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Customer Review

on January 25, 2013
This is not a perfect book, but it is unique, and if you skim the first 400 or so pages, the last 300 are a pretty good attempt to apply what's known about behavior to social changes in violence and manners over time. The basic topic is: how does our genetics control and limit social change? Surprisingly he fails to give in any clear way the explanation for this in terms of inclusive fitness which is entailed by neodarwinism Mostly the criticisms given by others (I read them all) are nit-picking and irrelevant and, as Pinker has said, he could not write a coherent book about "bad things", nor could he give every possible reference and point of view, but he should have said at least something about the other ways of abusing and exploiting people and the planet since these are now so much more severe as to render other forms of violence irrelevant.

Extending the concept of violence will provide a very different perspective on what is happening in the world right now and how things are likely to go in the next few hundred years. One might start by noting that the decrease in physical violence over history has been matched (and made possible) by the constantly increasing merciless rape of the planet (i.e., by people's destruction of their own descendants future). Pinker (like most people most of the time) is often distracted by the superficialities of culture when its biology that matters.

This is the classic nature/nurture issue and nature trumps nurture --infinitely. What really matters is the violence done to the earth by the relentless increase in population and resource destruction (due to medicine and technology) About 200,000 more people a day (another Los Angeles every three weeks), the 12 tons or so of topsoil going into the sea/person/year etc. mean that unless some miracle happens the biosphere and civilization will largely collapse in this century and there will be starvation, misery and violence of every kind on a staggering scale. People's manners, opinions and tendencies to commit violent acts are of no relevance unless they can do something to avoid this catastrophe, and I don't see how that is going to happen. There is no space for arguments, and probably no point either (yes I'm fatalist), so I'll just make a few comments as though they were facts. Don't imagine I have a personal stake. I am 71, have no descendants and no close relatives and do not identify with any political, national or religious group and regard the ones I belong to by default as just as repulsive as all the rest.

Parents are all Enemies of Life on Earth and women are at least as violent as men. The fact that women's violence (like most of that done by men) is largely done in slow motion, at a distance in time and space and mostly carried out by proxy -by their descendants and by men --does not ameliorate it. Increasingly women bear children regardless of whether they have a mate and the effect of stopping one woman from breeding is on average much greater than stopping one man. In my view most people and their offspring richly deserve whatever misery comes their way and (with rare exceptions) the rich and famous are the worst offenders. Meryl Streep or Bill Gates and each of their kids may destroy 50 tons of topsoil each per year, while an Indian farmer may destroy 1 ton. If you deny it or don't want to deal with it that's fine, and to your descendants I say "Welcome to Hell on Earth"(WTHOE).

Human Responsibilities must replace Human Rights. Nobody gets rights without being a responsible citizen and the first thing this means is minimal environmental destruction . The most basic responsibility is no children unless your society asks you to produce them. A society or a world that lets people breed at will and supports their progeny will always be exploited by selfish genes until it collapses (or reaches a point where life is so horrific it's not worth living). If you want to maintain Human Rights as primary, that's fine and to your descendants one can say with confidence "WTHOE".

"Helping" has to be seen from a global long term perspective. Almost all "help" that's given by individuals, organizations or countries harms others and the world in the long run and must only be given after a very careful consideration. If you want to hand out money, food, medicine, etc., you need to ask what the long term environmental consequences are. If you want to please everyone all the time, that's fine and again to your descendants I say "WTHOE".

Dysgenics: endless trillions of creatures beginning with bacteria-like forms over 3 billion years ago have died to create us and all current life and this is called eugenics. We all have "bad genes" but some are worse than others. It is estimated that up to 50% of all human conceptions end in spontaneous abortion due to "bad genes". Civilization is dysgenic. This problem is currently trivial compared to overpopulation but getting worse by the day. Medicine, welfare and "helping" of all kinds have dysgenic consequences which will collapse society even if population growth stops. Again if you don't believe it or don't want to deal with it that's fine and to your descendants we can say " WTHOE".

Beware the utopian scenarios that suggest doomsday can be avoided by judicious application of technologies. You can't fool mother nature. I leave you with just one example. Famous scientist Raymond Kurzweil proposed nanobots as the saviors of humankind. They would make anything we needed and clean every mess. They would even make ever better versions of themselves. They would keep us as pets. But think of how many people treat their pets, and pets are overpopulating and destroying and becoming dysgenic almost as fast as humans. Pets only exist because we destroy the earth to feed them and we have spay and neuter clinics and euthanize the sick and unwanted ones. We practice rigorous population control and eugenics on them and no form of life can evolve or exist without these--not even bots. And what's to stop nanobots from evolving? Any change that facilitated reproduction would automatically be selected for and any behavior that wasted time or energy (i.e., taking care of humans) would be heavily selected against. What would stop the bots program from mutating into a homicidal form and exploiting all earth's resources causing global collapse? There is no free lunch for bots either and to them too we can confidently say "WTHOE".
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