Pinker notes, accurately enough, that the growth of agricultural states and enforcement technology (swords, spears, arrows, etc.) allowed centralizing monarchs to cut down hunter-gatherer personal violence which was horrendous and daily. Enlightenment Monarchs in Europe further cut down violence that was constant and grinding by eradicating banditry, enforcing laws, and promoting safety. This is why native European martial arts and weaponry, including staff fighting, knife fighting, bludgeon fighting, and unarmed combat disappeared save Savate in Marseilles, an ultra-violent port that kept that art alive until the Twentieth Century turned it into a sport. All of this is true.
But what Pinker does not contemplate, is how violence particularly in Europe and China was compressed. True Renaissance peoples did not slaughter each other personally as Dark Ages people did, let along hunter gatherers … most of the time. But a third of German speakers were killed in the Thirty Years War 1618-1648 and the terms Magdeburg Quarter entered the terminology of Europe. In China, the Taiping Rebellion wiped out 20 million people between 1850 and 1864.
Technology and new social orders tended to suppress day to day violence. Neighbor did not stick a spear into neighbor, because he had run off with a daughter or wife. Disputes were adjudicated by the state, even in Aztec Mexico. Bernal Diaz Del Castillo in his "Conquest of Mexico" first-hand account notes how Montezuma spent hours every day listening to people who came before him to judge disputes, this from a people who practiced ritual human sacrifice and cannibalism (as did, notes Diaz del Castillo, all their neighbors and the allies of the Spanish).
BUT … when the state loses control, or warfare becomes "total" with new weaponry that makes old orders obsolete, as in the 1600's, or again in the 1940's, horror emerges. Ordinary Japanese men, often under strict orders from high commanders NOT to engage in rape, pillage and murder, and facing an advancing enemy, spent all their time doing so. The destruction of Manila as American forces advanced in contravention of the commanding officer's orders is one example. Done by men who would not have dreamed of ever doing that in Japan. The violence exacerbated by a civilian population accustomed to obeying orders and unable to offer any real resistance anyway.
Violence, by being so rare, becomes almost viral when it does break out, infecting people with horrific results. There is a scene in the otherwise tedious and boring movie "the Debt," where the villainous Nazi doctor says he knew they would succeed when Jews handed over their children. Von Wallenstein and Tilly were hardly nice men. But they would have found it inconceivable to boast of such a thing, because for them, violence was a path to glory. The idea, of killing children as a means to become a famous and accomplished man would have seemed like … madness. One only became famous by fighting a powerful foe that could certainly destroy you. There was nothing to be found of glory in killing children, old men, women, and defenseless men. Though certainly they did that, on attacks on towns, their views of violence was that their glory came in open battle against a foe well able to defeat them.
Now we come to the heart of Pinker's argument. Like the "War Nerd" Gary Brecher, Pinker believes that somehow humans have stopped becoming violent, and that war will no longer break out because, well dammit human nature changed. He hand-waves the wars and civil wars that have broken out since the end of the Cold War and nuclear duopoly, including the Iran-Iraq War in the twilight of the Cold War, the Central African Wars of 1998-Present (about ten million dead or so), the Sri Lankan Civil War, the constant wars in Sudan, Somalia, and Afghanistan, the Iraq War, the Afghan War, 9/11 and the prospect for non-state violence not seen since the Treaty of Westphalia (growth of non-state militias). Pinker points to globalization and trade, ignoring that some societies are permanent losers in that unless they …
USE WAR TO CONQUER OTHER PEOPLES.
Look at Egypt. It cannot as Spengler/David P. Goldman notes, feed its people, manufacture anything worth buying, or produce literate people let alone engineers and other college graduates who are employable. All it has is War. The hope of conquering Israel, taking the Mediterranean gas fields, and then going on to conquer perhaps weak Italy, rich in resources, slaves, food, land, and without any meaningful defenses or even the will to defend itself.
Egypt, in order to survive without war, would have to deep six all of Islam, spend its time studying math and science not heaving their butts into the air five times a day, use the scientific method not something written in the Koran to figure out the world, teach their women to read and write, outlaw polygamy, give women equal rights, allow religious freedom and intellectual freedom, and promote a national concept of hard work and studying. Egypt would have to copy … China. And they cannot even be China, much less South Korea, Japan, or Finland. All that would destroy nearly everything that makes Egyptian society. The same goes for nearly all of the Muslim world, which would have to cease being Muslim if it is to eat, unless it makes war.
What Pinker does not realize, is that the AK-47, easy GPS, nuclear weapons from Pakistan, Iran, China, and so on, allow a vast equalization. Pakistan can cow the US, attacking our embassy in Kabul according to Admiral Mike Mullen in sworn Congressional Testimony, because they have nukes and we are afraid of them. The same is true for all those North African regimes. Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya cannot feed their people. But they can cross the Med in boats, come ashore in Italy, France, and Spain, and simply take over. Killing any who object. That's violence, and violent enslavement. Which awaits Europeans who have a toy/pretend military and no will to use even that.
An example of Pinker's blinkered, utopian views are below:
Another pacifying force has been commerce, a game in which everybody can win. As technological progress allows the exchange of goods and ideas over longer distances and among larger groups of trading partners, other people become more valuable alive than dead. They switch from being targets of demonization and dehumanization to potential partners in reciprocal altruism.
For example, though the relationship today between America and China is far from warm, we are unlikely to declare war on them or vice versa. Morality aside, they make too much of our stuff, and we owe them too much money.
A third peacemaker has been cosmopolitanism—the expansion of people's parochial little worlds through literacy, mobility, education, science, history, journalism and mass media. These forms of virtual reality can prompt people to take the perspective of people unlike themselves and to expand their circle of sympathy to embrace them.
The War Nerd has said the same thing, and much the same was said in … 1913. Britain and Germany simply traded too much with each other to go to War. This was also said in 1938, and of the US and Japan in 1940, which had considerable trade.
What neither the War Nerd nor Pinker really understand is how much of a loser globalization makes a lot of societies and people. Now Egypt, as Spengler notes, has to compete with China for food. As does, note, the US. The US can compete, because it is a richer society. Egypt cannot. So it is starve or war. Egypt will choose … war. Because the cost of War has gone down.
Most "loser societies" do not believe that they will pay any real price for War, and discount their enemies ability to match their "fighting spirit" and willingness to win. Advantages in jet planes or nukes are discounted, and perhaps not too unrealistically. Israel in 1973 had nukes, and Egypt still attacked it. Israel at one point faced annihilation by Egypt, and did not face nukes. If Israel did not use them, in its then greatest hour of need, would it ever? [Likely, not.]
Western societies are often, for the most part, unable to offer violence in any meaningful way. Save fantasy violence in movies, and the idea expressed in recent TV shows and movies that the public wants violence done on its behalf to be safe, no more 9/11's, but does not want to know how it was done or who did it. The violence is kept secret. No bodies in Afghanistan show, nor in Iraq now, though there are plenty. Still even less coverage of people killed by drone attacks in Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, Libya, tribal Pakistan, and rumored, Kenya, Tanzania, Eritrea, and Ethiopia.
Meanwhile "loser societies" remain immersed in violence. Violence in unimaginable and unreported ways permeate every inch of daily life, particularly in Muslim society and Latin American society. Santa Muerte or a thinly Catholicized Aztec Death-God, demanding human sacrifice, is rising, with people being tortured and killed over Twitter comments. Often the mass violence has no purpose save the satiating of the killers desires for murder and death. Given the widespread prevalence of human sacrifice and cannibalism that the Conquistadors found in Mexico (not just the Aztecs, EVERY TRIBE DID IT), you might argue that Mexico is reverting to pre-Columbian violent type.
Muslims have daily violence in their society on a deeply personal level, widespread, as well. Women are genitally mutilated, often honor killed, rape is done by judicial punishment, hanging and stoning to death for adultery is on the rise, child brides are increasing, and so is violence between Shia and Sunni, and against all non-Muslims unlucky enough to live in lands filled with Muslims in any number. This is the advantage, so Muslim thinkers and Mexican Drug cartel members alike, view versus the weak and soft West which is unable and unwilling to deal out violence except when it can massively pretend it is not.
Pinker and Brecher alike share in my view, a fundamental flaw by accepting the past as an absolute prediction of the future. They overestimate trade and cosmopolitanization. As Mark Steyn notes, the arrow of civilization does not go one way, women in Cairo in the graduating class of the University looked modern in 1959, and still fairly modern in dress in 1979. Today they are muffled in Burquas. Kabul in the 1950's had women in modern dress in record shops.
Most of the world's population lives in a place where people worship Santa Muerte, or the governments urge them to please on no account kill and eat Pygmies or Albinos for magic powers, or where women are honor killed because they talked to the wrong boy. These are places where commerce means only poverty, because now they must pay more for food and everything else, and they have nothing to sell. These are places where violence is a way of life, constant and casual, and where it is viewed as the best way to get ahead in life.
Globalization has hotwired these places right into Western civilization, and they are not being removed any time soon. Violence, and disturbing violence, are only going to increase. Why? Because the State is a joke, unable to stop violence any more (quick how many Flash Mobs have been crushed) and only able to send middle class people to jail for improperly filling their recycle trash bins. While all the while lacking any external measures to deal with violence except things done in secret and willingly ignored.
Pinker, and Brecher, are state of the art circa say, 1975. Today, they don't grasp that failing states all over the globe (particularly in the West where violence to suppress greater violence is not allowed against non-Whites, see the London riots) running hand in hand with moral pretensions, are easy pickings for failed societies that live in violence. For now, the great majority of Santa Muerte's violence stays South of the Border. That is unlikely to remain so, any more than Muslim violence will remain mostly outside of the West either.