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A Selective, 10-Concept Review of Steven Pinker`s Book “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined”

by Francisco Gomes de Matos, Recife, Brazil
To review an  830-book  is a most challenging task, but in these days of The Rights Revolutions, to borrow a title from
chapter 7, I can exercise my right to produce a  selective review, focused on 10 concepts which reflect my current
interests, as a peace linguist and human rights educator. Here is the alphabetically arranged list, compiled prior to reading the book:
  • Dignity
  • Human Rights
  • Humiliation, Language
  • Nonkilling
  • Peace
  • Political Science
  • Psychology
  • Spirituality
  • Technology
Brief reflections will be made on each selected concept, so as to cover the author`s conceptual breadth. Mention is made of presence in / absence from the book`s index. Conspicuous conceptual omissions  are pointed out. In creating this selective mini-review, I have done my best to live up to what I call Communicative Dignity, in my dual role as reader-reviewer. For details on such concept, google “Communicative Dignity: A Checklist”.
DIGNITY – This multidimensional concept is not in the book`s Index,but mention is made of “a person of dignity” (p.609).The related concept of HONOR occurs in 16 subentries on Culture of Honor. Commendably, COMPASSION and EMPATHY are both dealt with in the book, as well as included in its index. No index entry was found for RESPECT.
HUMAN RIGHTS –  The title of the second longest chapter in the book (104 pp) is The Rights Revolution. Types of human rights dealt with: Women´s Rights, Children`s Rights, Animal Rights. No mention made of Linguistic Rights, despite the increasing global recognition of  that category of rights. Commendably, the author devotes 20 pages to Animal Rights .
HUMILIATION- This core concept is invisible in the index, but there are entries for DEHUMANIZATION, DISCRIMINATION.
LANGUAGE – There are 10 subentries in the index. As a peace linguist, I was happy to see reflections on  the language of self-control. Fourteen sections  focus on METAPHORS. Word Frequencies in Language is the subject of a section  (211-213), but  there is no mention of the recent A Frequency Dictionary of Contemporary American English, by
Mark Davies and Dee Gardner(2010), which provides lists of  Negative and Positive Emotions, with information on their frequency of use.That computer-based source tells us that VIOLENCE, VIOLENT and PEACE, PEACEFUL are among the 5,000 most frequently used words in American English.
NONKILLING – This groundbreaking concept and approach, presented by U.S. political scientist Glenn D. Paige (www.nonkilling.org) is not in the index.The related (historically prior) concept of NONVIOLENCE is also conspicuously absent from the index (as a separate entry), but mention of it is made in a discussion  of Norms of Nonviolence (128).
PEACE – This concept is  prominently used in two chapter titles:  The long peace (106 pp.) and The new peace ( 83 pp.). The book`s Index does little justice to the conceptual depth and breadth of  PEACE. To those engaged in PEACE STUDIES, the absence of PEACE EDUCATION and PEACE PSYCHOLOGY may be questioned.
Pinker (personal communication, January 3,2012) kindly explained to me that  he does not mention “Peace Psychology or other academic movements, partly because this is not a book  aimed primarily at an academic audience, …”.  Pinker`s discussion of PEACE THEORIES (5 subentries in index) includes  NUCLEAR theories.
PSYCHOLOGY – To what areas of Psycology does Pinker refer? Cognitive Psychology, Evolutionary Psychology, Folk Psychology, Moral Psychology, Social Psychology, Psychology of Violence. As mentioned above, PEACE PSYCHOLOGY is not included.
SPIRITUALITY – There is no such concept but cf. index entries for RELIGION, SOULS,
TECHNOLOGY – One of the index subentries deals with “killing at a distance”, another with “weaponry”.
Bibliographical info:
Steven Pinker
The Better Angels of Our Nature – Why Violence Has Declined.
New York:  The Penguin Group, 2012, xxviii + 802 pp.

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