Zuckenberg’s Year of Books: Recap of ‘The Better Angels of Our Nature’

Originally published at my medium blog.

Okay, so I just finished reading ‘The Better Angels of our Nature’ by Steven Pinker; the 2nd book of Zuckenberg’s ‘A Year of Book’ club. And here is a quick recap. If you haven’t seen my notes on the 1st book, you can check it out here.

In this book, Steven argues that violence has decreased over time. The writer discusses how violence was exercised in different times of the civilization. He argues that violence has reduced and explains why. The book starts with a vivid depiction of atrocities described in the Hebrew Bible, so detailed that I felt like ‘okay I understand, what’s next?’ But as I kept going, it became more and more appealing; opening new doors of historical, sociological and political paradigm in front of me.

Without further ado, here is my quick summary

  1. The religious brutality described in the Hebrew and Christian Bible, though fictitious, represents the thought process of the people of that time. But sensibilities toward violence have changed so much that religious people have compartmentalize their religious ideology. Their school of belief have rarely changed but their action is thoroughly tolerant and nonviolent. The writer calls it ‘a benevolent hypocrisy’.
  2. How did we get the name of our favorite drink ‘Bloody Mary’? The writer says that the name originated as the Queen Mary I of England burned 300 religious dissenters.
  3. Honor exist because everyone thinks that everyone else thinks it exists. [1]
  4. U.S. had higher homicide rate than other similar countries. Although U.S. can’t be thought of one single country, rather a collection of countries as the societal and cultural norm varies. The northern U.S. states has lower homicide rate than the southern U.S. states.
  5. War follows the power law distribution. That means it has a non-negligible probability of extreme outcome.
  6. But why war follows power law distribution? Because leaders keep increasing the atrocities of the war as time pass. As they have already spent much resource in the war, they want to avoid any chance of losing by increasing atrocity. This eventually causes wars to follow the power law distribution. [2]
  7. Many small wars cause more deaths than one fatal war.
  8. Probability of death from Boston to LA flight is same as 12 mile drive. [3]
  9. Predatory violence happens when suffering of the victim is very insignificant compared to the joy of the killer
  10. Institutional violence happens because of the societal and political rule.
  11. Will more women in power reduce violence? Yes.
  12. Women are the less violent sex of human species. Although, in any society, thought process of women are strongly correlated to their male counterparts.
  13. So what can we do to reduce violence? Increase ‘empathy’. Empathy has been a recent buzz but the writer believes that empathy alone is not a significant component for violence reduction. Empathy can hinder fairness and that in turn can cause violence.
  14. Self-control, promoting intelligence (as intelligent people believe in positive sum game), better government, people familiar with each other and women empowerment are some of the critical components towards a less violent world.
  15. Yamaguchi, the only survivor of the world’s two nuclear attack said that “The only people who should be allowed to govern countries with nuclear weapons are mothers, those who are still breast-feeding their babies”.

[1] Next time you wonder ‘what people will think’, remember this line.
[2] The same reason why we finish watching a bad movie if we have already paid for the ticket.
[3] After 9–11, an increasing number of people started travelling by road instead of air causing more travel related death than before.


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