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Old 09-22-2016, 04:28 PM
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Post Is the World Falling Apart - Read on

You may think the world is falling apart. Steven Pinker is here to tell you it isn't.
by Julia Belluz on September 10, 2016

RE: http://www.vox.com/2016/8/16/1248658...rump-terrorism (note: the actual site has pictures and graphs)


If the last few months felt like the summer of sadness, you are not alone.

Every week, sometimes every day, seems to have brought more stomach-turning news. In June, there was the Orlando nightclub shooting, where dozens were killed and injured in the deadliest terror attack in the US since 9/11. Then came Julyís blood-soaked Bastille Day in Nice, when a terrorist drove a truck over holiday revelers, killing 84 people, including 10 children. Before the month was over, ISIS militants had assassinated a French priest in his church and executed the patrons and staff at a cafe in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
These are just the more gruesome terror events that grabbed headlines ó and only those carried out this summer. Iíve made no mention of what happened in Paris over the last year, or the airport killings in Brusselsand Istanbul, or, for that matter, San Bernardino.
And these are just the terrorist attacks. Iíve said nothing of the flaring racial tensions in the US, police shootings of black men, or the multiplereprisal shootings of officers ó a cycle that played out again in August in Milwaukee, where protests erupted into burning riots following the police shooting death of 23-year-old black man Sylville Smith.
The political discourse of late hasnít done much to soothe the anger or quell the hate. If anything, itís inflamed matters. As Nick Kristof noted in the Times recently, Donald Trump is making America meaner, inciting violence toward immigrants and even his opponent, Hillary Clinton. ("Hang the bitch!" is a common chant at Trump rallies.)
All told, it can feel like we are sliding backward, toward a more violent, less tolerant time in history. Tomorrow's anniversary of 9 /11 may only exacerbate that despair.

If thereís anyone who can put this moment into context, itís the Harvard psychology professor and polymath Steven Pinker. A cognitive scientist and linguist, Pinker focused his study of human nature on our propensity for violence ó and conversely, cooperation ó in his 2011 book, The Better Angels of Our Nature. In the book, Pinker meticulously documented a steady decline in violence over the last several centuries, which he writes, "may be the most significant and least appreciated development in the history of our species."

I called Pinker recently for a discussion about the data and broader context behind the recent news events. (Hint: He says the world is still in a more peaceful period than at any other time.) We also talked about how the media shapes our views about violence, some worrying trends he thinks politicians should be keeping an eye on, and the danger of pessimism becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. The conversation that follows has been edited for length and clarity.
________________________________________
Julia Belluz -

You wrote a very optimistic book about the trend toward less violence on earth. But it feels like weíve seen a lot of violence here in the US since then. We had the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012 ó and there have been at least 1,069 mass shootings since then. Overseas, more than 1,200 people have died in ISIS-related terror attacks, not including those killed in Iraq and Syria. And weíve heard a lot about killings of young black men by police, and the killings of police, over the past several years. How do you put all this in context?

Steven Pinker -

News is a misleading way to understand the world. Itís always about events that happened and not about things that didnít happen. So when thereís a police officer that has not been shot up or city that has not had a violent demonstration, they donít make the news. As long as violent events donít fall to zero, there will be always be headlines to click on. The data show ó since the Better Angels of Our Nature was published ó rates of violence continue to go down.

(Joe Posner/Vox) -

The annual data on war death figures have come out from the Uppsala Conflict Data Program, and it is down for 2015 compared to 2014. The same is true for killings of unarmed civilians. The rate is still higher than it was a decade ago ó mostly due to the Syrian civil war ó but still far lower than it was in the 1950s, 60s, 70s, and 80s.

The reversal of the increase over the preceding three years is not quite good news, but not as bad news as one might have fearedónamely that the world would see a continuing rise.
There has probably been a slight increase in the rate of violent crime in the US in 2015, and I say probably because the FBI figures are still not out for that year.
But even then that wouldnít even be as high as it was in 2012, just three years ago, and that itself is a huge decrease in the levels of '60s, '70, and '80s in the US, where violent crime has fallen by more than half. So there is probably an uptick for 2015 and 2016. But itís just a wiggle in a curve thatís been going down, down, down.
Even if you even compare situation this year to a random year in the 1970s or 1980s, by every measure our world is much more peaceful.
Julia Belluz
But as you mentioned, thereís been an uptick in war deaths driven by the staggeringly violent ongoing conflict in Syria. Does that not affect your thesis?

Steven Pinker -

No, it doesnít affect the thesis because the rate of death in war is about 1.4 per 100,000 per year. Thatís higher than it was at the low point in 2010. But itís still a fraction of what it was in earlier years. For example, [the death rate in war] was 22 per 100,000 in years of the Korean War. It was nine per 100,000 during the Vietnam War. During the Iraq War in the '80s, it was five per 100,000. Even at its recent peak of 1.4, weíre still talking about a rate that is a fraction of what it used to be.
The trend for 2015 is mostly concentrated in Syria, and itís not getting much better in Syria. But itís probably not getting much worse given that there have been ceasefire talks through the year. That wonít necessarily end wars, but it can bring the rate of killing down.

Julia Belluz -

Another thing we often lose sight of is that, in terms of global and local violence, terrorism and war deaths are negligible.

Steven Pinker -

Yes, the rate of death in homicides far exceeds the rate of death in terrorism at a local level, and for that matter, in wars. More people die in homicides than in wars globally by far.

Javier Zarracina/Vox -

The rates of terrorism in Western Europe, according to the Global Terrorism Database, were much higher from 1972 to 1992 than they were in 2015, and 2015 was a terrible year for terrorism. Not that it was great in the '70s and '80s, because there were high rates of terrorism, but Europe survived and Europe will survive this round of [terror] attacks.
Terrorist movements always fail. They go out of existence. They do not achieve their strategic aims. Northern Ireland is still part of the UK, and Basque Country is still part of Spain, and Israel continues to exist Ö the list goes on and on.

Julia Belluz -

The anniversary of 9/11 is a good time to put this fear of terrorism in perspective.

Steven Pinker -

The greatest damage the resulted from the attacks was self-inflicted, in our individual and national overreactions to them. The psychologist Gerd Gigerenzer has shown that after 9/11, 1,500 Americans died in car accidents because they chose to drive rather than fly, unaware that a car trip of twelve miles has the same risk of death as a plane trip of three thousand miles.

(Javier Zarracina/Vox) -

And of course the attacks sent the United States into two wars that have taken far more American and British lives than the hijackers did, to say nothing of the lives of Afghans and Iraqis.

Julia Belluz -

Rebecca Onion had a great piece in Slate, where she got historians to weigh in on the worst year in history. Both the Black Death in 1348 and the US's 1836 slavery trade peak looked pretty terrible by comparison.

Steven Pinker -

Thatís completely right. Then in the 1940s, there were the World Wars that resulted in more than 50 million deaths all told.

Rates of terrorism in Europe were higher in the 1970s than they have been at least through 2014. I havenít seen data for 2015 yet. During the heyday of the Red Brigades and Irish Republican Army, rates of death and terrorism were higher than they are now.
Even though deaths from both terrorism and rampage shootings are relatively small when it comes to violent deaths, [these] are ways in which small numbers of individuals can manipulate the media. The only guaranteed way of becoming famous is kill a lot of innocent people. As long as media will give endless publicity to multiple murderers, they create a niche for people who want to make a difference for a political cause or their own ego.

Julia Belluz -

Do you think the media plays a big role in making people think the world is going to hell?

Steven Pinker -

I do think the media should take more care in allowing themselves to be used by violent actors. Itís certainly clear from [studies on] rampage shooters that many collect news reports about past killers and anticipate the publicity they will get. [See this chilling Mother Jones story for examples.] Thatís also true of terrorist groups ó not only are they waging a war against the armed forces of a country, but they are counting on the publicity the gory violence gets in order to put their cause in the spotlight.

I do think events have to be reported, but the coverage should be in greater proportion to the actual human cost.

And everyday homicides ó the kinds that police stations worry about ó kill far, far more people than rampage shootings, but they dribble in about 30 deaths a day. If any of them occurred in a single event, we would get nonstop news coverage and a president giving a speech. But when they [the single homicide deaths] dribble in one or two at a time, people are unaware of the far greater damage they do.

Julia Belluz -

To avoid that kind of glorification, there are some European outlets that no longer post the names or faces of terrorists. What do you think is the best approach to covering terrorists and other mass shooters?

Steven Pinker -

I think there should be less coverage of rampage shooters. If there are 30 deaths in a day from individual homicides in the US, and five people died in a mass shooting, itís not clear why the mass shooting gets 100 times more coverage than individual homicides.
Pessimism can be a self-fulfilling prophecy

I certainly think publishing manifestos, videos, photos, and having endless analysis and discussion is encouraging [violent actors]. News should not be repressed, but there should be a sense of proportionality in terms of what the human cost is.

Julia Belluz -

Do you think the perception that the world is going the wrong way makes it more likely that progress will be overturned?

Steven Pinker -

It certainly is a danger. Pessimism can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. While we have to be realistic about changes both up and down in rates of violence, we have to remind ourselves that violence is a problem we can deal with, that we have dealt with, and whatís important is to look at it realistically. To keep track of when it goes up, when it goes down, and what causes it to go up and go down and do more of what causes it to go down. We know over the last couple of years that it has gone down, so we should figure out what we did to achieve that and do more of it.

Julia Belluz -

As you know, some have noted that we may be at an inflection point ó that weíre heading into a less peaceful time. Weíve seen the fabric of Europe begin to fray with Brexit, and we have US presidential candidatessuggesting they wouldnít defend Americaís allies in NATO if they were attacked by a foreign power. What do you make of these threats to institutions that have likely helped sustain peace in recent years?

Ian MacNicol/Getty Images Sport - (go to the site for graphs)

Steven Pinker -

Brexit and Trump ó these are not good developments. I donít think Brexit is going to lead to another war. I would say itís not good news. But itís too early to tell.

I do think that politicians, especially on the left, would be unwise to ignore changes in violence. Itís important not to panic. But there has been a small increase in the US in the last one and a half years, and it would be foolish for politicians to just hand that issue over to the right and pretend it doesnít exist.

Politicians should acknowledge that there has been a small change in a bad direction and make sure it doesnít get out of hand.

There is a concern over the phenomenon of depolicing ó of police being less willing to intervene in potentially violent incidents out of a fear theyíll be accused of racism. Thereís reason to think that this phenomenon, post-Ferguson, has been one of the contributors to the increase [in violence] from 2014 to 2015. I think itís not addressed by liberal politicians and if they pretend it doesnít exist at all, theyíve created an opening for the right to exploit the issue.

Julia Belluz -

How could politicians better address the recent uptick in violence in the US?

Steven Pinker -

If I were to give advice to politicians ó it would be to seek some balance, and to not allow there to be an impression that the country is falling apart or that weíre in the middle of a crime wave, because weíre not. They should acknowledge that there has been a small change in a bad direction and make sure it doesnít get out of hand ó and therefore to balance the dangers of police shooting innocent people, which really has to be reduced, but at same time not to let that turn into a push back on policing.

Julia Belluz -

Humans have demonstrated a terrible capacity to engage in acts of appalling brutality against "others" on account of their ethnicity, religion, or tribal affiliations. Itís often encouraged by politicians ó in this US election cycle,Trump ó to gain power. Can you suggest how we can diminish or abate this hostility?

Steven Pinker -

Youíre right that often politicians whip up and organize ethnic hatred. And naturally the news reports convey the impression that everyone hates everyone else.

Aside from blessed apathy ó it takes a lot of work to organize a civil war or genocide, and people have lives ó the other force that militates against sectarian violence is that the perception of group identities, and of allies and enemies, is fluid. Before 1945, the Germans were our vicious enemies and the Russians our stalwart friends; a few years later and it was the other way around. Statesman forge inclusive identities, as when Nelson Mandela united black and white South Africans around, among other things, the national soccer team.

As I put in The Better Angels of Our Nature, alluding to the famous Seinfeld monologue about team sports, "People root for clothing instead of blood and soil." Psychological experiments going back to the famous 1950s Robbers Cave study show that hostilities can be tamped down when both sides have to work for a superordinate goal, such as pulling a bus out of the mud.

RE: http://www.vox.com/2016/8/16/1248658...rump-terrorism
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Old 09-22-2016, 04:33 PM
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So who is Steven Pinker?
RE: http://stevenpinker.com/biocv

Curriculum Vitae

Steven Pinker is a Johnstone Family Professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University. He conducts research on language and cognition, writes for publications such as the New York Times, Time and The Atlantic, and is the author of ten books, including The Language Instinct, How the Mind Works, The Blank Slate, The Stuff of Thought, The Better Angels of Our Nature, and most recently, The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century.

Short Bio

Steven Pinker is an experimental psychologist and one of the world’s foremost writers on language, mind, and human nature. Currently Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology at Harvard University, Pinker has also taught at Stanford and MIT. His research on vision, language, and social relations has won prizes from the National Academy of Sciences, the Royal Institution of Great Britain, the Cognitive Neuroscience Society, and the American Psychological Association. He has also received eight honorary doctorates, several teaching awards at MIT and Harvard, and numerous prizes for his books The Language Instinct, How the Mind Works, The Blank Slate, and The Better Angels of Our Nature. He is Chair of the Usage Panel of the American Heritage Dictionary, and often writes for The New York Times, Time, and other publications. He has been named Humanist of the Year, Prospect magazine’s “The World’s Top 100 Public Intellectuals,” Foreign Policy’s “100 Global Thinkers,” and Time magazine’s “The 100 Most Influential People in the World Today.”

Long Bio

Steven Pinker was born in 1954 in the English-speaking Jewish community of Montreal,Canada. He earned a bachelor's degree in experimental psychology at McGill University and then moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1976, where he has spent most of his career bouncing back and forth between Harvard and MIT. He earned his doctorate at Harvard in 1979, followed by a postdoctoral fellowship at MIT, a one-year stint as an assistant professor at Harvard, and in 1982, a move back to MIT that lasted until 2003, when he returned to Harvard. Currently he is the Johnstone Family Professor in the Department of Psychology. He also has spent two years in California: in 1981-82, when he was an assistant professor at Stanford, and in 1995-96,when he spent a sabbatical year at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Pinker is an experimental psychologist who is interested in all aspects of language and mind. His doctoral dissertation and much of his early research focused on visual cognition, the ability to imagine shapes, recognize faces and objects, and direct attention within the visual field. But beginning in graduate school he cultivated an interest in language, particularly language development in children, and this topic eventually took over his research activities. In addition to his experimental papers, he wrote two technical books early in his career. One presented a comprehensive theory of how children acquire the words and grammatical structures of their mother tongue. The second focused on the meaning, syntax, and acquisition of verbs, and what they reveal about the mental representation of reality. For the next two decades his research focused on the distinction between irregular verbs like bring-brought and regular verbs like walk-walked. The two kinds of verbs, he showed, embody the two cognitive processes that make language possible: looking up words in memory, and combining words (or parts of words) according to combinatorial rules. He has also published several studies of the genetics and neurobiology of language. Most recently, his research has begun to investigate the psychology of common knowledge (I know that you know that I know that you know...) and how it illuminates phenomena such as innuendo, euphemism, social coordination, and emotional expression.

In 1994 he published the first of seven books written for a general audience. The Language Instinct was an introduction to all aspects of language, held together by the idea that language is a biological adaptation. This was followed in 1997 by How the Mind Works, which offered a similar synthesis of the rest of the mind, from vision and reasoning to the emotions, humor, and art. In 1999 he published Words and Rules: The Ingredients of Language which presented his research on regular and irregular verbs as a way of explaining how language works. In 2002 he published The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature, which explored the political, moral, and emotional colorings of the concept of human nature. The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature, published in 2007, discussed the ways in which language reveals our thoughts, emotions, and social relationships. In 2011 he published The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. His latest book is The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century. Pinker frequently writes for The New York Times, The Guardian, Time, The Atlantic, and other magazines on diverse topics including language, consciousness, education, morality, politics, genetics, bioethics, and trends in violence.

Pinker is the Chair of the Usage Panel of The American Heritage Dictionary and has served as editor or advisor for numerous scientific, scholarly, media, and humanist organizations, including the American Association the Advancement of Science, the National Science Foundation, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Psychological Association, and the Linguistic Society of America. He has won many prizes for his books (including the William James Book Prize three times, the Los Angeles Times Science Book Prize, the Eleanor Maccoby Book Prize, the Cundill Recognition of Excellence in History Award, and the Plain English International Award), his research (including the Troland Research Prize from the National Academy of Sciences, the Early Career Award from the American Psychological Association, the Henry Dale Prize from the Royal Institution of Great Britain, and the William James Award from the Association for Psychological Science), and his graduate and undergraduate teaching. He has also been named the Humanist of the Year, Honorary President of the Canadian Psychological Association, Time magazine's Hundred Most Influential People in the World Today, Foreign Policy's 100 Global Thinkers, and the recipient of eight honorary doctorates.

Pinker lives in Boston and in Truro with Rebecca Newberger Goldstein. The other writers in the family are his stepdaughters Yael Goldstein Love and Danielle Blau, his sister Susan Pinker, and his nephew Eric Boodman.
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O Almighty Lord God, who neither slumberest nor sleepest; Protect and assist, we beseech thee, all those who at home or abroad, by land, by sea, or in the air, are serving this country, that they, being armed with thy defence, may be preserved evermore in all perils; and being filled with wisdom and girded with strength, may do their duty to thy honour and glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

"IN GOD WE TRUST"
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