Hunter Gatherer Research

Human violence and morality

A review of a public lecture by Steven Pinker, 'The past, present and future of violence', delivered on the 19th September in association with The World Health Organisation and Cambridge University.

Hunter Gatherer Research (2015), 1, (1), 125–133.

Abstract

Human violence and morality A review of a public lecture by Steven Pinker, ‘The past, present and future of violence’, delivered on the 19th September in association with The World Health Organisation and Cambridge University. Helga Vierich and Cathryn Townsend Human Violence and Morality 27302 Township Road, 513 Spruce Grove, AB, T7Y 1H8, Canada hvierich@gmail.com UCL Anthropology, University College London, 14 Taviton Street, London, WC1H 0BW, UK townsendcathryn@gmail.com, Humanity has always been fascinated and horrified by the darker side of human nature. Rebellion, retribution, jealousy and murder all happened within the first biblical family. It is thus not surprising that a social scientist writing for a general audience on themes of violence, murder, cannibalism, war and genocide will find eager readers. This is especially so if your message, a result of decades of painstaking research on the nature and frequency of violence, is presented with good humour and optimism. Steven Pinker excels on all counts. If you are gloomy and sceptical about the claim that humanity has a rosy future, you will be less so after hearing this talk. So perhaps we are being spoilsports in mentioning a few quibbles. We admit to being astonished that the author of the The Blank Slate, who championed the importance of biology in understanding human behaviour, then went on to write The Better Angels of Our Nature, which appears to be championing the role of environment – specifically the cultural environment of state level civilisations – in changing human behaviour for the better. The implication is that in understanding human nature, environment does matter, at least as much as our evolved biology. We are considerably cheered by this. If human minds are not tabula rasa, neither are they to be understood as unresponsive to received experience. Hunter Gatherer Research 1.1 (2015) ISSN 1476-4261 © Liverpool University Press doi:10.3828/hgr.2015.7

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Author details

Vierich, Helga

Townsend, Cathryn