Pinker Visits Allston Library To Discuss Violence

You are safer than you think.

According to Harvard psychology professor Steven A. Pinker, who gave a talk about his book “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined” at the Honan-Allston Branch of the Boston Public Library Tuesday evening, we are in the least violent era of human history.

The lecture is one in a series of Harvard-sponsored talks in Boston Public Libraries featuring prominent University faculty members, including University President Drew G. Faust and Dean of the College Evelyn M. Hammonds.

Harvard Associate Vice President for Communications and Public Affairs Kevin Casey said that the purpose of the talk—and the lecture series as a whole—is to demonstrate Harvard’s commitment to being “part of the fabric of both the Boston and Cambridge communities.”

During the lecture, Pinker said that we are living in a period of history in which “the number, duration, and deadliness of wars are all in decline.”

“We are entering the first decade of the twenty-first century with an unprecedented low death-rate,” he said.

Pinker cited statistics from inter- and intra-state wars, domestic violence, crime, and genocide to support his thesis, crediting “human experience and ingenuity” for the decreases in violence, and emphasizing the importance of focusing “not just on what we are doing wrong, but what we are doing right [to decrease violence].”

Many attendees had read Pinker’s recent book on violence and trends. Sonia R. Rosner, a Harvard doctoral student at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, has read the book and said the lecture was a fair summary.

“The book is...700 pages long, to get the central thesis into a 45-minute talk is to compress and gloss over a lot of details in the book,” Rosner said.

While Pinker noted that the death-rate in the U.S. is higher than in other “developed countries,” he said that this lag could be attributed to Conservative states.

“The U.S. is really two countries,” he said. “Blue states are smack in the middle of this progression [toward a lower death rate] while red states are very far behind.”

Pinker spent a majority of the lecture discussing the United States. But Brazil native Andrea McKae, a graduate student at Boston University who attended the lecture, said that the lecture gave her a new perspective on violence in her home country.

“I never thought of it this way,” McKae said. “I’m originally from Brazil. Coming from Brazil, we have lots of violence so it’s hard for me to believe there is less violence.”

Pinker said he was eager to be a part of Harvard’s effort to reach out to the greater community, especially in Allston.

“Harvard obviously has a big footprint in Allston, and it’s going to get bigger,” he said. “The least it could do is share what it does best—knowledge—with the community.”

—Staff writer Mercer R. Cook can be reached at mcook@college.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer Caroline M. McKay can be reached at carolinemckay@college.harvard.edu.

Tags