December 13, 2011

Pinker and medieval murder rates

The medievalist blog Quod Libet has a number of posts up disputing the estimates of historical violence levels in Steven Pinker's big book The Better Angels of Our Nature. 

For example, was An Lushan's 8th Century revolt in Tang Dynasty China really one of the bloodiest event of all time? How can we confidently count the Mongol death toll? How about the Albigensian Crusade?

And are Pinker's estimates of the murder rate in the high middle ages reliable?

I took the opposite tack of pointing out that our having any statistics from the late medieval period suggests that those years were more orderly than earlier Dark Ages periods from which we don't have any numbers. In many ways, I subscribe even more to Pinker's hypothesis of a general trend toward orderliness than he does. Unlike Pinker and his wife, however, I don't see that trend as largely restricted to the Enlightenment. As I wrote in The American Conservative:
Pinker then skips the long Dark Ages, during which the Catholic Church tried, with the slowest success, to turn the illiterate Conan the Barbarian warlords who had overrun Europe into gentlemen. He lands next in the high medieval period. To Pinker, feudalism must represent anarchy because there is no overweening Leviathan to enforce order. To Europeans alive at the time, however, their newly mature feudalism provided them with “stationary bandits”—to use economist Mancur Olson’s term—who protected them from the more terrifying “roving bandits.” The French monk Raoul Glaber exulted in the 11th century that it was as if “the whole world were shaking itself free, shrugging off the burden of the past, and cladding itself everywhere in a white mantle of churches.” 
To the visual historian Lord Kenneth Clark, host of the 1969 PBS documentary “Civilisation,” the construction of towering Gothic cathedrals demonstrated that the 12th and 13th centuries were self-evidently better ordered than the wasteland centuries that had preceded them. But Pinker can’t plot the Middle Ages’ improvement over the Dark Ages on his charts because there is no data from the Dark Ages. So he feels free to ignore the considerable progress that Christendom made.

Here's Pinker's FAQ on his book, which is well worth reading because he attempts answers to many common objections there, most of which he already included in his book. He really has thought longer and harder about this topic than most people have and has anticipated most of the objections.

By the way, I'm quoted on p. 82 (in the galleys) of Better Angels: 
The journalist Steven Sailer recounts an exchange from early 20th-century England: "A hereditary member of the British House of Lords complained that Prime Minister Lloyd George had created new Lords solely because they were self-made millionaires who had only recently acquired large acreages. When asked, "How did your ancestor become a Lord?" he replied sternly, "With the battle-ax, sir, with the battle-ax!"

The secret to being quoted in important books is poor sourcing: although that anecdote made a vivid impression upon me, I have no idea anymore where it's from. So, at the moment, I'm the best source!

67 comments:

Patung said...

Just google it, duh!

http://www.vdare.com/articles/more-diversity-less-welfare

Harmonious Jim said...

So, is this book at the top of Sailer best of 2011 list?

inní mér syngur vitleysingur said...

> although that anecdote made a vivid impression upon [me], I have no idea anymore where it's from.

I guess the internet still doesn't contain everything, which was what the Google books deal was trying for.

bjdubbs said...

The idea of declining violence is as old as Thucydides.

"The whole of Hellas used once to carry arms, their habitations being unprotected and their communication with each other unsafe; indeed, to wear arms was as much a part of everyday life with them as with the barbarians. And the fact that the people in these parts of Hellas are still living in the old way points to a time when the same mode of life was once equally common to all. The Athenians were the first to lay aside their weapons, and to adopt an easier and more luxurious mode of life."

RKU said...

I'll admit I was singularly unimpressed with Pinker's book, based on the few random pages I skimmed. I suspect his view of reality is overwhelmingly shaped by the ideological views of his Harvard colleagues, which range across the enormous ideological spectrum from Alan Dershowitz to "Skip" Gates.

Just as a single though significant example, his chart of the "worst things" in human history (based on proportional bodycount) includes the Mideast Slave Trade at #9, which supposedly cost 19M lives (who in world can estimate such things?), and lasted 1300(!!!) years. It seems to me totally ludicrous to consider it as an "event" if it lasted many times longer than the entire Roman Empire. Why not try to add up all the various wars fought by Rome, all the various massacres over the centuries, and all the Roman slaves who suffered and died and try to work out a total bodycount for the entire history of the Roman Empire? I'm sure it would be vastly greater than the MST and also much more quantifiable from ancient sources, and would certainly top Pinker's stupid chart. So the very worst single "event" in all human history would be...Rome! This sounds just like a Monty Python sketch.

Another random page I opened was around p. 266, and shows Pinker to either be totally dishonest or an utter fool. He describes how the U.S. military has become so vastly more humitarian(!!!) in recent years, and cites the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan(!!!) as evidence. Now this is a very "odd" claim to make since based on the best objective evidence America has caused the deaths of well over a million Iraqi civilians, despite the "smart targetting" that Pinker blithely touts. Furthermore, I'm no expert on WWII, but unless I'm seriously mistaken, the reprisals taken by the American forces were vastly worse and more brutal than any of the "war crimes" on the Western Front that the Nazis were ever charged with.

As I once pointed out in a posting perhaps on this very blogsite, the reason Heydrich was so easy to assassinate in WWII was that he always drove all around occupied Czechoslovakia in an open car without any bodyguards. Meanwhile, everyone agrees that any Americans who ventured even 100 feet outside the Baghdad American Green Zone unless backed by a company of troops and heavy armor would have been immediately killed by any local Iraqis. What does that tell you about the relative popularity of the Nazi and American Occupations? Maybe someone should send Pinker and his family on a "fact-finding visit" to Iraq or Afghanistan so he can discover the error of his analysis.

Consider also that over the last decade America has fought more wars (almost all of which were totally crazy) than it probably did in the previous forty years, and I think it may have now spent more dollars on those wars than WWI and WWII combined. America has never in its history been so militarily aggressive and in such an utterly crazy way. Plus the recent majority vote in the Senate to essentially repeal the Bill of Rights and authorize permanent domestic imprisonment of citizens without formal charges or trial despite the fact that there's actually zero domestic terrorism. Plus endless numbers of other totally crazy things.

And Pinker now comes along and basically says "trends show America is more peaceful and non-violent than it's ever been before." Suppose someone walks by, sees an obviously rabid dog snarling and snapping and foaming at the mouth and trying to bite everyone, and says "I've never seen Fido so contented and happy." Either it's a comedy skit, or the fellow is an idiot.

Anonymous said...

"America has caused the deaths of well over a million Iraqi civilians"

That was the result of civil war.

Anonymous said...

"What does that tell you about the relative popularity of the Nazi and American Occupations?"

It was because the Nazis were feared more.

TH said...

Pinker also quotes you on abortion-cut-crime.

Anonymous said...

"the reason Heydrich was so easy to assassinate in WWII was that he always drove all around occupied Czechoslovakia in an open car without any bodyguards"

Nazi came as conquerors and made it very clear that any resistance would be met with extreme force. Americans went to Iraq as liberators, and it was the new freedom that led to mass killings between Sunnis and Shias. If Americans had been more brutal and ruthless, there would have been greater peace in Iraq.

When Germany lost the war and Czechs no longer feared Germans in their midst, they carried out massacres against Germans on the scale that occured between Sunnis and Shias.

agnostic said...

The decline looks like it might even go back to the High Middle Ages, not just the Renaissance.

Manuel Eisner looked at rates of regicide from 600 to 1800 and found a decline even from around 1000 or thereabouts. And depending on whether you count the surge in the century before that as an aberration or not, there was a decline apparent even in 600 to 800 or 900 period. (This is from memory, but there's a graph in his article.)

Pinker does cite this article in the book, but doesn't dwell on it too much. For one thing, we don't know how much it tells us about individual-level homicide.

Still, it tells us something about the propensity to use violence to get what you want. I think people will not pay much attention to this example because it doesn't jibe with the popular theories about what causes violence to decline.

Obviously it is not the Enlightenment or the Renaissance culture, since this fall in regicide started centuries earlier. Nor does it have to do with centralized states, modern levels of incarceration, the spread of Christianity (since we're less violent in more atheistic ages), and so on.

Here's the original article and a write-up on some medieval blog:

http://bjc.oxfordjournals.org/content/51/3/556.abstract

http://www.medievalists.net/2011/02/17/killing-kings-patterns-of-regicide-in-europe-ad-600%E2%80%931800/

Anonymous said...

Bring out yer dead.

Abraham Darby said...

Good comment from the thread there, but not about violence, but Pinker saying the people of the medieval period were gross and used passages of an "etiquette book":

Tim O'Neill said,
I've often come across people quoting some of the funnier (to us) bits in Medieval etiquette manuals and concluding that this means people in the Middle Ages must have needed to be told not to relieve themselves in front of ladies, befoul the hangings with filth or touch their dangly bits in public.
What these people (and, it seems, Pinker) don't understand is that these books were written for the instruction of household pages. These were not adults, but small boys between six and fourteen years old. And these instructions would have been for the new pages - ie the six to seven year olds.

Anyone who has been in the company of a large number of six to seven year old boys will know that they need admonitions about passing gas, playing with themselves and public urination regularly in any age.

Pinker doesn't understand what he's reading here."

FredR said...

I thought it was the fear of violent and indiscriminate reprisals that kept the occupied countries from taking too many potshots at Nazi officers. Sort of seems like evidence for the opposite case to me.

Mr. Anon said...

"RKU said...

As I once pointed out in a posting perhaps on this very blogsite, the reason Heydrich was so easy to assassinate in WWII was that he always drove all around occupied Czechoslovakia in an open car without any bodyguards. Meanwhile, everyone agrees that any Americans who ventured even 100 feet outside the Baghdad American Green Zone unless backed by a company of troops and heavy armor would have been immediately killed by any local Iraqis. What does that tell you about the relative popularity of the Nazi and American Occupations? Maybe someone should send Pinker and his family on a "fact-finding visit" to Iraq or Afghanistan so he can discover the error of his analysis."

Perhaps the Czechs suspected that the Germans would do to them exactly what the Germans did in fact do to them after Heydrich was assaninated - pick a couple of towns off a map at random, and exterminate them.

Or perhaps Czechs are not the same as Iraqis.

Or perhaps, as I suspect, you are a moral idiot.

nooffensebut said...

I also found examples of questionable scholarship on the part of Pinker, which I describe here and here.

Anonymous said...

[snipped one of the most ignorant posts I have ever read in the comments section of this blog]

Meanwhile, everyone agrees that any Americans who ventured even 100 feet outside the Baghdad American Green Zone unless backed by a company of troops and heavy armor would have been immediately killed by any local Iraqis.

Dude, I was there. In 2004-2005. Lots of us ventured out of the IZ unescorted rather regularly without any ill effect. (There are a couple of restaurants in the Karrada district of town that beat the Army DFAC for regularly good chow).

It was for official visits, like daytime trips by a dozen Americans to an Iraqi government ministry, that were supposed to be escorted by a dozen or so (not a "company") of soldiers in HMMWVs (not "heavy armor"). Even then, there were rules bent quite often.

Eric said...

Could somebody post a link to the blog mentioned in this posting (quod libet)?

Eric said...

could somebody post the URL of the blog mentioned in this post (quod libet) ?

Anonymous said...

"he best objective evidence America has caused the deaths of well over a million Iraqi civilians"

That's complete codswallop. The classified US estimate (via WIkileaks) is about 65K civilian deaths out of about 110,000 recorded deaths (Iraqi, American, and Allied). The Lancet study, which you seem to be referring to, has been completely discredited. It was never anything more than a propaganda effort.

And your claim that " the reprisals taken by the American forces were vastly worse and more brutal than any of the "war crimes" on the Western Front that the Nazis were ever charged with" is frankly insane.

Harry Baldwin said...

I took the opposite tack of pointing out that our having any statistics from the late medieval period suggests that they were more orderly than from earlier Dark Ages periods when we don't have any numbers.

Good point. In a similar vein, I am skeptical of those statistics that say that Colombia or Jamaica had the highest murder rate in a given year. All that means is that they had the highest murder rate among countries that are sufficiently well-organized to compile meaningful statistics. Obviously, a place such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo has a significantly higher murder rate than either, but who's counting?

I have a friend who has spent years sailing the Pacific, and he scoffs at those annual announcements of how many people were killed by sharks. He points out that the people most likely to be eaten by sharks live on islands outside of the purview of the world press.

kaganovitch said...

rku wrote "What does that tell you about the relative popularity of the Nazi and American Occupations? " in reality it tells you nothing at all about the relative popularity of americans and nazis in Iraq and Czechoslovakia respectively, but rather about the perception of the two populations regarding the likelyhood of barbaric reprisals in the event of an atack on the occupiers (as it happens an accurate perception) It was said that under the yassa of the great ghengis kahn "a virgin could cross the length of the Mongol Empire with a pot of gold on her head and never be molested.” This was a tribute not to Temujin's popularity but to his utter ruthlessness in punishing banditry

DaveinHackensack said...

"As I once pointed out in a posting perhaps on this very blogsite, the reason Heydrich was so easy to assassinate in WWII was that he always drove all around occupied Czechoslovakia in an open car without any bodyguards. Meanwhile, everyone agrees that any Americans who ventured even 100 feet outside the Baghdad American Green Zone unless backed by a company of troops and heavy armor would have been immediately killed by any local Iraqis. What does that tell you about the relative popularity of the Nazi and American Occupations?"

Not much. Edward Luttwak made this point a few years ago ("Dead End: Counterinsurgency as military malpractice"):

"Terrible reprisals to deter any form of resistance were standard operating procedure for the German armed forces in the Second World War, and very effective they were in containing resistance with very few troops. As against all the dramatic films and books that describe the heroic achievements of the resistance all over occupied Europe, military historians have documented the tranquillity that the German occupiers mostly enjoyed, and the normality of collaboration, not merely by notorious traitors such as the incautious French poet or the failed Norwegian politician but by vast numbers of ordinary people. Polish railwaymen, for example, secured the entire sustenance of the German eastern front. As for the daring resistance attacks that feature in films, they did happen occasionally, but not often, and not because of any lack of bravery in fighting the routinely formidable Germans but because of the terrible punishments they inflicted on the population.

Occupiers can thus be successful without need of any specialized counterinsurgency methods or tactics if they are willing to out-terrorize the insurgents, so that the fear of reprisals outweighs the desire to help the insurgents or their threats. The Germans also established secure and economical forms of occupation by exploiting isolated resistance attacks to achieve much broader demonstration effects. Lone German dispatch riders were easily toppled by tensed wires or otherwise intercepted and killed, but then troops would arrive on the scene to burn or demolish the surrounding buildings or farms or the nearest village, seizing and killing anyone who aroused suspicion or just happened to be there. After word of the terrible deeds spread and was duly exaggerated, German dispatch riders could safely continue on their way, until reaching some other uninstructed part of the world, where the sequence would have to be repeated."

Gyan said...

One should be aware that Pinker is rabidly anti-Christian and purveyor of very dubious facts.

His exclusion of Communism from modernity is unwarranted and so his avoidance of Nationalism.

His rabid anti-Christianism is displayed from this quotes from the FAQ:

Hitler thought he was carrying out a divine plan. Nazism received extensive support from many German churches, and no opposition from the Vatican

The Crusaders perpetrated a century of genocides that murdered a million people

The Inquisition, according to Rummel, killed 350,000 people

-----------
British India is a leading atrocity (one of the 21 biggest) but Muslim conquest of India is nothing?.

In conclusion, Steven Pinker should not be regarded as a serious scholar but somebody with a axe to grind against Christianity.

Anonymous said...

Manuel Eisner looked at rates of regicide from 600 to 1800 and found a decline even from around 1000 or thereabouts.

There were a lot more guys running around with posses calling themselves "king" or some other fancy name the further back you go during that time period. Comparing their deaths with the deaths of official "kings" with more consolidated power that came along later on is pointless.

Charlie said...

You can see from Pinker's FAQ, I think, that he is aware of a big hole in his thesis: the issue of death-per-unit-time (as he puts it) during atrocities. The Mongol conquest takes a century, WWII takes a few years - how on earth are these comparable?

The guy isn't dumb, on some level he must feel that his reply is just hand-waving.

For reasons that I suspect relate entirely to modern weapons and logistics, big wars end faster now than they used to. You can argue that in comparing atrocities, the longer war should not be considered less horrible than the shorter one, simply on account of its length - but how do you answer the objection that the shorter war leaves time for two in place of the longer one? In other words, why count WWI and WWII as separate atrocities, when they involved many of the same countries slaughtering one another within a period much the same as the Thirty Years' War - while the Thirty Years' War counts as one?

And if the Mongol conquests can count as one event, while taking more than a century and spanning most of Eurasia, why not say that the atrocities of "nationalism" are all one, beginning with the French Revolution, on to the American Civil War, and ending with the two World Wars?

This is not his only dubious position - as far as I can see Quod Libet effectively demolished his Whig history of English murder rates, and his inclination to blame religion for much violence is obtuse; does he really fail to understand that genocide, as its name suggests, is always about perpetuating one group's genes at another's expense, with religion never more than a fig-leaf of justification? Or that religious movements are really ethnic movements? How this escapes a geneticist is beyond me.

Kai Carver said...

The secret to being quoted in important books is poor sourcing: although that anecdote made a vivid impression upon, I have no idea anymore where it's from. So, at the moment, I'm the best source!

Funny, and goes nicely with this recent XKCD cartoon: Citogenesis

Anonymous said...

Of course, even assuming all the historical figures are accurate, which seems unlikely, this thesis would have been spectacularly invalidated many times over had a major nuclear war broken out during the Cold War, or if one does break out in the future.

A major nuclear war was in the realm of possibility during the Cold War. The worst projections of a nuclear war between the US and USSR involved around 40 to 80% of immediate US deaths with immediate Soviet deaths at 20 to 40% lower than the US ones, followed by many additional deaths due to loss of infrastructure.

What was/is the probability of major nuclear war, and would have been/is the likely death toll? If we multiply these figures, we can get an expected value. Would this expected value exceed previous historical violent periods?

Anonymous said...

I find the whole idea of quoting 'mediaeval death rates' ridiculous.
Firstly, England (and I suspect all other European nations) did not hold any censuses at all in the middle ages - in fact the first reliable nationwide census was only take as recently as 1801 (this is very recent in English terms).As to the extent of the English population at all dates previous to 1801, we only have estimates and the further we get the estimates get murkier - to the point of pure guess work with a wild margin of error.We're talking about a country that has been thickly peopled for millenia here (archaeology and ancient field patterns attest to this), but no one really knows the extent of settlement.
Secondly how the hell are 'murder rates' from the middle ages calculated? Very few documented court proceedings from those times have actually survived the ravages of time and come down to us.Unless proper documented evidence can be produced I remain extremely sceptical of all claims that mediaeval murder rates were astronomical.I've got a sneaking suspicion that this is something 'social scientists' have cooked up to justify their own pet theories.

Anonymous said...

"Unlike Pinker and his wife, I don't see that trend as largely restricted to the Enlightenment."

There may be a separate enlightenment strand as well but it's not neccessary for murder rates to decline. All you need is urbanization and people living in higher population densities to make impulsively violent behaviour a problem and the historical solution to impulsively violent behaviour created a selection pressure against it.

If you collated (honest) violent crime stats from a city that had block-by-block diversity with different ethnic groups on each block you would see quite plainly that there's (roughly) a
- tropical
- sub-tropical
- white
- asian
- oriental
sequence in non-domestic violent crime and if you broke it down more to the actual regions people came from then the non-domestic impulsive violent crime rate would be inversely proportional to centuries of urbanization. So...

1) Importing people from more violent places will increase the average rate.

2) Importing people from less violent places will decrease the average rate.

3) Improving emergency medical services will partially disguise the rate.

4) Locking up more impulsively violent people and for longer periods of time will decrease it.

4a) This is especially important long-term with those ethnic groups who didn't have those traits reduced by millenia of urbanization. Locking them up in large numbers and thereby reducing the number of kids the most impulsively violent ones have can be used as a way of speeding up the evolutionary process their ethnic group hasn't gone through.

Anonymous said...

OT, but did you catch this hilariously paranoid article about Tim Tebow, Steve?

http://www.thejewishweek.com/editorial_opinion/opinion/my_tim_tebow_problem

"If Tebow wins the Super Bowl, against all odds, it will buoy his faithful, and emboldened faithful can do insane things, like burning mosques, bashing gays and indiscriminately banishing immigrants. While America has become more inclusive since Jerry Falwell’s first political forays, a Tebow triumph could set those efforts back considerably."

Neither Whiskey Nor Roissy said...

Manuel Eisner looked at rates of regicide from 600 to 1800 and found a decline even from around 1000 or thereabouts.

Okay, here's an idea for you: Find a readily-available quantity, like regicide rates, and then plot it next to another readily-available quantity, like regal [regale?] total fertility rates.

My guess is that, as the [male] regents [and their societies] became more domesticized [pace Whiskey/Roissy, more feminized], their female consorts will have progressively fewer and fewer children.

Anonymous said...

Many, many moons ago during the British miners' strike of 1984, The Sun newspaper, as a bit of fun, decided to engage a genealogist to research the ancestry of Arthur Scargill (the hard left miners' union leader) and Maggie Thatcher the hard-right Prime Minister.
What it found was astonishing.Apparently, Scargill was the scion of younger sons of castle owning warrior elite nobility.Thatcher on the other hand was descended from a long, long line of uninterrupted farm laborers (a step below peasants, laborers didn't evn own land, they could only sell their labor)which only 'progressed' to working in shoe factories in the early 20th century.
One of Thatcher's direct line male ancestors killed another farm laborer, in a field, after a quarrel in the 19th century.

Anonymous said...

among countries that are sufficiently well-organized to compile meaningful statistics

This sort of thing simply CANNOT be over-emphasized.

You get the same sort of phenomenon with medical studies which involve "self-reporting" - necessarily a respondent is going to need an IQ of at least 110 [and maybe even 120] to be bright enough to fill out a questionnaire, hence the results of any such study necessarily leave you with no insight whatsoever into the mores of the folks with IQs in the 80s, 70s, 60s, and beyond.

For them, you'd have to assign a small army of Whiskey's "nice white ladies" to follow them around 24/7 and record the observed behaviors.

BTW, along those lines, I have started to wonder how all those folks with IQs in the 80s, 70s, 60s and beyond manage their prescription medicine intake [for their obesity-induced diabetes, their obesity-induced kidney failure, their obesity-induced asthma, etc etc etc].

Given that they are [genetically] incapable of learning to read, how in Hades are they supposed to understand a typewritten instruction like "Take two pills two times a day after meals"?

My guess is that those folks must try their best to memorize what the pharmacist [or the hospital ward's discharging nurse] tells them about the medications, and then they just kinda wing it after that [if they even bother to take their meds in the first place].

As another BTW, in one of this week's "DOOM" pieces over at AoSHQ, Monty linked to this piece which, in turn, linked to this piece:


Saving by the Bundle
By EZEKIEL J. EMANUEL
November 16, 2011, 7:55 pm
opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com

...A 2009 study in The New England Journal of Medicine showed that among Medicare patients, 20 percent were re-admitted to the hospital within 30 days of being discharged. We call these chronically ill patients frequent fliers.

What goes wrong? Just about everything. It is estimated that up to 40 percent of prescriptions go unfilled, and even when they are filled, patients often fail to take the medications as prescribed. Before blaming the patients, remember that many have multiple conditions and juggle 5 or 15 pills a day. Regulating a diet is difficult even for well-educated and motivated individuals. The typical Medicare patient sees 7 doctors a year; those with five or six chronic conditions see up to 10. They might forget to make an appointment, or be unable to keep it. If they do see a doctor, they probably have only 15 minutes to cram in all the issues they need to discuss...



Bottom Line: Without legions of "nice white ladies" to coddle them, the situation for these grossly obese, low-IQ miscreants is simply hopeless, and, as far as the financial burden on white society is concerned, simply untenable.

Anonymous said...

The Mongol conquest takes a century, WWII takes a few years - how on earth are these comparable?

They can be compared because they are wars of conquest.

To compare them, we certainly should not say "Assume that WWII was as long as the Mongol Conquests. How bad would it be?" and ignore the fact that it was not that long.

In other words, why count WWI and WWII as separate atrocities, when they involved many of the same countries slaughtering one another within a period much the same as the Thirty Years' War - while the Thirty Years' War counts as one?

The best way would be to look at a simple 100 year moving average and not really worry about "counting events" unless you wanted to drill down to that level of detail.

If the 100 year moving average is less violence, then less violence.

I'd hope Pinker does this. The reviews seem to indicate that he has.

Kai Carver said...

sorry, wrong link, the xkcd cartoon is here: Citogenesis

up too late said...

@RKU

> unless I'm seriously mistaken, the reprisals taken by the American forces were vastly worse and more brutal than any of the "war crimes" on the Western Front that the Nazis were ever charged with.

So you're not saying the Americans were worse than the Nazis on the /Eastern/ front were. But you're saying, worse than they on the Western front? I haven't heard that. I would have thought revisionist / realist historians would have loved to drag that stuff out into the open - got any references?

Thursday said...

Third, according to the most recent compendium of history’s worst atrocities, Matthew White's Great Big Book of Horrible Things (Norton, 2011), religions have been responsible for 13 of the 100 worst mass killings in history, resulting in 47 million deaths. Communism has been responsible for 6 mass killings and 67 million deaths.

This is retarded. How long has religion been around vs. the 100 years that communism has been in power. That communism has managed to rack up a such a huge amount of deaths over such a short amount of time says a lot.

agnostic said...

"As to the extent of the English population at all dates previous to 1801, we only have estimates and the further we get the estimates get murkier"

None of the pre-census data on murder rates are national, they're all local (Kent, Oxford in England, Stockholm in Scandinavia, etc.), where population size was easier to figure out.

"Secondly how the hell are 'murder rates' from the middle ages calculated?"

They usually don't go back to the middle ages, except the late middle ages in England, when they held special courts every year or so to investigate really heinous crimes like murder.

Most of Eisner's data is from about 1400-1500 onward. You can read more about the sources and methodology in this paper:

http://bjc.oxfordjournals.org/content/41/4/618.short

"There were a lot more guys running around with posses calling themselves "king" or some other fancy name the further back you go during that time period. "

So call them "political leaders" then, you sperg. It still tells you how likely the aspiring elites were to use violence to get what they wanted.

Aaron Baugher said...

"So the very worst single "event" in all human history would be...Rome! This sounds just like a Monty Python sketch."

Which is funny, since it sounds like Terry Jones did more research on the Middle Ages for his TV show than Pinker did for this book. (In fact, Jones tries to spoil the reputation of the Romans, or at least balance history's view of the Romans as a singularly civilizing force in a Europe filled with drooling barbarians. He overdoes it, but it's still an interesting show, and we do know a lot more about the Middle Ages now than we did a few decades ago.)

"BTW, along those lines, I have started to wonder how all those folks with IQs in the 80s, 70s, 60s and beyond manage their prescription medicine intake...."

Poorly. That's partly how we created the homeless problem in the 1980s: new psychoactive drugs made it possible for many people formerly in institutions to live on their own, but many couldn't take the medication strictly enough and ended up wandering the streets.

"My guess is that those folks must try their best to memorize what the pharmacist [or the hospital ward's discharging nurse] tells them about the medications..."

Pretty much. Every time I pick up my ADD medication, most of the space in the bag is taken up by several pages of instructions, warnings, and other boilerplate that no one will ever read, yet the pharmacist always tries to explain how to take it. I don't look clueless either; I'm dressed nice and have my documents ready, and they can see in their system that I've been taking the stuff for a while. I suspect they're just used to having to teach most people the basics every time they come in.

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:54, Medicare is for OLD PEOPLE. MEDICAID is for the low-IQ miscreants.

According to my nurse case manager girlfriend (the nice white lady responsible for the discharge plan), they both frequent fly at about the same rate, at least at her urban teaching hospital.

Charlotte said...

"to the point of pure guess work with a wild margin of error.We're talking about a country that has been thickly peopled for millenia here (archaeology and ancient field patterns attest to this), but no one really knows the extent of settlement."

Census taking was mainly for the purpose of taxation. Remember Joseph and Mary going to register in their ancestral City of David 2000 yrs ago, for the purpose of making themselves available for taxation by the Romans? How many taxable conquered Hebrews on the books?
Caesar wanted to know.

This is where libraries come in handy. The kind with books, old, new, from all over. Well, I was browsing in the reading of the Library of Congress and lingered in the English history section, serendipty coming on a book published fairly recently. It featured many pictures done by contemporaries in Tudor England, and even more important, recollections by actual people of those days. About 1600, one old man remarked on the extreme change in population density in and around London and other areas of England. It was a drastic difference. London went from a large village with a few big buildings and churches, to a major metropolis during the 16th century. There were some major censuses done for London at that time, but I don't know how accurate they were.

Anonymous said...

The myth of the Fourth Reich

Just as mainstream American Right defines itself in terms of anti-racist pro-diversityism(Gingrich for instance), European Right defines itself in terms of being more anti-far-right than even the left is. Amusingly, it's the leftist New Statesman that comes to the defense of Germany from accusations of virulent anti-germitism.

abigail knocknees said...

Paradoxically, could it have been the rise of spiritual violence inherent in Christianity that reduced physical violence? Germanic and Roman myths were violent too, but there is a special violence in the Biblical God. The Lord saith 'vengeance is mine', and so evildoers against you will burn in hell for all eternity. Now, nothing is more violent in the human imagination than being burnt in hell forever.

One of the main impulses behind violence was revenge. If someone did you wrong, you wanted to return the favor. If some tribe attacked yours, yours had to attack the tribe. Sometimes, vengeance was a matter of wild passion. Sometimes of cultural honor.
But the Biblical God said there is no need for you to take vengeance since He will take vengeance in your stead. So, if someone did you wrong, instead of gouging his eyes out, just pray and hope that God will burn your enemy in hell for all eternity. By having such violent thoughts of spiritual vengeance, you might be less likely to commit actual violence.

Peter A said...

While RKU is overestimating how popular the Nazis were, I think Luttwak has also seen too many WWII films. The Germans were not loved by the local populations, indeed often hated, but they were often recognized as relatively legitimate in a lot of occupied Central Europe. Hated and legitimate is better for maintaining control than liked and illegitimate (arguably the US position in Iraq). We are talking about countries that had been independent for a grand total of 20 years before the Germans essentially "came back". Most of the adult population had grown up and even worked much of their careers under Austro/Hungarian or German rule. And even after 1918 German speakers (whether German, Jewish or Hungarian) were still the elite business class in much of central and Eastern Europe. So Czechs, Poles, Slovaks and Lithuanians were all fairly used to German speakers bossing them around. More than fear, German control was maintained through a lot of resignation to the "natural order of things" among anyone in their 30s or older in Bohemia and Western and Southern Poland.

abigail knocknees said...

Has Pinker written on the role of ritualized violence in the reduction of violence. We tend to think of dueling culture as violent and having led to more violence. But we have to put in a proper context. In comparison to modern humanist values, dueling was indeed violent.
(Similarly, though slavery seems inhuman by modern values, it was a step up from wholesale genocide that used to be prevalent in tribal warfare. Slavery allowed sparing lives of defeated tribes and putting them to productive use.)
But in another context--when contrasted to earlier times--, dueling probably limited or controlled violence. Dueling isn't just two guys biting each other's ears and gouging eyes out. It's a ritualized and mannered way of violence. It's civilized violence. Despite the hypocrisy, it made the violence cleaner. Pistols or sabers were used instead of battle axes or giant hammers. When the opponent was struck, the duel was ended. The victor didn't pull out the loser's entrails. Also, in some cases, both parties could come to an agreement, preserve each other's honor, and drop the duel. So, rise of dueling culture produced reduced violence in contrast to a time when men tore each other's guts out.

This could also be said for jousting. Violent sport, but it came with rules and honor and all that stuff. Also, men were to fight for honor of civilized women. So, it wasn't only to win but to be honorable in face of danger. And even in defeat, one could lose honorably. It's there in the Romero movie KNIGHTRIDERS.

This raises the question, did the rise of sport-violence(where rules and regulations are paramount)have an impact on violence as a whole? Did it inspire rules of warfare where certain things were not supposed to be done? Maybe, maybe not. Greeks invented the Olympics but they were plenty violent.
But in UK, sports culture, especially as developed by amateur-aristocrats, seems to been a kind of competitive violence of good manners. CHARIOTS OF FIRE.
Origins of Anglo-American sports culture has roots in the love of sports among Anglo aristocratic elites. So, even though sports turned into a mass phenom, its tradition and culture had been formulated by aristocratic manners and attitudes. So, there is the model of the graceful winner and loser.
But recent American sports has been redefined by the howling Negro who taunts and flaunts. So, sports culture, instead of channeling and civilizing violence, may come to accentuate and exaggerate it.

abigail knocknees said...

If your god is Thor...

Suppose someone kicked your ass and you went to Thor and said, "Lord Thor, someone kicked my ass."
You could hear Thor saying, "then go kick his ass twice as bad, that is you have balls. If you win, his ass will be kicked and you'll real good. If you fail, you'll go to valhalla as a warrior who fell in battle."

If your God is God...

"Lord, someone kicked my ass."

You can hear God saying, "Don't worry. Just be good and let it pass cuz Vengeance is Mine. I will kick his ass for you. I will roast his butt in Hell for all eternity."
That might make you feel good without taking violence yourself.

sideways said...

RKU channeling his inner Whiskey in this thread. that's an impressive streak of wrongness.

sideways said...

But I think my favorite was 1300 years being many times longer than the Roman empire lasted. 1300 is how many times greater than 2000?

Socrates said...

Third, according to the most recent compendium of history’s worst atrocities, Matthew White's Great Big Book of Horrible Things (Norton, 2011), religions have been responsible for 13 of the 100 worst mass killings in history, resulting in 47 million deaths. Communism has been responsible for 6 mass killings and 67 million deaths.

You've got cause and effect mixed up. Tribalism, Religion, Nationalism, and Communism were successively more efficient and brutal excuses for elites (or aspiring elites) to grab power.

They were merely the means, not the motivation. Religion and Communism never killed anyone. It was the powerful and connected elites that used them to steal a neighboring noble's land, destroy a potential rival, rise in social status and consolidate power among their base.

The driving -ism today is Globalism which probably won't have follow this trend. Modernity, culture and technology are turning the majority into easily manipulated sheep so mass killings will not be necessary.

However, I don't know how the likes of Sailer will fare in this brave new world.

"All Wars are fought for Money". Substitute Atrocities/Power for War/Money and it's no wonder Socrates had to go.

abigail knocknees said...

Question about race.

Because modern man left Africa around 60,000-80,000 yrs ago, the idea is that black race and white race are divided only by 60,000-80,000 yrs.
Other than the fact that's a helluva long time for racial variations to develop, isn't it misleading since we tend to associate 'Africa' with black people.

In fact, the racial split between blacks and non-blacks is much older than 60,000-80,000 yrs. The people who left Africa were not black Africans of the South but non-black Africans of the north.
So, the racial differentiation between white race and black race could be 100,000s of yrs old. Northern Africans had become different from blacks long before they left Africa. So, 'out of Africa' raciation took place IN North Africa long before people left Africa.

To use an analogy, consider Asia. Much of Russia falls into Asia though most Russians are white. But if we use geographic categorization, many white Russians in the Asian part of Russia could count as 'Asians'. This gives the false impression that they the same as Mongols or Chinese. Now, suppose Asian-Russians go to Poland and settle for 10,000 yrs. Would it make sense to think 'people who look like Chinese turned into whites'?

So, never confuse 'out of africa' theory with 'out of black africa' theory. 'Out of black africa' took place 100,000s yrs before 'out of africa'. So, white and black races have been separated by much longer than 60,000 yrs.

MQ said...

That's complete codswallop. The classified US estimate (via WIkileaks) is about 65K civilian deaths out of about 110,000 recorded deaths (Iraqi, American, and Allied). The Lancet study, which you seem to be referring to, has been completely discredited. It was never anything more than a propaganda effort.

The Lancet study was not discredited and is still the best available evidence on the total effect of the Iraq intervention on the civilian population from all sources (including, as someone pointed out above, civil war...which was not active prior to our intervention). The survey-based methodologies used in the study were used to estimate casualties in other, less politically controversial conflicts (Bosnia and Africa) and were never contested then. The order of magnitude of the Lancet estimates are also supported by the massive, multi-million person refugee flows clearly documented by the UN.

The estimates like 65,000 civilian deaths come from places like Iraq Body Count (which actually got up to 100,000 civilian deaths) and measure something totally different than the Lancet study -- namely *verified newspaper reports* of civilian deaths due to U.S. action. The Lancet study measured mortality from all sources reported by a full population sample.

MQ said...

That communism has managed to rack up a such a huge amount of deaths over such a short amount of time says a lot.

One issue with measures of deaths due to Communism is that they include famine deaths, not just direct killings. So if you were to apply the same standards, the British were responsible for tens of millions of deaths in India, Ireland, and China during periods where they controlled those countries. (OK, their control of China was less direct, but they had major influence). Traditional regimes like the Russian Tsars and the Chinese emperors would also have a lot of blood on their hands. The usual excuse used for this metric is that the Communists deliberately created 'terror famines' while famines in countries under European or traditional control were just unfortunate happenstance that the government couldn't do anything about. This doesn't really fly in a lot of cases...it could work for some of Stalin's famines, but I'm not sure how you say that the Great Leap Forward famines under Mao were any more deliberate than the Irish famine under the British. The Great Leap Forward was a really stupid economic policy, but it was not intended to cause a famine among a targeted population. The Chinese government stubbornly refused assistance, but then the British also refused to help when they could have -- in fact the British made the Irish continued to export food while people were starving. (Similar policies were followed during some Indian famines).

Once you start equating famine deaths with deliberate violent massacres and ranking 'how evil' people are on that basis then you are going to get some weird results.

Anonymous said...

Just as a single though significant example, his chart of the "worst things" in human history (based on proportional bodycount) includes the Mideast Slave Trade at #9, which supposedly cost 19M lives (who in world can estimate such things?), and lasted 1300(!!!) years.


I haven't read his book and probably will not, but his theory sounds idiotic and this example tends to confirm my suspicions.

Anonymous said...

So call them "political leaders" then, you sperg. It still tells you how likely the aspiring elites were to use violence to get what they wanted.

No it doesn't, sperg. You're one of the biggest spergs in the blogosphere, using dubious stats to justify all kinds of ridiculous claims about art, fashion, pop culture, etc. Do you use those stats to pick out your cool dance outfits?

If there are fewer kings over time, fewer regicides don't necessarily indicate less violence, especially as it becomes more of a ceremonial position and further removed from the field.

How many regicides were there during WW2?

Steve Sailer said...

I looked into the Lancet study of Iraq deaths and eventually came to believe that some of the in-person survey data were faked -- but because Iraq was too dangerous for the Iraqis hired to carry out random house-to-house surveys to execute the naive design Americans came up with. So, I don't know what the real numbers were.

Anonymous said...

I don't know how "popular" the Nazi occupation of parts of central and eastern Europe was, but much of those populations feared the Soviets. So it may have been a case of them not being very "popular" per se (how many occupations are genuinely popular? there are always sour grapes), but the people fearing a potential Soviet occupation more. The Soviets had done their collectivization programs in the 30s which resulted in major disruption, famine, confiscation of private property, death, etc.

Anonymous said...

I think RKU made a great comment. Provocative, for sure. His Rome example is a great counterexample to Pinker's use of the Mideast slave trade and makes Pinker's methods look kind of silly.

Anonymous said...

Consider also that over the last decade America has fought more wars (almost all of which were totally crazy) than it probably did in the previous forty years, and I think it may have now spent more dollars on those wars than WWI and WWII combined. America has never in its history been so militarily aggressive and in such an utterly crazy way.

Peter Frost had an interesting series of posts a couple months ago arguing that the US has been more aggressive recently and will likely be so over the near term due to the "imbalance of terror" i.e. lack of the kind of balance of power that existed when the Soviets were around:

http://evoandproud.blogspot.com/2011/10/end-of-era.html

"We are nearing the end of relative global peace, specifically the peace that has reigned since the Korean armistice was signed back in 1953. This era is ending because of changes to the international system over the past two decades and to the nature of global peace itself.

First, a balance of terror no longer exists to contain regional conflicts and thus keep them from going global. Military alliances have become less specific in their aims and reciprocal responsibilities."

"With the end of the Cold War, it increasingly means American military interventions that would have been unthinkable previously. There is now an “imbalance of terror”—the United States is free to overthrow one unfriendly regime after another without triggering a major war."

"There has indeed been an arms buildup in countries that fear eventual U.S. intervention, particularly China, Russia, and Iran. None of them wish to go one-on-one with the U.S., for obvious reasons."

"Despite the arms buildup, and an ever more fragile international system, global peace might still continue indefinitely. The destabilizing factor is really the spread of an increasingly aggressive globalist ideology and, correspondingly, resistance by various forms of anti-globalism.

For comparison, we can turn to the gradual breakdown of the post-Napoleonic peace that lasted from 1815 to 1914. That century-long peace was made possible by the Concert of Europe, a coalition of conservative regimes that worked together to keep the continent free of liberalism and nationalism. The coalition fell apart during the second half of the 19th century and gave way to a looser system of opposing military alliances."

agnostic said...

"If there are fewer kings over time, fewer regicides don't necessarily indicate less violence, "

Pay attention, sperg: I said "rates" of regicide, and so did Eisner's article, not "counts." He controls for number of leaders, and the length of their reign, since he's not an idiot like you glibly assume he is. You're the lazy dimwit.

Difference Maker said...

MEDICAID is for the low-IQ miscreants.

Immigrants use medicaid at a massive rate.

Anonymous said...

"If a native of Chester in Roman Britain could wake up today he would find laws which were the direct fulfilment of many of those he had known ... (a long comparison of 1930s UK to UK 250 BC, frontiers on the Rhine, Christianity going strong, baths, roads, Latin needed for Oxbridge, sense of belonging to an imperium past its prime etc) ... but the more he studied the accounts of what had happened since the third century the more satisfied he would be not to have been awakened at an earlier time."

Churchill's History of the English Speaking Peoples Vol 1

Laban

military intelligence said...

That Pinker FAQ is very good. He really took that environmentalist New Yorker reviewer to the shed. The "verbal aggression" above re: Baghdad green zone reminded me of the Ted Koppel show on NBC this week. He made a huge deal out of the convoy used to ferry these 2 Americans who were Arabic translators. He sat in the Yukon with them and pretended to be oh so perplexed about why such security was warranted for such low-value targets (the translators though tight-lipped didn't seem to be noticeably insulted here). But what really was funny was the visual side of it, obvious right away but naturally omitted completely by priestly journalist Ted: the translators were diminutive middle-aged white chicks.

Anonymous said...

I said "rates" of regicide, and so did Eisner's article, not "counts." He controls for number of leaders, and the length of their reign

The same criticism applies. A lower regicide rate doesn't necessarily indicate less violence, especially as the type of political leadership changes and becomes more of a ceremonial position and further removed from the field.

What were the regicide rates of WW2? A lower regicide rate for WW2 compared to some other event wouldn't necessarily mean that it was a less violent event.

Maybe inane stats help you color coordinate cool dance outfits or something, sperg, but you can't glibly infer all these ridiculous claims about war, violence, art, fashion, pop culture, etc.

Anonymous said...

One issue with measures of deaths due to Communism is that they include famine deaths, not just direct killings. So if you were to apply the same standards, the British were responsible for tens of millions of deaths in India, Ireland, and China during periods where they controlled those countries.


I'm not sure what point you think you're making. Yes, famines are made-made disasters. This is true regardless of whether the men in question are Russian or English. So?


Once you start equating famine deaths with deliberate violent massacres and ranking 'how evil' people are on that basis then you are going to get some weird results.


"Weird" in what sense?

Anonymous said...

> unless I'm seriously mistaken, the reprisals taken by the American forces were vastly worse and more brutal than any of the "war crimes" on the Western Front that the Nazis were ever charged with. -RKU

Unless he's thinking of something like Caen as a reprisal, I think RKU has ventured into a time warp and chanelled images of US reprisals/atrocities in the Mexican War (where Texas Rangers played the role of Einsatzgruppen), the Indian Wars, the Filipino War and Vietnam.

In the the latter cases after all-unlike Europe-US was unambiguously playing the role of aggressor and/or occupier making it somewhat analogous to NS Germany. US became an occupier after the war when resistance to the Allies-despite spurious legends about "Werewolves"- would have been very stupid and futile due to lack of any prospect of aid from the outside. When a resistance movement to US occupation did crop up in Germany in the 70s (RAF) it did get material support from the Soviet Bloc.

Anonymous said...

MQ,

The Lancet study was not discredited and is still the best available evidence on the total effect of the Iraq intervention on the civilian population from all sources (including, as someone pointed out above, civil war...which was not active prior to our intervention). The survey-based methodologies used in the study were used to estimate casualties in other, less politically controversial conflicts (Bosnia and Africa) and were never contested then. The order of magnitude of the Lancet estimates are also supported by the massive, multi-million person refugee flows clearly documented by the UN.

Anyone spending five minutes on wikipedia can see that Lancet is hardly the last word on Iraq casualties just by comparing the methodologies and results obtained.

Not sure about Africa but Bosnian casualties have most certainly been contested. (Unless you mean in the MSM nightly news.)

As for refugee flows supporting Lancet-like figures but not other casualty numbers, bahaha. Get out of here, MQ. We're supposed to believe you know precisely what sort of domestic violence level would lead to precisely what sort of refugee outflow? As I said, bahahaha.

Silver

neil craig said...

At the beginning of the Dark Ages almost everybody in Britain spoke what is now Welsh (apart from Latin overlords). At the end only the Welsh did. This was not 100% extermination (DNA proves that) say 60%. But not a sign of peacefulness.