The headlines may be gloomy: a seemingly endless war in Afghanistan, famine in Somalia, a bloody crackdown in Syria. But Steven Pinker doesn't fret over the dismal news. In his ambitious new book, The Better Angels of Our Nature, the Harvard University–based cognitive researcher argues that the world is a significantly more peaceful place than it was in centuries past.
Steven Pinker on why humans are becoming more peaceful.
Pinker makes the case that the worst examples of human cruelty -- torture, war, suicide -- have declined dramatically in the modern age. Why? He contends that humankind has gradually tamed its worst instincts as traits like empathy and equality have proved more useful than violence and revenge, an insight as relevant to geopolitical strategists as criminologists the world over.
And Pinker suggests the trend toward a more peaceful planet is accelerating, beginning with the "Long Peace" that followed World War II and gaining momentum with the "New Peace" that followed the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. So, cheer up, he writes: "for all the troubles that remain in the world, the decline of violence is an accomplishment that we can savor."
Stimulus or austerity? I don't have an opinion on everything.
America or China? America.
Arab Spring or Arab Winter? Springier.
Reading list Winning the War on War, by Joshua S. Goldstein; Getting Better, by Charles Kenny; The Great Big Book of Horrible Things, by Matthew White.
Best idea Joshua Goldstein: If you want peace, work for peace.
Worst idea The United States' funding only the parts of the U.N. that advance American interests.
In 2003, British-born Andrew Sullivan, who is HIV-positive, was prohibited from becoming a U.S. permanent resident and denied the right to marry his same-sex partner. Eight years and two policy changes later, the writer and husband is a permanent resident of the United States, using his explosively popular blog, now hosted by the Daily Beast, to exhort his adopted country to extend marriage rights to all its citizens -- a cause that seemed astonishingly more achievable in 2011 than even Sullivan could have imagined until recently.
A self-proclaimed conservative, Sullivan argues against those who label him a liberal for his support of gay rights and decries the religious bias of modern right-wing politics. His ability to glide between political ideologies has made him a lightning rod for criticism, but also the rare figure in contemporary politics who can reach audiences across the political spectrum.
Meanwhile, his most fundamental cause, same-sex marriage, is undergoing a remarkable boost in popular acceptance, with the president admitting that his views, once opposed, are "evolving," and a majority of the country supporting it for the first time, a 9 percentage-point leap from last year. Sullivan, who has been punditizing for same-sex marriage since the early 1990s and wrote a major Newsweek cover story about his own marriage after New York's decision to legalize this summer, is justified in lifting a glass of Champagne. "[In] the years of struggle, as more and more heterosexuals joined us, we all began finally to see that this was not really about being gay. It was about being human," he writes.
Muse Thomas Merton.
Stimulus or austerity? Stimulus now; Bowles-Simpson–style austerity later.
America or China? China.
Arab Spring or Arab Winter? Spring.
Reading list The Rogue, by Joe McGinniss; The Better Angels of Our Nature, by Steven Pinker; The Settlers, by Gadi Taub.
Best idea Bowles-Simpson's deficit plan.
Worst idea Foreign policy based on theology, as in Rick Perry's "easy" position on Israel.