Monday, December 3, 2012

Where to begin?

It is December 3, 11 years after "9/11".  What is the world like today?  There are so many contradictory opinions.
Steven Pinker, in The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined seems optimistic, arguing, with a respectable marshalling of evidence, that people are overall more reasonable and less bloodthirsty now than at any other time.  He cites the work of self-proclaimed "atrocitologist" Matthew White who has worked hard to contradict the common view that the 20th century tops all others, with its two world wars and death tolls in the 10s of millions from totalitarianism in the USSR and China.  A good source for a summary of White's work is a New Scientist article at Several events like the reign of Genghis Khan, and the An Lushan Rebellion, which you probably never heard of, were several times worse than the total atrocities of the 20th century.

But the uniqueness of the present moment makes such extrapolation very doubtful in my view.  When the An Lushan Rebellion was going on in 8th century China, Europeans would not have had any idea it was happening.  Now the world is totally connected, and it is unknowable how much damage a handful of people can do.

Eleven years ago, a few dozen men, directed from one of the poorest most primitive nations on earth destroyed thousands of lives and many billions of dollars in property, and threw the world into chaos using box knives and a modest amount of training in flying giant passenger jets.

No, I don't think this is the place to begin.

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