x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Interesting times

By historical standards, researchers say, the world is living now in very peaceful times. But it doesn't really seem that way, does it?

May you live in interesting times, goes the old Chinese curse. In that sense we may want to count our blessings because, contrary to what many believe, our times are comparatively dull.

Dull? Really? The 24-hour news channels scream of the horrors that stalk our world, and newspapers - yes, even this one - splash images of wars, demonstrations and dead dictators.

But three new books all argue that the world has never seen such a period of relative peace and calm as the one we're in now. War deaths, family violence, racism, rape and murder have all declined in recent years.

Before the advance of civilisation, when going to war seemed to be man's favourite pastime, battles accounted for more than 500 deaths per every 100,000 people. That figure has been steadily decreasing to its current figure of three-tenths of a person per 100,000.

Technological gains, including more accurate weapons, are part of this decline. And as prominent Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker argues in one book, so too are smarter people. (More educated people are generally more peaceful, he claims).

None of which may be much consolation to those on the receiving end of mayhem. But few would object if we could make the future a little more peaceful still. Even if it means fewer front-page news stories.