The decline of violence as a lens for understanding effective altruism

by alwhite 1 min read7th Jan 201533 comments


Greetings all!  There's a puzzle that I'm working on and I'm interested to see what the members of this community have to say about it.

I am an electrical engineer that is currently working on a master's in counseling.  One of the big questions I keep asking myself in this program is "how effective is this field in making the world a better place"?

To help focus the discussion I want to focus on violence.  This video from Steven Pinker is a great overview of the data  But for those who don't want to spend the time to watch it, the short version is that violence per capita is at an all time low for human history, and other people will state it as "there has never been a safer time in history".

The question then, why is this so?

My personal belief on this is that our technology advancement has reduced the effort it takes for people to survive so there is less drive to become hostile towards people who have what we need.  This belief applied to effective altruism would suggest that the most effective method of improving all of human life would be to continue to increase our technology level so that there is an abundance of basic needs and no one has a need to become hostile.  I do believe that as a planet, we do not yet have that abundance so I don't believe this is merely a matter of redistribution.  The GWP (gross world product) per capita, as of 2014, was $12,400 USD, which is just barely above the poverty line for an individual.  This is why I say, we're not yet producing enough to truly eliminate need.

From this belief, I wonder if social movements and psychological training are really doing anything in comparison to the need that exists.

Going back to the violence issue, I am thinking if we can understand why violence has been declining we can also understand what is truly effective in bettering the human condition.  I believe the reason is technological advancement.  Does anyone have any good evidence to suggest other reasons?

Are we possibly at a tipping point?  Has our past been dominated by technological advancement but now we're reaching a level where more socially oriented advancements will be more effective?