The Better Angels of Our Nature? Hardly.

I’ve posted refutations of Pinker’s terrible book The Better Angels of Our Nature before, especially from an anthropological standpoint. Here is a rebuttal from an animal rights activist.

Pinker gave a TED talk just before his book was published, and this is what he says in the very first paragraph:

“In sixteenth-century Paris, a popular form of entertainment was cat-burning, in which a cat was hoisted in a sling on a stage and slowly lowered into a fire. According to historian Norman Davies, ‘the spectators, including kings and queens, shrieked with laughter as the animals, howling with pain, were singed, roasted, and finally carbonized.’ Today, such sadism would be unthinkable in most of the world. This change in sensibilities is just one example of perhaps the most important and most underappreciated trend in the human saga: Violence has been in decline over long stretches of history, and today we are probably living in the most peaceful moment of our species’ time on earth.”

This is obtuse. Because it is simply not true that such sadism is unthinkable in most of the world. All you have to do is keep abreast of the news. Never mind humans (I take that for a given), but since Pinker has chosen to talk about cats, i.e., animals, just think of what happened YESTERDAY in Australia: the Government has banned live-export of cattle because an animal rights group bravely found their way into the slaughterhouses of Indonesia, and filmed what goes on there. I read accounts, and declined to watch the actual video footage, but let me tell you, it makes Pinker’s description of cat-burning sound like kindergarten play. The last animal in line was “quivering with terror” at what she had seen happen to her companions. This is not some barbarous practice in one bad slaughterhouse. It is routine. I have seen videos of pigs, cows, chickens, and sheep and all suffer the same exquisite horrifying torture. Dogs? Think Michael Vick. Cats? Go to the website of the Korean and Vietnamese animal rights groups to see or read about the horrors inflicted on them NOW, not in sixteenth-century Paris.

I wanted to point out how badly argued these passages are, because it should alert us to the rest of the book’s implausibility. I have not read it all yet, but as I read, I am struck over and over by how skewed the data is. In a book which argues that violence is decreasing all over the world, there is no mention of Srebrenica, the Rwanda genocide, Pinochet in Chile, the Junta in Argentina (or Brazil or Greece), no entry under colonialism, no former Yugoslavia, no Haiti, no Dominican Republic, no Mugabe and only one mention of Mussolini, two of apartheid, and three of Pol Pot. This is a book about violence!

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