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A History of Violence: Steven Pinker at TEDxNewEngland

  • Published on Nov 19, 2012
  • Contrary to the popular impression view that we are living in extraordinarily violent times, rates of violence at all scales have been in decline over the course of history. I explore how this decline could have happened despite the existence of a constant human nature.

    About TEDx:
    In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. At a TEDx event, TEDTalks video and live speakers combine to spark deep discussion and connection in a small group. These local, self-organized events are branded TEDx, where x = independently organized TED event. The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events are self-organized.* (*Subject to certain rules and regulations)

Comments • 92

  • Simone Bittencourt
    Simone Bittencourt Year ago +4

    Very interesting talk. He sounds so eloquent, so well-read. It was very pleasant to listen to his lecture. From what he points out, perhaps compared to other times, it seems that there is less violence in modern times like ours. However, for the ones who still suffer violence every day, violence feels like an endless occurrence. There are conflicts he has not mentioned like in the Middle East, for example.

  • Dustin Dewynne
    Dustin Dewynne 9 years ago

    Another amazing presentation from Steven Pinker! It is excellent to see so many aspects of human violence addressed. Perhaps a future talk will go even farther to show how other key acts of human violence fit into this trend. For example, I did not hear the word 'abortion' mentioned. I hope that isn't viewed as the "third rail" of this general topic. Obviously not as safe as analyzing, say, slavery. But it would make for an added dimension of awareness.

  • Brian Finnegan
    Brian Finnegan 2 years ago

    Love this guy, an objective view of our circumstance

  • Patrick
    Patrick Year ago +9

    Great talk. My only critique is that in his discussion of "The Great Peace" he doesn't mention the Vietnam, Iraq, or Afghan wars...

    • Jack Slack
      Jack Slack 4 months ago

      That's because, compared to the past, they're pretty lackluster. The only difference being in Afghanistan and Vietnam the length of the conflicts.

    • The Transmogrifer
      The Transmogrifer 4 months ago

      The man makes good points but programs like Pizzagate, MKULTRA, GITMO don't appear on most folks radar screens. MSM does it's best to make all of that appear "lone wolf" operations when, in fact, those are incredibly large .gov ops. Witness the Ghislaine Maxwell (a CIA/Mossad operative) and her father Robert's operation to subvert .gov via blackmail and extortion. Those intel organizations have MSM as justification and cover-up. All funded w/ many of the victim's parents tax revenue. Such irony. I am the Transmogrifer and I have witnessed what I report here. In memory of Gina Haspel and Josef Mengele... 32D20 1970-1972

  • Muhammad Jawad
    Muhammad Jawad 4 years ago +19

    What I don't understand is how come this video has such small no of views!
    Extremely underrated talk

    • Dux Garnifex
      Dux Garnifex 2 years ago

      RU-clip changed its algorithms a while back that misrepresent the number of views and their need to pay out. The demonetized a bunch of channels during this time and doxxed quite a few popular folks like Senor Alejandro Jones of Austin Texas and is followed by numerous information warriors. He is now the most banned media personality in the world.

  • morgan Taylor
    morgan Taylor 3 years ago +3

    This is encouraging as it does show the trajection of history upward, but it's completely western focused. Every country he listed is in the global north and west. I'm watching this video conducting research on the nature of violence and the middle east/MENA region, which is left untouched. Also the cold war wasn't really zero wars, while the feared world war III did not break out, numerous bloody proxy wars did throughout the global south. A good talk, but not without some flaws and limitations.

  • Sam Bush
    Sam Bush 7 years ago +6

    I think it's an interesting argument that prehistorical people were more violent because they lacked government. If anything, organized government created more violence because it created social structures and surplus to fuss over. In prehistoric (hunter/gather) times, it would seem that there weren't elitist classes and mostly everything would be shared within the group.

    • valar
      valar 6 years ago +8

      +Sam Bush Anthropologists are in basic agreement that hunter-gatherer societies are egalitarian, where everything is shared within the group. That isn't the same as peaceful, however. The archaeological evidence is there, and it''s pretty comprehensive. It's also remarkably consistent with the rates of violence found in modern hunter-gatherer and tribal societies before central government came along, which on average had the same violent death rate as prehistoric societies, 15%.

      I would hypothesize that violence among individuals in a tribe was lower, but violence between tribes was higher. Other tribes would often have no incentive to cooperate with you, and perhaps not even the capability to (unintelligible languages etc.) and a lot of incentive to exterminate you and therefore have access to all of the resources your tribe controlled.

  • valar
    valar 6 years ago +6

    Otzi the Iceman had the blood of two people on an arrowhead in his possession, the blood of a third on his knife, the blood of a fourth on his coat (perhaps from carrying a wounded companion), and was himself mortally wounded by an arrow and possibly killed with a blow to the head.

  • zaknefain100
    zaknefain100 3 years ago +3

    The US has moved away from physical torture to, financial torture. If you've ever been unfortunate enough to undergo the process, even if your crime was non-violent in nature, you'll learn this first hand.

  • sillymonkey8888
    sillymonkey8888 8 years ago +16

    A moment of violence is not always as bad as a life of fear. Our bodies can recover (but not always), but we carry our fears with us to our dreams which effect our lives and can sometimes be more damaging in the long run if we let our fears rule our lives.

    • Gerard T
      Gerard T 2 years ago

      They're not mutually exclusive

    • PNHassett
      PNHassett 3 years ago +1

      Try living with a chronic irritable alcoholic bipolar father who put a knife to my brother's throat and we'll talk. Most psychological problems are a result of chronic devaluation and bad parenting .

    • valar
      valar 6 years ago

      @sillymonkey8888 He's talking about violent deaths though - a moment of violence is worse than a lifetime of fear if you end up dead. I imagine hunter-gatherers probably spent a lot of time living in fear too, if they were not on the lower end of his graph - they had to worry about whether they would be attacked, if there was a safe place to sleep for the night, etc.

  • Ironwill Games
    Ironwill Games 8 years ago +6

    Violence... It just doesn't pay as much as it did! Great talk! :D

  • rfvtgbzhn
    rfvtgbzhn 4 years ago +1

    About the Death Penalty in England in the 18th century: while it is true, that it was also used for very minor offenses, most offenders where not executed, but deported to colonies like Australia.

    So it was basically a tool to force poor people to help the British Empire in colonization.

  • Anatoly Smolyansky

    Pinker is my fave cognitive psychologist and linguist.
    Read his book:
    Language, Cognition, and Human Nature

  • Enryu Wolfgang
    Enryu Wolfgang 2 years ago

    Amazing video, thank you

  • Jens Kjeldgaard-Christiansen

    The European version I have is 800 pages long! Luckily, Pinker is a great writer, so it's not a hurdle to get through :)

  • Teri Spears
    Teri Spears 8 years ago

    Thanks for the information it is something to think about.

  • The Doctor
    The Doctor 2 years ago

    The sad thing is that we are living at a time when most conflict could be eliminated if only the Western democracies of the world would, together, link trade to human rights in a positive and consistent way. It is primarily the global market race-to-the-bottom that keeps exploitation, oppression and the military industrial complex, profitable.

    Linking trade to human rights would make everybody better off by creating a stronger incentive toward freedom, than the current overwhelming incentive toward oppression. Oppression is what leads to conflict, and conflict leads to unstable governments by encouraging hatred and blame.

    • Moon Striker
      Moon Striker Year ago

      You'd have to completely eliminate competition between corps for that to stop, and than you'd have to cross over to communism/socialism which are some of those utopian nightmares that were proclaimed to be biggest instigators of violence by Pinker himself... and he is right too, the leftist utopia-regimes are unmatched record holders in slaughtering poeple. This is why despite thinking that Pinker is bit of genius, he is also only right in this current interval of time, completely wrong in the long term.

  • Yasmine Khalida
    Yasmine Khalida Month ago

    Very interesting and orderly talk

  • Touch Pu'uhonua
    Touch Pu'uhonua 9 years ago

    Dustin: You'll find a much more complete treatment, including abortion and infanticide in Pinker's book "The Better Angels Of Our Nature". I highly recommend it to anyone willing to tackle an information-rich book of about 700 pages.

  • John Dearing
    John Dearing 4 years ago +2

    For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. His graphs and numbers while interesting when taken as a whole I think you will find that within individual groups violence has in fact increased and will continue to increase as time marches ever onwards.

    • Moon Striker
      Moon Striker Year ago

      "..you will find that within individual groups violence has in fact increased.." His graphs shows that it decreased radically. Pay more attention.

  • valar
    valar 6 years ago +4

    @***** That doesn't mean societies got more violent, it just means *organized* warfare increased. But these states suppressed the pattern of incessant low-level warfare and raiding that had characterized life beforehand. So the overall violent death rate fell, according to evidence presented in his book. The rest of the video goes into very hard to refute statistics about murder rates in the Middle Ages and the abolition of judicial torture and slavery which you would have found out if you had kept watching.

  • Paul Le Clercq
    Paul Le Clercq 8 years ago +1

    Just shows you how our perceptions can be wrong...

  • CNN is Fake News
    CNN is Fake News Year ago

    Fact check. Pinker claims that "slavery was legal all over the globe" min 6.58 insinuating that it only started to be abolished in the 18th century. Slavery was abolished in the British Isles and European mainland LONG before then. It was abolished in the British Isles in the 11th century and was never reinstated. Special dispensation was given to colonists in the New World but they were forbidden to transport slaves to or via the Isles.

  • Svetlana De Light

    Thank you 🙏

  • David Boson
    David Boson 8 years ago +4

    the security industry claims to be the fastest growing industry. And rates of anxiety have increased significantly in western nations, with the prescription of anti anxiety drugs undergoing a massive increase .

    So the fear of violence is increasing and yet the rates of violence is decreasing - wonder who is benefiting?

  • Venera Mannapova
    Venera Mannapova Year ago +2

    ...when some country buts in into a civil war...we all know what country that usually is.

  • Kyle Rybski
    Kyle Rybski 8 years ago

    Pinker doesn't make that claim, however. He proposes it as one possibility ("Maybe Hobbes was right"), but also lays out multiple alternatives.

  • Jim Cameron
    Jim Cameron 10 months ago

    I once saw Pinker throat chop a guy in the same time it takes you to say, "in your face Charles Bronson".

  • golden Phoenix
    golden Phoenix 6 months ago

    I would like to see the data in regards to native american, indigenous people since the 1800's we seem to be ignored or silenced as an actual genocide..

  • ruairihair
    ruairihair 8 years ago +2

    Violence may have declined but nobody said anything about a decline in stupidity I suppose.

  • Simon Wood
    Simon Wood 3 years ago +4

    So first his statistical samples are too selective - no suicide levels, no prison incarceration levels and no talk about the biggest killer of 20th and 21st century war, not death in battle but wars’ byproducts famine, disease and population displacement. Second he chooses deliberately skewed measures - death in battle per 100,000 people doesn’t give a great analysis given that world population has risen so dramatically. On that scale you could say there has been a ‘big drop in US population in the last 50 years’ because proportionally there has compared to world population. Thirdly he looks for social causes, ignoring the basic fact that correlation doesn’t equal causation. An equally good reason for less violence in Europe and America could be post war birth control meaning less battles for resources in countries that were already rich, (the freakonomics reason of legalized abortion might sound too jarring next to less violence against children for any pro-lifers in the audience?) or perhaps TV and media’s rise meaning a socialized population with similar ethics. The talk of “commerce” is also interesting - why doesn’t he just say capitalism caused less violence. Finally he has literally no time measure that is consistent - violence is going down because it has since the Middle Ages is the start point but then its all about declines since a rather convenient mid 1950s start date. This talk exposes the weakness of TED as a format - fundamentally you can’t talk rationally about something like this in this length of time without interlocutors.

    • Murray
      Murray 2 years ago

      Well said Simon. Mr. Pinker is very premature in arguing his point. I will have concede to accept his "facts" but basing things on percentages seems to brush aside the unbearable amount of actual bodies that are murdered in nearly every third world country. I guess Mr Pinker wants us to be happy that sometimes several days go by without any mass shootings. I also must point out that this is a privileged white man speaking to a room a privileged scholars and others. Most of which haven't seen their countries ravaged by violence at least not up close and personal.

  • rooster 01
    rooster 01 2 years ago

    Pinker is a cool cat.

  • Sebastian Koehn
    Sebastian Koehn 7 years ago +2

    I found it not clear about the date 5000 years ago and its realationship with civilization so i google it and found: The Bronze Age occurred roughly between 3000 BC and 2500 BC. The previous millennium had seen the emergence of advanced, urbanized civilizations, new bronze metallurgy extending the productivity of agricultural work, and highly developed ways of communication in the form of writing. In the 3rd millennium BC, the growth of these riches, both intellectually and physically, became a source of contention on a political stage, and rulers sought the accumulation of more wealth and more power. Along with this came the first appearances of mega architecture, imperialism, organized absolutism and internal revolution.
    The civilizations of Sumer and Akkad in Mesopotamia became a collection of volatile city-states in which warfare was common.[citation needed] Uninterrupted conflicts drained all available resources, energies and populations. In this millennium, larger empires succeeded the last, and conquerors grew in stature until the great Sargon of Akkad pushed his empire to the whole of Mesopotamia and beyond. It would not be surpassed in size until Assyrian times 1,500 years later.

    So there was civilization, he starts with a false premise. Finish it watching at...1:42

  • jacky laibach
    jacky laibach Year ago +2

    Since you put communism as ideological motive for violence you should sourly put capitalism as ideological motive for violence too mr. Stinker? Didn't you say that exploitation is the first motive for violence?

  • Jens Kjeldgaard-Christiansen

    Why should it?

  • Shway
    Shway 8 years ago +3

    that's a very loose definition of violence

  • Paul Dirac
    Paul Dirac 8 years ago +2

    Methinks you know big words and nothing else!

  • Janes Smith
    Janes Smith 6 years ago

    trade - means exchange with profit and because you do not create any thing, you suck dry creators of necessities for life.

  • Matthew Voigt
    Matthew Voigt 8 years ago +2

    So there's a decline in stats due to an increase in population, or is this taken into account??

    • HitchSlap32
      HitchSlap32 4 years ago +4

      No bro, it's normalized

    • Matthew Voigt
      Matthew Voigt 8 years ago

      more murders just more people to drive down the average

  • soco
    soco 8 years ago +2

    Per 100,000 people, but the worlds population has doubled over the past 2 generations? Doesn't this affect the figures?

  • Vikt0rEremita
    Vikt0rEremita 8 years ago

    Go on...

  • Teri Spears
    Teri Spears 8 years ago


  • Craig Benz
    Craig Benz 3 years ago +3

    Hunting is not violence. I left you when you said we should all be slaves of the state. Bye now.

  • Vikt0rEremita
    Vikt0rEremita 8 years ago +1

    the inclusion of violence against the environment and its nonhuman creatures would be enough to refute his misleadingly optimistic argument. not to mention the dispossession of people from their land, subsistence and culture by capital, unemployment, increasing disparity between the rich and poor, the subtle socio-psychological violence of anomie and generalized anxiety,'mood disorders'. failure to tally these insidious forms of structural violence is itself a kind of violence of interpretation.

  • Johann Bogason
    Johann Bogason 4 years ago +5

    how boring... but nice curls!