By Steven Pinker. (Aquí en español).
Questions about Definitions
How do you define “violence”?
I don’t. I use the term in its standard sense, more or less the one you’d find in a dictionary (such as The American Heritage Dictionary Fifth Edition: “Behavior or treatment in which physical force is exerted for the purpose of causing damage or injury.”) In particular, I focus on violence against sentient beings: homicide, assault, rape, robbery, and kidnapping, whether committed by individuals, groups, or institutions. Violence by institutions naturally includes war, genocide, corporal and capital punishment, and deliberate famines.
What about metaphorical violence, like verbal aggression?
No, physical violence is a big enough topic for one book (as the length of Better Angels makes clear). Just as a book on cancer needn’t have a chapter on metaphorical cancer, a coherent book on violence can’t lump together genocide with catty remarks as if they were a single phenomenon.
Isn’t economic inequality a form of violence?
No; the fact that Bill Gates has a bigger house than I do may be deplorable, but to lump it together with rape and genocide is to confuse moralization with understanding. Ditto for underpaying workers, undermining cultural traditions, polluting the ecosystem, and other practices that moralists want to stigmatize by metaphorically extending the term violence to them. It’s not that these aren’t bad things, but you can’t write a coherent book on the topic of “bad things.”
Questions about the Origins of the Book
What led you to write a book on violence?
As I explain in the Preface, it was an interest in human nature and its moral and political implications, carried over from my earlier books. In How the Mind Works (518–519) and The Blank Slate (166–169, 320, 330–336), I presented several kinds of evidence that violence had declined over time. Then in 2007, through a quirky chain of events, I was contacted by scholars in a number of fields who informed me there was far more evidence for a decline in violence than I had realized. Their data convinced me that the decline of violence deserved a book of its own.
You’re a linguist. What made you think you could write a work of history?
Actually, I’m an experimental psychologist. Better Angels concentrates on quantitative history: studies based on datasets that allow one to plot a graph over time. This involves the everyday statistical and methodological tools of social science, which I’ve used since I was an undergraduate—concepts such as sampling, distributions, time series, multiple regression, and distinguishing correlation from causation.
Does this book represent a change in your politics? After all, a commitment to human nature has traditionally been associated with a conservative fatalism about violence and skepticism about progressive change. But Better Angels says many nice things about progressive movements such as nonviolence, feminism, and gay rights.
No, the whole point of The Blank Slate was that the equation between a belief in human nature and fatalism about the human condition was spurious. Human nature is a complex system with many components. It comprises mental faculties that lead us to violence, but it also faculties that pull us away from violence, such as empathy, self-control, and a sense of fairness. It also comes equipped with open-ended combinatorial faculties for language and reasoning, which allow us to reflect on our condition and figure out better ways to live our lives. This vision of psychology, together with a commitment to secular humanism, has been a constant in my books, though it has become clearer to me in recent years.
How and why has it become clearer?
Though I have always had a vague sense that a scientific understanding of human nature was compatible with a robust secular morality, it was only through the intellectual influence of my wife, the philosopher and novelist Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, that I understood the logic connecting them. She explained to me how morality can be grounded in rationality, and how secular humanism is just a modern term for the world view that grew out of the Age of Reason and the Enlightenment (in particular, she argues, from the ideas of Spinoza). To the extent that the decline of violence has been driven by ideas, it’s this set of ideas, which I call Enlightenment humanism (pp. 180–183), which has driven it, and it offers the closest thing we have to a unified theory of the decline of violence (pp. 694–696).
Documental (12' 34'') sobre la vida del arquitecto Emilio Pérez Piñero.
Las estructuras reticulares con capacidad para plegarse y desplegarse con suma facilidad fueron su especialidad.
Destacar su colaboración con Salvador Dalí, que le elogia (6' 20'') de una manera espectacular en el vídeo.