/delete rant about modern sensibilities
WSJ – Violence Vanquished
We believe our world is riddled with terror and war, but we may be living in the most peaceable era in human existence. Why brutality is declining and empathy is on the rise.
Quoting briefly, but read the whole thing:
A look at the numbers shows that over the course of our history, humankind has been blessed with six major declines of violence.
First, the pacification process during the transition from hunting and gathering to the first agrarian civilizations.
These investigations show that, on average, about 15% of people in prestate eras died violently, compared to about 3% of the citizens of the earliest states. Tribal violence commonly subsides when a state or empire imposes control over a territory, leading to the various “paxes” (Romana, Islamica, Brittanica and so on) that are familiar to readers of history.
The second decline of violence was a civilizing process that is best documented in Europe. Historical records show that between the late Middle Ages and the 20th century, European countries saw a 10- to 50-fold decline in their rates of homicide.
Then the Humanitarians during the Enlightenment getting rid of torture and burning at the stakes and those sorts of pleasant things, as well as:
At the same time, many nations began to whittle down their list of capital crimes from the hundreds (including poaching, sodomy, witchcraft and counterfeiting) to just murder and treason. And a growing wave of countries abolished blood sports, dueling, witchhunts, religious persecution, absolute despotism and slavery.
Fourth is the break from countries trying to invade each other since WWII, due to new democracies, trade, international organizations, and:
They also credit the rising valuation of human life over national grandeur—a hard-won lesson of two world wars.
Fifth is an end to proxy wars and sixth, civil rights:
In the developed world, the civil rights movement obliterated lynchings and lethal pogroms, and the women’s-rights movement has helped to shrink the incidence of rape and the beating and killing of wives and girlfriends.
In recent decades, the movement for children’s rights has significantly reduced rates of spanking, bullying, paddling in schools, and physical and sexual abuse. And the campaign for gay rights has forced governments in the developed world to repeal laws criminalizing homosexuality and has had some success in reducing hate crimes against gay people.
And then comes the conclusion, which is very good, but I especially liked this bit (I don’t suppose that breaking things up like this is a very good way of presenting an article to you people, so I do hope that you’re reading the whole thing):
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.
And now the second story. I can’t quote this one too much because it’s behind a paywall, but it’s about the saddest story ever, and just goes to show the first story’s point, that we don’t read the names out of this crew every anniversary on the evening news (ahem; see deleted section above):
The Gairsoppa’s cargo of 7,000,000 ounces of silver was worth £600,000 at the time, but with silver selling last week for £25 an ounce it could be worth up to £175 million.
An fun tale of lost treasure, right? Except, if you actually read the article, and I hope some of you can, you find out that:
• The Gairsoppa was traveling in a convoy from Calcutta when it ran out of coal and split off in Feb 1941
• Trying to get to Galway Harbour, it got torpedoed by a German U-boat.
• 80 people on board ultimately died, but 3 lifeboats were launched
• Only one of them, with 30 people, commanded by the second officer, got away
• It took them 3 weeks to get to the Cornish coast, by which point only 6 people were alive (grim)
• After all that, with land right in front of them, 5 died trying to get ashore
• Captain Ayres, the second officer, only survived because 3 schoolgirls (evacuated schoolgirls, for added ambience) spotted them struggling and notified the coastguard)
And, finally, just for an added kick:
• Of the four bodies retrieved, two were buried without names because they were Indian Lascars and Captain Ayres didn’t know them. Even after three weeks on the lifeboat, he didn’t know their names.