Seems that perhaps access to information-NOT civilization itself-may be the ultimate violence deterrence.
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Enlightenment thinker Thomas Hobbes is one of the handful of philosophers who have shaped the West's understanding of the societal impact of civilization and the governing social compacts. To be brief and simplify, Hobbes believed that unorganized humans/human societies are intrinsically violence-prone. (Kind of like if you're just out strolling along a road in the countryside of Westeros and you happen upon another person, one of you is definitely going to be killed.) Hobbes reasoned that it was the rise of organized governing structures (tribes, villages, city-states, nation-states, multi-national unions) that created an environment that pulled mankind from his natural state (violence) into a more passive, civilized one. The bigger the organizing body, the more likely it was to create a "safe" and violence-reduced society. Hence Hobbes' "Leviathan."
And governments have red-herring-ed the horse-trade of "freedom for security and peace" for centuries. With great success. But as the article by John Horgan points out, research doesn't exactly back up this claim...at least not in way that we are told we are supposed to understand it. The study indicates that violence actually rose as the Stone Age gave way to established human settlements. This violence peaked in the late Middle Ages and began to reverse course around 500 years ago. That encompasses A LOT of large scale governments and empires which, if Hobbes is right, should have tamped down all that violence. I mean, the PAX ROMANA is right in the middle of all that...so imagine how violent the rest of the centuries must have been! Anyway, another startling finding is that violence levels only feel below paleolithic levels about a century ago.
So what can we surmise from this?
1980's Saturday morning TV just might have been right.
I remember "The more you know" filling the gaps between the Smurfs and Punky Brewster the Cartoon (remember that one???) with life lessons conveniently packed in 30 second increments. As it turns out, the gist behind "the more you know" may be exactly right.
Let's revisit the first time in recorded history that human violence levels apparently fell below Stone Age levels. It was the beginning of the 20th century. What was going on? What sea-change was occurring that could facilitate the decline? It was the dawning of the electric age and with it, mass communication. Telegraph followed by telephone, radio, and television. Information was readily available to common folk in an unprecedentedly accessible manner. This information revolution led to a more informed society that was more familiar with other cultures, points of view, etc. YES bias did, does, and will remain. But as a whole societies gained tolerance, which decreased violent tenancies.
Not convinced based on one era of time? Well let's travel back to the peak of human violence, the ending of the Medieval period. The West, for the most part, was a backwater of warring fiefdoms. The Crusades - maybe the epitome of violence (I mean, they sacked one of the biggest cities in Christendom...come ON) - resulted in a mixing of Western, near Eastern, and Oriental cultures the likes of which hadn't occurred since the heyday of the Roman Empire. It is interesting that this exposure, as it permeated (slowly) through Western Europe would coincide with the beginning of the decline of violence metrics. That is, of course, unless it is not a coincidence. #TheMoreYouKnowEffect
So what am I saying?
That Hobbes likely had it wrong. It is not the Leviathan of civilization that tamped down violence, but rather access to information. Ben Franklin famously remarked that in order for a Republic to maintain itself, it depended on a well-informed electorate. He was probably correct. We can expound that to civilization as a whole, and conclude that for a civilization to become increasingly peaceful, it is necessary for the populace to access to information. The greater the access to free flowing information, the more peaceful a civilization should be. For those who bemoan the fragmentation of the media, the "wild west" of the Internet, and the over saturation of the information market...well to those people I say that it just might be these very same elements that are keeping us from cutting each other to ribbons.