In 2013, Relief Web published its annual Human Security Report, which focused on the claims and counter-claims surrounding the debate over Steven Pinker’s 2011 book The Better Angels of Our Nature. Pinker’s book argued that violence has been declining for centuries and will likely continue that trajectory.
During 2012—the most recent year for which there are data—the number of conflicts being waged around the world dropped sharply, from 37 to 32. High–intensity conflicts have declined by more than half since the end of the Cold War, while terrorism, genocide and homicide numbers are also down. And this is not simply a recent phenomenon. According to a major 2011 study by Harvard University’s Steven Pinker, violence of all kinds has been declining for thousands of years. Indeed Pinker claims that, “we may be living in the most peaceful era in our species’ existence.”
The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined has won Pinker widespread critical acclaim for its scope, originality and scholarship. But some of its factual assertions, and the arguments used to support them, have been subject to sustained—and sometimes deeply hostile—criticism. Critics have disputed Pinker’s two core assertions—that the current era is unprecedentedly peaceful, and that the earliest human societies had dramatically higher rates of deadly violence than those of today. Against Pinker they argue that the twentieth century was the bloodiest in human history, while the early human societies were extraordinarily peaceful.
Part I of the 2013 Human Security Report—The Decline in Global Violence: Evidence, Explanation and Contestation delivers the most comprehensive analysis to date of this critically important debate. Part II of the Report reviews the data on recent changes in global and regional trends that track the incidence and deadliness of organized violence.
The full Human Security Report 2013 is available as a free PDF download