Saturday, May 31, 2014

A Less Violent World?


While reading the news, a couple of articles caught my attention.

The first is entitled, “World Becoming Less Violent: Despite Global Conflict, Statistics Show Violence in Steady Decline.” The article speaks to the thesis of three new books that outline how statistics reveal dramatic reductions in war deaths, family violence, racism, rape, murder, and all sorts of mayhem.  A quote from prominent Harvard psychologist, Steven Pinker, reads as follows: "The decline of violence may be the most significant and least appreciated development in the history of our species."  The article’s author writes that Pinker “makes the case that a smarter, more educated world is becoming more peaceful in several statistically significant ways.”  The writer then refers to stats suggesting that prior to the advent of organized countries, 500 of every 100,000 people were killed in battle.  Today, deaths on the battlefield are down to three-tenths of a person per 100,000.  Other stats affirm that the rate of genocide deaths per world population was 1,400 times greater in 1942 than in 2008.  In 1946, there were fewer than 20 democracies as compared to nearly 100 today.  Authoritarian countries have gone from a high of close to 90 in 1976 to more like 25 today.

Commenting on the claims suggesting that the world is a less violent place, in his article entitled, “Three reasons the number of refugees is as high as it is today,” Brian Stewart says, “But try telling that to the current wave of some 48 million refugees and displaced people from today's wars and conflict zones.”  Stewart proposes that the first reason is that conflicts are prolonged, some going on for decades.  He offers as a second reason the “shrinking of humanitarian space”—as the UN calls it—where the clashes are instigated by “non-state forces such as militias, insurgent groups, bands of religious fanatics, and bandits who terrorize civilians and aid workers alike.”  He suggests that the nature of these forces make it such that fewer rules are respected.  The result is that refugee camps are unsafe and aid workers are considered key targets.  He adds, “the more terror, the more refugees.”  Third, finding asylum elsewhere is quite difficult since more countries are literally putting up barricades to prevent the mass movement of these desperate people—including economic migrants and refugees alike—in their hunt for sanctuary.

I don’t know about you, but I am left shaking my head, trying to make sense of it all.  What is portrayed in the media would seem to paint a different picture.  If we accept the statistics suggesting that violence has declined, the number of refugees living throughout the world who are impacted by conflict seems to contradict the stats.  Admittedly, I have not read the books that were cited, but nevertheless, as a lay person, I couldn’t help but ask myself: Is it only the number of deaths by violence that has decreased, rather than the number of incidents of violence?  Could it be that the underlying message conveyed by the stats be a matter of semantics?  Since terror is surely a form of violence—in many instances—I’m wondering: Might there be more people affected by violence today than ever before?  If the numbers of refugees are correct, those numbers might help corroborate the answer to this question.  If someone accepts the proposed idea that a smarter and more educated population contributes to a more peaceful world, on the surface, there may appear to be some truth to the idea.  On the other hand, the insidious aspect of “terror” might suggest that the world has only become “smarter” about how it uses, dishes out, and handles violence.

Once again, this whole business and talk about violence has caused my brain to hurt!  I submit that violence is a tool used to get things out of or from others.  In fact, it appears as though it is often purposeful and designed to inflict pain and suffering on others.  I believe that there is something else at work behind the need for violence…  “What is it,” you ask?  As always I:  Blame it on fast foods.

- B. J. T. Pepin

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