HUMAN NATURE'S PATHOLOGIST
Dr. Steven Pinker
Our brains contain two separate systems that contribute to language. One combines elements of language to build up meaning; the other is like a mental dictionary we keep in our memory.
He concluded that language was an adaptation produced by natural selection.
Human violence started dropping thousands of years ago with the formation of the first states, Dr. Pinker argues.
Statistical studies of war reveal a lot of randomness built into their timing and size. The 20th century, he argues, suffered some particularly bad luck.
Our ancestors had a capacity for violence, but this was just one capacity among many. “Human nature is complex,” he said. “Even if we do have inclinations toward violence, we also have inclination to empathy, to cooperation, to self-control.”
When people used their powers of language to generate new ideas, those ideas could spread. “If you give people literacy, bad ideas can be attacked and experiments tried, and lessons will accumulate.”
Though violence has indisputably declined, he says, it could rise again. But by understanding the causes of the decline, humanity can work to promote peace. He endorses the new book “Winning the War on War” (Dutton/Penguin), by the political scientist Joshua S. Goldstein, which argues that the slogan “If you want peace, fight for justice” is precisely the wrong advice.
If you want peace, Dr. Goldstein argues, work for peace. Dr. Pinker agrees.