakistan, a charge that it later became apparent was malicious. They enforced their laws themselves, with the state completely absent. It is not hard to imagine how crime and murder rates would increase if such groups became the prosecutor, judge, and executioner.
Going beyond wars, armies and states, individual violence has also declined at an unprecedented rate. Only a few of us will die as a result of the kinds of wide violence seen in the past.
Today, the odds of dying at the hands of another are far lower, and this is what psychologist Steven Pinker calls “the triumph of the better angels of our nature,” by which he means the triumph of the good in us over our evil natures. That happened for material reasons, not by chance. Human behavior was civilized through the victory of reason over fantasy since the European Enlightenment Era. This contributed to posing important and unavoidable questions about how logic of matters like slavery and torture, and the rise of the culture of human rights followed. The view of society based on human rights gave women, children, and ethnic groups the rights that they had been deprived of. Of course, the expansion of global trade was also a reason behind the longstanding period of peace we have been living in because of the shared interests and common projects that create new opportunities for cooperation and alleviating hostility.
The absence of these political and intellectual developments in other places around the world, like the Middle East and Africa, explains the increased number of victims in them. Despite that, and in contrast with visions that idealize the past and are pessimistic about the future, grandsons are more peaceful and civil than their grandparents had been, or they are less violent at least. That calls for optimism.