Steven Pinker: The surprising decline in violence | Talk Video | TED.com

Posted on July 20, 2014

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If you’re upset by all of the horror going on in the world recently then watch this. It offers valuable perspective about how we’re living in the most peaceful time in human history despite it seeming the very opposite. Steven Pinker, psycholinguistics professor at MIT, goes into the cold hard facts and a little informed speculation about why life in the past was so violent and deadly and that in fact we are living in extremely peaceful times. He points out the fact that our standards about human life has changed, so even though violent death is far more rare, we’re actually more outraged by it. This is a good thing as it was routine for humans to witness and participate in public executions, vendetta killings, tit-for-tat violence of warring communities, slavery, and so on. This is not to minimize the horrendous events of late that we should very much be paying attention to and doing whatever we can to change things in order to make the world even more peaceful, its just to give us perspective and let us appreciate the peace and stability we actually enjoy on a daily basis. The problem is the vividness of these negative events causes the emotional parts of the brain to override of thoughts and shape our memory. If we have many negative high impact memories then what we think about and expect from the world is heavily influencing how we view it since thinking and understanding is basically the processing of memories and perceptions. Take the following example:

You’re at the movies watching a film you’ve been eagerly anticipating for a long time. It’s been running 95 of it’s 100 minutes and the jerkface behind you answers his phone and starts talking, he then kicks your seat and unleashes a loud belch. You’re livid. Later when you’re friends ask how the movie was you tell him about the jerk bag that totally ruined the movie for you. You couldn’t enjoy it because of him. And in your memory of the event him behaving badly is what stands out. But if you think about it, for 95% of the movie you actually were completely engrossed in the plot, laughing away, not thinking about your problems. The large majority of the time it was very pleasant and only 5 minutes was awful. It’s seems rather unfair to let that 5 minutes completely ruin the majority of which you actually enjoyed. What we’re seeing in the news is that awful 5%. So we can choose to be aware of the good that surrounds us every day. You’re family and friends, the good food you get to eat, the non-stop entertainment at your fingertips, your peaceful place of worship you can go to and fellowship at, the park you can walk in, or the pool you can swim in, etc. And then just try to be nice to yourself and others. What else can we do? We did our part.


Steven Pinker: The surprising decline in violence | Talk Video | TED.com
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