The Better Angels of Our Nature Quotes

Rate this book
Clear rating
The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined by Steven Pinker
8,497 ratings, 4.15 average rating, 913 reviews
Open Preview
The Better Angels of Our Nature Quotes (showing 1-30 of 99)
“The scriptures present a God who delights in genocide, rape, slavery, and the execution of nonconformists, and for millennia those writings were used to rationalize the massacre of infidels, the ownership of women, the beating of children, dominion over animals, and the persecution of heretics and homosexuals. Humanitarian reforms such as the elimination of cruel punishment, the dissemination of empathy-inducing novels, and the abolition of slavery were met with fierce opposition in their time by ecclesiastical authorities and their apologists. The elevation of parochial values to the realm of the sacred is a license to dismiss other people’s interests, and an imperative to reject the possibility of compromise.”
Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined
“Challenge a person's beliefs, and you challenge his dignity, standing, and power. And when those beliefs are based on nothing but faith, they are chronically fragile. No one gets upset about the belief that rocks fall down as opposed to up, because all sane people can see it with their own eyes. Not so for the belief that babies are born with original sin or that God exists in three persons or that Ali is the second-most divinely inspired man after Muhammad. When people organize their lives around these beliefs, and then learn of other people who seem to be doing just fine without them--or worse, who credibly rebut them--they are in danger of looking like fools. Since one cannot defend a belief based on faith by persuading skeptics it is true, the faithful are apt to react to unbelief with rage, and may try to eliminate that affront to everything that makes their lives meaningful.”
Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined
“Why should the spread of ideas and people result in reforms that lower violence? There are several pathways. The most obvious is a debunking of ignorance and superstition. A connected and educated populace, at least in aggregate and over the long run, is bound to be disabused of poisonous beliefs, such as that members of other races and ethnicities are innately avaricious or perfidious; that economic and military misfortunes are caused by the treachery of ethnic minorities; that women don't mind to be raped; that children must be beaten to be socialized; that people choose to be homosexual as part of a morally degenerate lifestyle; that animals are incapable of feeling pain. The recent debunking of beliefs that invite or tolerate violence call to mind Voltaire's quip that those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”
Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined
“Morality, then, is not a set of arbitrary regulations dictated by a vengeful deity and written down in a book; nor is it the custom of a particular culture or tribe. It is a consequence of the interchangeability of perspectives and the opportunity the world provides for positive-sum games.”
Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined
“The doctrine of the sacredness of the soul sounds vaguely uplifting, but in fact is highly malignant. It discounts life on earth as just a temporary phase that people pass through, indeed, an infinitesimal fraction of their existence…the gradual replacement of lives for souls as the locus of moral value was helped along by the ascendency of skepticism and reason”
Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined
“The indispensability of reason does not imply that individual people are always rational or are unswayed by passion and illusion. It only means that people are capable of reason, and that a community of people who choose to perfect this faculty and to exercise it openly and fairly can collectively reason their way to sounder conclusions in the long run. As Lincoln observed, you can fool all of the people some of the time, and you can fool some of the people all of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time.”
Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined
“The only people who should be allowed to govern countries with nuclear weapons are mothers, those who are still breastfeeding their babies."--Tsutomu Yamaguchi, the only survivor of both the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings.”
Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined
“Institutionalized torture in Christendom was not just an unthinking habit; it had a moral rationale. If you really believe that failing to accept Jesus as one's savior is a ticket to fiery damnation, then torturing a person until he acknowledges this truth is doing him the biggest favor of his life: better a few hours now than an eternity later.”
Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined
“The Rights Revolutions too have given us ideals that educated people today take for granted but that are virtually unprecedented in human history, such as that people of all races and creeds have equal rights, that women should be free from all forms of coercion, that children should never, ever be spanked, that students should be protected from bullying, and that there’s nothing wrong with being gay. I don’t find it at all implausible that these are gifts, in part, of a refined and widening application of reason.”
Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined
“The universality of reason is a momentous realization, because it defines a place for morality. If I appeal to you do do something that affects me—to get off my foot, or not to stab me for the fun of it, or to save my child from drowning—then I can't do it in a way that privileges my interests of yours if I want you to take me seriously (say, by retaining my right to stand on your foot, or to stab you, or to let your children drown). I have to state my case in a way that would force me to treat you in kind. I can't act as if my interests are special just because I'm me and you're not, any more than I can persuade you that the spot I am standing on is a special place in the universe just because I happen to be standing on it.

You and I ought to reach this moral understanding not just so we can have a logically consistent conversation but because mutual unselfishness is the only way we can simultaneously pursue our interests. You and I are both better off if we share our surpluses, rescue each other's children when they get into trouble, and refrain from knifing each other than we would be if we hoarded our surpluses while they rotted, let each other's children drown, and feuded incessantly. Granted, I might be a bit better off if I acted selfishly at your expense and you played the sucker, but the same is true for you with me, so if each of us tried for these advantages, we'd both end up worse off. Any neutral observer, and you and I if we could talk it over rationally, would have to conclude that the state we should aim for is the one where we both are unselfish.

Morality, then, is not a set of arbitrary regulations dictated by a vengeful deity and written down in a book; nor is it the custom of a particular culture or tribe. It is a consequence of the interchangeability of perspectives and the opportunity the world provides for positive-sum games.”
Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined
“I am sometimes asked, "How do you know there won't be a war tomorrow (or a genocide, or an act of terrorism) that will refute your whole thesis?" The question misses the point of this book. The point is not that we have entered an Age of Aquarius in which every last earthling has been pacified forever. It is that substantial reductions in violence have taken place, and it is important to understand them. Declines in violence are caused by political, economic, and ideological conditions that take hold in particular cultures at particular times. If the conditions reverse, violence could go right back up.”
Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined
“It Begins with skepticism. The history of human folly, and our own susceptibility to illusions and fallacies, tell us that men and women are fallible.”
Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined
“The theory that religion is a force for peace, often heard among the religious right and its allies today, does not fit the facts of history.”
Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined
“In this way of thinking, the fact that women show a lot of skin or that men curse in public is not a sign of cultural decay. On the contrary, it's a sign that they live in a society that is so civilized that they don't have to fear being harassed or assaulted in response.”
Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined
“Unlike features of a landscape like trees and mountains, people have feet. They move to places where opportunities are best, and they soon invite their friends and relatives to join them.”
Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined
“An ideology can provide a satisfying narrative that explains chaotic events and collective misfortunes in a way that flatters the virtue and competence of believers, while being vague or conspiratorial enough to withstand skeptical scrutiny.”
Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined
“It’s a little-known fact that most terrorist groups fail, and that all of them die.194 Lest this seem hard to believe, just reflect on the world around you. Israel continues to exist, Northern Ireland is still a part of the United Kingdom, and Kashmir is a part of India. There are no sovereign states in Kurdistan, Palestine, Quebec, Puerto Rico, Chechnya, Corsica, Tamil Eelam, or Basque Country. The Philippines, Algeria, Egypt, and Uzbekistan are not Islamist theocracies; nor have Japan, the United States, Europe, and Latin America become religious, Marxist, anarchist, or new-age utopias. The numbers confirm the impressions.”
Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined
“Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. —Voltaire”
Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined
“The fashion accessories of Justitia, the Roman goddess of justice, express the logic succinctly: (1) scales; (2) blindfold; (3) sword.”
Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined
“Perhaps the most extraordinary popular delusion about violence of the past quarter-century is that it is caused by low self-esteem. That theory has been endorsed by dozens of prominent experts, has inspired school programs designed to get kids to feel better about themselves, and in the late 1980s led the California legislature to form a Task Force to Promote Self-Esteem. Yet Baumeister has shown that the theory could not be more spectacularly, hilariously, achingly wrong. Violence is a problem not of too little self-esteem but of too much, particularly when it is unearned.”
Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined
“Once again, the point of this discussion is not to accuse Christians of endorsing torture and persecution. Of course most devout Christians today are thoroughly tolerant and humane people. Even those who thunder from televised pulpits do not call for burning heretics alive or hoisting Jews on the strappado. The question is why they don’t, given that their beliefs imply that it would serve the greater good. The answer is that people in the West today compartmentalize their religious ideology. When they affirm their faith in houses of worship, they profess beliefs that have barely changed in two thousand years. But when it comes to their actions, they respect modern norms of nonviolence and toleration, a benevolent hypocrisy for which we should all be grateful.”
Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined
“Many moral advances have taken the form of a shift in sensibilities that made an action seem more ridiculous than sinful, such as dueling, bullfighting, and jingoistic war. And many effective social critics, such as Swift, Johnson, Voltaire, Twain, Oscar Wilde, Bertrand Russell, Tom Lehrer, and George Carlin have been smart-ass comedians rather than thundering prophets. What in our psychology allows the joke to be mightier than the sword?

Humor works by confronting an audience with an incongruity, which may be resolved by switching to another frame of reference. And in that alternative frame of reference, the butt of the joke occupies a lowly or undignified status. ...

Humor with a political or moral agenda can stealthily challenge a relational model that is second nature to an audience by forcing them to see that it leads to consequences that the rest of their minds recognize as absurd. ...

According to the 18th-century writer Mary Wortley Montagu, 'Satire should, like a polished razor keen / Wound with touch that's scarcely felt or seen.' But satire is seldom polished that keenly, and the butts of a joke may be all too aware of the subversive power of humor. They may react with a rage that is stoked by the intentional insult to a sacred value, the deflation of their dignity, and a realization that laughter indicates common knowledge of both. The lethal riots in 2005 provoked by the editorial cartoons in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten (for example, one showing Muhammad in heaven greeting newly arrived suicide bombers with 'Stop, we have run out of virgins!') show that when it comes to the deliberate undermining of a sacred relational model, humor is no laughing matter. (pp. 633-634)”
Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined
“Since violence is largely a male pastime, cultures that empower women tend to move away from the glorification of violence and are less likely to breed dangerous subcultures of rootless young men.”
Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined
“The doctrine of the sacredness of the soul sounds vaguely uplifting, but in fact is highly malignant. It discounts life on earth as just a temporary phase that people pass through, indeed, an infinitesimal fraction of their existence. Death becomes a mere rite of passage, like puberty or a midlife crisis.”
Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined
“Lewis Richardson wrote that his quest to analyze peace with numbers sprang from two prejudices. As a Quaker, he believed that "the moral evil in war outweighs the moral good, although the latter is conspicuous." As a scientist, he thought there was too much moralizing about war and not enough knowledge. "For indignation is so easy and satisfying a mood that it is apt to prevent one from attending to any facts that oppose it. If the reader should object that I have abandoned ethics for the false doctrine that 'tout comprendre c'est tout pardonner' [to understand all is to forgive all], I can reply that it is only a temporary suspense of ethical judgment, made because 'beaucoup condamner c'est peu comprendre' [to condemn much is to understand little]." (p. 200)”
Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined
“The quotation falsely attributed to Stalin, 'One death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic,' gets the numbers wrong but captures a real fact about human psychology. (p. 220)”
Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined
“Reason is up to these demands because it is an open-ended combinatorial system, an engine for generating an unlimited number of new ideas. Once it is programmed with a basic self-interest and an ability to communicate with others, its own logic will impel it, in the fullness of time, to respect the interests of ever-increasing numbers of others. It is reason too that can always take note of the shortcomings of previous exercises of reasoning, and update and improve itself in response. And if you detect a flaw in this argument, it is reason that allows you to point it out and defend an alternative.”
Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined
tags: reason
“Oscar Wilde’s prophecy that “as long as war is regarded as wicked, it will always have its fascination. When it is looked upon as vulgar, it will cease to be popular.”
Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined
“Jerry Seinfeld once remarked that today’s athletes churn through the rosters of sports teams so rapidly that a fan can no longer support a group of players. He is reduced to rooting for their team logo and uniforms: “You are standing and cheering and yelling for your clothes to beat the clothes from another city.”
Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined
“The shocking truth is that until recently most people didn’t think there was anything particularly wrong with genocide, as long as it didn’t happen to them.”
Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined

« previous 1 3 4

All Quotes
Quotes By Steven Pinker
Play The 'Guess That Quote' Game