Myth Universe: Violent Times?

Many of us think that we are living in some of the most violent times yet known to man, Séan Mooney dispells this notion.

 

There is a sense that violence is an increasing problem and that the past was generally a more harmonious era, but this could not be further from the truth. We live in the most peaceful era since civilisation began and violence is in decline in almost every domain. People feel the world of today is more dangerous than the past for several reasons. Firstly, journalists report disasters, not incremental progress, because that sells. Gory news footage stays with us, leading us to overestimate the likelihood of these events. Our change in standards is also outpacing our change in behaviour. UNICEF are concerned about the child mortality rate in Eritrea today, not that it plummetted five-fold since 1974.

Today’s advanced military arsenals might suggest war is more dangerous than ever but the annual global death rate from war is receeding. During World War II, 300 per 100,000 people died from war globally each year. This dropped to 22 in the 1950s, 5 in the ’80s, and just 0.2 in the ’00s. War has not occurred between developed countries for seventy years. There has also been a 90% reduction in genocides since post-World War II highs. Civil wars continue but are typically less destructive than interstate wars, and the Syrian civil war has only pushed the global war death rates back to 2000 levels.

“War has not occurred between developed countries for seventy years.”

We live with the contstant threat of nuclear war but despite apocalyptic prophecies, no nuclear weapons have been used in combat since Nagasaki. Since then, the Cold War ended without destruction and 16 nations abondoned nuclear weapon programs. The number of nuclear weapons being maintained has been reduced by 80% and a global agreement has locked down the remaining nuclear weapons, with the phased elimination of all nuclear weapons having been endorsed in principle by major world leaders.

Terrorism fears have been on the rise since the turn of the millenium but the truth is terrorism is incredibly rare. Each year since 2002, more people in America were killed by lightning, deer, peanut allergies, bee stings, and nightwear catching fire than by terrorist attacks. The homicide rate in much of modern-day Europe has dropped below one per 100,000 people per year, a hundred times less than it was in the Middle Ages. In the rest of the world, violent crime rates are expected to continue to drop with criminologists expecting the global homicide rate to be halved within 30 years. The rate of infanticide in the Western world today is less than a thousandth of what it was during Middle Ages. This contrasts the statement from a British coroner in 1862 that said police thought no more of finding a dead child than that of a dead dog.

“War has not occurred between developed countries for seventy years.”

Child abduction by a stranger is a common fear today, but is an extremely rare occurance: Warwick Cairns calculated that if you want your child to be kidnapped, you would have to leave the child outside and unattended for 750,000 years. Even children’s entertainment is mellower. 17th century nursery rhymes resort to violence 10.8 times more frequently than television programs. Between the 15th and 18th centuries, 100,000 women were burned at the stake for witchcraft. Not only have we outgrown this, but also violence against women of all kinds, including female genital mutilation and human trafficking, are in decline. Although work is by no means done, women are being educated better, paid more, marrying later, and are in more influencial positions than ever. The rate of racially motivated attacks has been in decline throughout much of the world in the past hundred years.

“The rate of infanticide in the Western world today is less than a thousandth of what it was during Middle Ages.”

Slavery was once thought of as an ethical part of life but is now condemned by countless treaties, conventions, and declarations. In 2015, there was a record number of people living in free and open societies. In the past, criticising the king or following the wrong religion could get you executed one of a hundred different ways. The Medieval apetite for torture knew no bounds and the English monarchy used to revel in beheading both friend and foe. Currently, there is a movement to nominate the Queen Elizabeth II for the Nobel Peace Prize.

“Warwick Cairns calculated that if you want your child to be kidnapped, you would have to leave the child outside and unattended for 750,000 years.”

It is unlikely that we will ever outgrow war and violence entirely but modern society has its apetite for it. In total, 500,000 people were killed in front of packed crowds at the Colosseum for Roman entertainment whereas today there is controversy over every advertisement containing violence, and such outrage highlights not how low we have fallen, but how high our standards have risen.