Saturday, December 10, 2011

War and Peace?

My old Ozark friend Pete Hale sent me tidings of great joy for the holiday season: Peace On Earth.
I heard part of a "TOTN" [Talk of the Nation] interview on NPR [National Public Radio] today with Steven Pinker and Joshua Goldstein, on how much less violent the world is than, well, it used to be. Goldstein I don't know of, but I know Pinker is a monster [in the best sense of that word] and I've followed some of his stuff over the past few years. I might well have to get his book on this subject (they each have one out respectively) . . . . Anyhow, during the interview they talk about how the world may well be as non-violent as at any time in recorded history now; international economic connectedness being a huge driver, and an interesting bunch of other likely factors. Goldstein in particular dwelled on how the UN has really gotten GOOD at keeping peace (I swear, it almost seems quaint and odd to imagine an organization actually getting better at doing something over time, but clearly it does happen upon occasion . . .), and that it's made a real and evidently lasting difference.
Pete is referring to the books by Steven Pinker (The Better Angels of Our Nature) and Joshua Goldstein (Winning the War on War), both of which argue that the world has never been more peaceful. Readers with an interest in this issue can go directly to the NPR site and read the interview by "Conan the Nonbarbarian" of these two contrarians, for I'm just citing here a passage relevant to a recent post on the EU:
CONAN: Steven Pinker, Harvard college professor of psychology. And also with us, Joshua Goldstein, a professor emeritus of international relations at American University. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. And this email from Michael in Spanish Fork, Utah: Looking at what's going on right now in Europe, one can't help but think that 70 years ago, similar issues were resolved with tanks and airplanes. In my opinion, economic interdependence has done more to mitigate violence than anything else.

GOLDSTEIN: Absolutely. The European story is just miraculous after centuries of bringing the world some of its biggest, most bloody conflicts. People there, it's not all economic. That's part of it, but people deliberately set out to integrate the continent, to make the countries dependent on each other and to build a common culture of Europe. And today, that French German border that was fought over with huge fortifications and massive armies crossing back and forth, now that border consists of a single sign by the side of the road that says Germany or France. By the way, you're crossing a border, which barely is a border. And this is remarkable, it's the dog that didn't bark. The thing that didn't happen, the war in Europe . . . that we don't pay attention to because it didn't happen, but it is the story, the things that are not happening that could have happened or that in the past would've happened . . . .

PINKER: Yeah. And for all the criticism that greed and capitalism and profit and materialism are subject to, we should remind ourselves that they're historically often better than rectifying historic injustices, promoting national or religious supremacy, bringing the kingdom of God to earth, and all kinds of spiritual motives that can do a lot more damage than people just wanting a good material life for themselves.

In light of the threatening collapse of the Euro Zone, this might focus a few minds on what's at stake if the Eurocrats fail . . . assuming that Pinker and Goldstein are correct, of course.

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At 8:18 AM, Anonymous Joshua Goldstein said...

There's more information, including the audio file of the TOTN show, at

At 8:48 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Professor Goldstein. I'll take a look.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Me too, thanks both of you. Joshua, you and Prof. Pinker are looking into some really interesting material on the "long view" scale. I hope to read them both. I just read a really interesting book that seems to me to have some connectedness to these matters in some way I can't quite put my finger on in a blog-comment snap; R. Neuwirth's "Stealth of Nations", about the ever-rising prominence of so-called "System D" or the underground, off-the-government-record economy, world-wide. There seems like some deep-seated relevance there, especially in the context of the economic element of the "downfall" of major organized violence in the world. Really interesting stuff. Charley Hale

At 8:33 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Yet another book to know about . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:12 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Here, spambot, let me help your tin-butt with grammar:

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Jeffery Hodges

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