June 2012

The Conservative Revisionist History

Fundamental philosophies in our country's history are now politicized buzzwords.

In today's buzz-word heavy culture, it's almost impossible to say a word like "socialist" without conjuring images of hammers and sickles or angry Tea Partiers waving anti-Obama banners. It's the same way that the word "democracy" still seems to be rallying word for some people until you say the word "capitalism", at which point their allegiance seems to shift a bit. It's really no surprise that some of the central vocabulary to our history as a nation has become perverted by the polarized political discourse and party-wrangling of the past several decades.

After all, Civics education in the U.S. is the consistently lowest performing content area and, according to recent studies show that nearly half of Americans can not name the three branches of their federal government. Only one in a hundred can name their state representative, and more people vote on reality television than they do for presidential elections. This is not the "educated electorate" that Thomas Jefferson envisioned in creating our public system of education, or our democratic process.

Our world is improving....really.

A Harvard psychologist's new book, The Long Peace, shows that our world is actually getting much safer, and even less divided.

There’s a maxim in human organizations; fear, anger, and optimism are our greatest motivators. Intrinsically, as a species, we’ve used these emotional triggers to galvanize ourselves. As individuals or as masses of people, these fundamental emotions have spurred endeavors both majestic and devastating. The modern media machinery is one of the most prolific and impactful methods of spreading and harnessing these emotional impulses. It’s with that in mind that Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker is saying something that will blow your mind: the world is safer than it has ever been.

On broadcast a

nd internet news sources the world over, a parade of images and sound-bites seems to reinforce an opposite truth. Wars, both international and civil, plague the middle east. Violent crime and senseless massacres in Norway, Israel, Pakistan, China, Mexico, and the United States. Terrorism has turned into an industry in and of itself. It’s with these media images, to say nothing of natural disasters, economic uncertainty, and the other illnesses of the 21st century, that many people are feeling the fear, and the anger, that are such primal triggers.

Pinker says, at least where violence is concerned, the world is a dramatically safer place than it has been, and is getting better at an accelerating pace. Pinker’s research makes use of statistical data depicting declines in war-time deaths, rapes, murders, family violence, and various other kinds of nefarious human activity. Clearly, data paints a much more gold-hued picture than the typical kinds of bloody narrative that plays our on the evening news. The data shows such a dramatic decline, in fact, that Pinker calls it, “the most significant and least appreciated development in the history of our species."