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A Book About Violence

Steven Pinker's book, "The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined", is a good book and presents a lot of data to support the author's contention that violence has declined tremendously over time. The author is clearly very knowledgeable and presents his arguments and information clearly and convincingly. It focuses mainly on war, but also talks about crime and other kinds of violence. I recommend the book in general (if you are up to reading about 700 pages of small print).

Unfortunately, the author has one main blind spot. Although I believe the author's premise that violence in the form of warfare and crime has plummeted and we are living in (despite people's frequent perception) a time of unprecedented peace (at least for those of us who are already born), violence has not decreased for preborn human beings. Indeed the author admits that "[i]f abortion counts as a form of violence, the West has made no progress in its treatment of children… the moral state of the West hasn't improved; it has collapsed."

The author's brief treatment of abortion is in the context of his discussion of infanticide, which he points out has been quite common in human history. He then states that he wishes to talk about "a more jaundiced view of the historical fate of infanticide. According to an alternative history, the major long-term trend in the West is that people switch from killing children shortly after they are born to killing them shortly after they are conceived." Just to be sure I understood the author's words correctly I looked up the definition of jaundiced: "affected with or exhibiting prejudice or distorted judgment". I suggest, however, that it is the author's view that is "jaundiced". He admits that "a similar proportion of pregnancies end in abortion as the fraction that in centuries past ended in infanticide". So is it not true that we have switched from killing children after birth to killing them before they are born?

The author says, "This is not the place to discuss the morality of abortion, but the larger context of trends in violence can provide some insight into how people conceive of abortion." But the author's thesis is about whether violence has declined or not (and why). I don't care about "morality" per se, but if he is just going to write off the biggest violence that is occurring on the face of the earth, he cannot arrive at a true conclusion. He is doing the same as many others who condone abortion by ignoring it. Since his book is about violence, and he does not account for the trends in abortion over time, then abortion (he is effectively saying) is not violence. By not taking a stand he is taking a stand, just as many so-called "human rights" groups condone abortion by not taking a stand against it. (And, yes, others take an active stance promoting such violence.) He is trying to "ply the middle ground", but his conclusion is flawed if he does not take into account the violence of killing little humans. What he should be asking is: Why has this violence not declined if all of these other forms of violence have? Why is it that in virtually every other way we have reduced the violence that human beings show toward each other? Why is it that it is only toward the preborn that we have not made progress?

Perhaps the worst part of the author's views regarding abortion is stated in the last pages of the book, where he talks about the importance of empowerment of women. He states the usual prejudices, "But this empowerment often must proceed in the teeth of opposition from traditional men who want to preserve their control over female reproduction, and from religious institutions that oppose contraception and abortion." So that is why we oppose abortion, my friends. We are a bunch of religious zealots who feel the need to keep women "under our thumbs". Now there is a jaundiced view!