Jun 262024

I thought I remembered once seeing a YouTube video that showed, using excellent graphics, how violence actually declined over the centuries.

And indeed I did: but the video focused primarily on the death toll of World War II. Even so, in the final one third of the presentation, Neil Halloran, the video’s creator, does explore how, when adjusted for the size of the population, wars actually became less devastating over time.

This is also the view if Steven Pinker, who often discussed the “decline in violence” in his work and his talks.

Others, however, are less sure. And indeed, when I explore it myself using raw data from ourworldindata.org [chart 48], courtesy of Max Roser, the picture is decidedly less rosy.

set logscale y ; set datafile separator "," ; plot "global-death-rate-in-violent-political-conflicts-over-the-long-run.csv" skip 1 using 3:4 with lines notitle

Looking at this logscale plot showing death rates per 100,000 in conflicts since he middle ages actually shows an increase. And while indeed, the past 80 years can be described as the “long peace”, it’s more an anomaly than a trend.

In fact, looking at this chart I can comprehend the optimism of those who greeted the previous turn of the century, 1900 that is, as the start of the “century of reason”. If only…

 Posted by at 2:01 am