Is the World Becoming Less Safe?

Contra Steven Pinker, John Arquilla argues that the world is not becoming less violent. He mostly bases his Foreign Policy article on the critique that Pinker’s reliance on “battle deaths” excludes a rapidly rising proportion of civilian casualties.

I read Pinker’s book Better Angels last summer and I recommend it. I found much of his argument convincing. I’m skeptical of Arquilla’s civilians argument partly because the notion of civilians as “everyone other than combatants” is far from timeless. The definition has shifted throughout Western history, but our understanding is largely a post-Geneva Conventions conception.

I’m also doubtful that civilian deaths were even meaningfully recorded before Westerners started caring. Although as I recall, Pinker cites the many genocides of the Old Testament in the early chapters of his book. Pinker also cites a massive decline in murder rates along with shifting norms.

Anyway, Arquilla’s rebuttal is worth addressing. It will be interesting to see if Pinker responds in the coming days.

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