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Old August 30th, 2010, 04:10 AM   #1

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Is the world becoming more peaceful?


I've just finished reading Willam Bernstein's A Splendid Exchange which presents a global history of trade. In it Berstein asserts that according to the WHO deaths by violence were at 1.4% of the global total in 2004 and that this was an all time low. Its got me wondering what evidence there is regarding the levels of violent deaths in the past and how we know whether the world is becoming more peaceful or not compared to earlier eras. Any thoughts you may have are very welcome.
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Old August 30th, 2010, 04:20 AM   #2
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Re: Is the world becoming more peaceful?


We've discussed elsewhere the dubiousness of death-counts attributed by various early sources to such mass-killers as Genghis Khan and Timur.

But I'm sure that the world's very numerous war dead of recent years, and their families, are comforted by the knowledge that they constitute an historically small percentage of the world's population.
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Old August 30th, 2010, 05:05 AM   #3

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Re: Is the world becoming more peaceful?


My feeling, without quoting any sources, is that over the millennia that, yes, the world is become in more peaceful, at least with respect to overall number of conflicts. Human nature changes very, very slowly, but I think that it does change. I believe that we rely less on our gut instincts for fight and conquest than did primitive man many thousands of years ago. On the other hand, when we do have a complicit, advanced technology allows for much more efficient killing, so in one respect, number of people killed over time may actually be increasing. It would be interesting to look into some firm research into this area.

I started reading A Splendid Exchange as well and got sidetracked into some other books. You are stimulating me to find it and finish.
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Old August 30th, 2010, 06:24 AM   #4

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Re: Is the world becoming more peaceful?


It depends on what one calls "violence". Being killed by embargoes (through hunger, lack of medicine etc), as per Iraq, is just as dead and just as violent in my eyes as a cluster bomb. Such embargoes are commonplace and just as intended to kill as true weapons. Pol Pot's regime is another example, where the west conspired to let him into power. Margaret Thatcher said of the Khymer Rouge: "These are reasonable people. We can do business with them". British SAS were sent out there to train Pol Pot's thugs. As such, our media has a vested interest in "suppressing" the truth of casualties, as it did in Iraq and still does in Afghanistan.

Such "small" wars are going to become more frequent. The truth about them more "suppressed" by a complaint and Murdoch controlled media. So, no, we do not live in a more peaceful age; it's as bad as ever.
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Old August 30th, 2010, 06:40 AM   #5
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Re: Is the world becoming more peaceful?


Black Dog's penetrating observations -- the gold standard.
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Old August 30th, 2010, 06:41 AM   #6

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Re: Is the world becoming more peaceful?


My world has become more peaceful but that is because I have worked hard to make it and keep it so. As to your world...You're not trying hard enough.
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Old August 30th, 2010, 06:45 AM   #7

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Re: Is the world becoming more peaceful?


When WHO records violent deaths does that include all deaths not related to sickness? or only war and murder? Knowing the criteria would be helpful.
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Old August 30th, 2010, 08:13 AM   #8

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Re: Is the world becoming more peaceful?


Quote:
Originally Posted by Pedro View Post
When WHO records violent deaths does that include all deaths not related to sickness? or only war and murder? Knowing the criteria would be helpful.
Agreed and I don't know. Bernstein also states that in the Stone Age about 20% of people died of violent causes but I suppose in this case he's not citing WHO statistics.

Black Dog makes a valid point about how death by violence is considered and whether starvation induced through aggressive external actions would count as a violent death or not. Still it seemed to me this topic (of monitoring relative levels of violence over time) would be a pretty fundamental historical issue, so I thought there might be a wealth of research to draw upon that could feed into this discussion.
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Old August 30th, 2010, 08:20 AM   #9

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Re: Is the world becoming more peaceful?


Quote:
Originally Posted by Cicero View Post
I started reading A Splendid Exchange as well and got sidetracked into some other books. You are stimulating me to find it and finish.
I thought it was a really good read and a valiant attempt to tackle a huge subject. I'm not sure I fully buy into all the conclusions at the end but they're well made and thought provoking nonetheless.
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Old September 1st, 2010, 11:50 AM   #10

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Re: Is the world becoming more peaceful?


Well there's not been much said on this other than pointing out that the world is still quite violent. Somewhat dissappointingly noone has yet ventured much on whether it is becoming relatively more peaceful or not, so I'm guessing that people on the forum haven't researched that question? Just to fan the embers a little, Berstein reports the claim made by free-traders that the dramatic increase in international trade of the past two hundred years has contributed to a more peaceful society because, the argument goes, we all have a greater stake in each others economic wellbeing. Any thoughts on this? Is trade an engine for peace? Did the economic protectionism of the 20's help trigger the rise of facism and the world wars? Might the stalling of the Doha round of trade negotiations set us on the road to rearmament?
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