Thursday, January 03, 2013


Every now and again I read something that makes me violent. This would be one of those things. The final two paragraphs sum up this guy's position quite well:

Violence doesn’t come from movies or video games or music. Violence comes from people. It’s about time people woke up from their 1960s haze and started being honest about violence again. People are violent, and that’s OK. You can’t legislate it away or talk your way around it. Based on the available evidence, there’s no reason to believe that world peace will ever be achieved, or that violence can ever be “stopped.”

It’s time to quit worrying and learn to love the battle axe. History teaches us that if we don’t, someone else will.

Square that with this book (which really is a must-read) asserting, and proving by means of rigorous research, that as awful as the past century has been, it's been by far the most peaceful century in human history.

We are getting better, albeit "History", I once read, "consists of human beings finding better ways to kill each other with rocks. Once, we bashed our foes over the head with them. Now we split the rocks into atoms, and then split those...."
This is an awfully cynical view of human progress. Consider torture. As the linked review says, it was once (and not all that long ago!) considered public entertainment. Your disdain for the last movie you saw aside, torture is neither public nor entertainment nowadays; where it still exists, it's carried out in secret and obscured by euphemistic language. Why? Because the majority of citizens have come to disagree, strongly, with what they once found compelling.

It is true that violence is still far too common (for my taste, at least). And it is also true that the threat of violence is a useful tool. The media tends to blow its boogeyman-du-jour up out of all proportion. The current dark threat is of course fundamentalist Islam, which to be fair does satisfy all the boogeyman prerequisites: 1) They hate us; 2) They kill -- a LOT; and 3) in a hundred years' time, it's very likely bin Laden and his coreligionists will be a minor historical footnote, nothing more.

That Jonathan Kay article is really worth the read. Have you ever heard of Luigi Galleani? I certainly hadn't. Yet this man's followers were responsible for numerous terrorist attacks in the 1920s, one of which killed 38 people about five hundred yards from what we now call Ground Zero. That the death toll was comparatively modest speaks only to the tools available at the time and not the zeal that fuelled the attack.

Death cults like Galleanism and Islamicism do not last long. Eventually people get sick and tired of death. That's a human constant.

If we really wanted to speed up the pacifying of human society, we certainly could. I'm not arguing for the forced sterilization of murderers and rapists, along with all their first-degree relatives...but the approach would be undeniably effective.
(This idea comes from--is culled from, you might say--Robert J. Sawyer's Neanderthal Parallax trilogy, which is among the best works of science fiction I've ever read.)
I brought this up in an online debate today and had to don flame-retardant underwear. "Sterilization is violence!" said one person. Oh, really? It's a painless procedure which leaves no mark and does not affect  a life beyond its potential to propagate.  (A sterilized father is still a father; a sterilized virgin is still a virgin).
Others were horrified that I would suggest punishing an innocent family for the crimes of one of its members. Well, I'm not suggesting anything, really. Neither, I think, was Sawyer. But eugenics is something we're going to have to come to terms with, and soon; already we know the genetic determinants of many diseases, and have the means to edit them out. All it would take for Sawyer's scenario to come up would be a subset of the population collectively deciding that violence is the symptom of a disease and the genes for that disease being decoded...

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