Human Cultural Advances

Humanities cultural advancement is where there is some good news, and some not so good news.  Humans collectively are less barbaric then we were in previous times. In many ways we are moving towards a more humane way of interacting with one another. For example, the chance of being killed by another human being was about 15% during prehistoric times, 8% during Aztec-Mexico culture, and about 5% in modern times (depending on what part of the globe you live in). Cumulatively women’s rights have improved. There are less people living in poverty (again depending on what part of the world you live in). Gay rights have improved in most (not all) industrialized countries. Slavery has ended in most (not all) areas of the globe. Steve Pinken wrote a book after the quote from Abraham Lincoln, The Better Angels of Our Nature. Pinkens noted that there has been a decline in violence (murder, rape, mass atrocities) continuously for long periods of time. He attributes this decline to the civilization factors of better health, increased levels of education, increased living standards, advanced technology, and greater commerce among nations. These advances have contributed to more peaceful societies. But there is a difference to point out between: 1.) hard violence (eg. murder, rape, and mass atrocities) has greatly declined, and 2.) soft violence (eg. thief, burglary, white collar crime, fraud) that has not had the same decline.

Characterological violence is a term I coined in order to indicate the personal violence we commit against each other. I introduce the concept of characterological violence and argue that this type of violence has seen little decline. Societal civilizing factors may control, manage, and even divert a lot of hard violence and soft violence. For example, a lot of violence has been displaced and redirected into modern confrontational physical sports —-> hockey, football, wrestling, or even transferred to a substitute like a horror movie. However, societal civilizing factors have had little effect in controlling the characterological violence humans do against another person’s character on a daily basis. That is, name calling, gossiping, put downs, jealousy, stabbing in the backs, etc. At the time I am writing this, it appears that the advent of a dark web has exponentially increased the degree of characterological violence. In many ways the internet and social media have normalized ill-mannered behavior and has exposed a vulgarization and coarsening of our culture.  I point out that there is a huge degree of characterological violence embedded in American life. I suggest that at some point, if we are not careful, unbridled characterological violence will end up increasing soft and hard violence.

Overall, doesn’t it sometimes appear that humans collectively take 1-2 steps forward and 1-step backwards?   We have seen significant evolutionay times of enlightenment in human history, but we have also seen significant devolutionary periods. Sorrowfully, the 20th Century alone has had the huge devolutionary events of W.W. I, W.W. II, the Holocaust, millions killed in the old Soviet Union, millions killed in Communist China, the slaughter the world community has allowed to take place in Syria, man-made ecological disasters, etc.  What do you think of the concept of characterological violence?

culture change