Monday, February 6, 2012


Marion Pellicano Ambrose

You know the drill - everywhere we go, people are talking about the Mayan Calendar, Nuclear War, The Doomsday Clock and all things pointing to a dark and bleak future for us all. Consider this scenario:
A man and his son are pushing a shopping cart with their belongings across a devastated American landscape. There has been a global catastrophe, and the few survivors cling to a meager existence. Ruthless gangs roam the ruined cities in search of food. Nothing grows, the animals have all died, and the canned goods have nearly run out, so cannibalism has become the default option. In this world drenched in violence, human interaction is mediated almost solely by rod and gun. As they trek westward to the coast, the father tells his son that they are the carriers of the fire, that they are the good guys, that they must blunder on until they meet the other good guys. The boy struggles to understand, for his experience of survival has been full of pain and hunger and death. At one point, he asks his father plaintively how the two of them could possibly be good guys since they haven’t actually helped anyone on their journey. Short of utter annihilation, it’s the bleakest future imaginable.

Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is a modern classic of post-apocalypse fiction. It depicts the effects of a great burst of violence, perhaps a nuclear attack, and then the horrific violence that the survivors visit upon themselves. The science fiction genre once  produced a plethora of utopian narratives – Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward, Charlotte Perkins Gillman’s Herland, H.G. Wells’ Men Like Gods. But after the great bloodlettings of the 20th century, the genre became a great deal darker. The future was no longer an island paradise but instead a totalitarian state (1984), a planet decimated by disease (The Stand), or a world so degraded by nuclear war that even language had begun to devolve (Riddley Walker). Published in the post-9/11 era, The Road reflects a resurgent anxiety over the barbarism that lies just around the corner and just beneath the surface.

This anxiety over an impending barbarism is reflected in headlines that trumpet the threat of nuclear terrorism, melting icebergs, paralyzing pandemics, and disappearing food stocks. If the promise of future cataclysm doesn’t raise your blood pressure, then there’s all the daily global violence to which we’ve become dangerously inured. The Syrian government has killed thousands of protestors. War drags on in Somalia. The narcobattles in Mexico have left tens of thousands dead. The insurgencies in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq continue. Nigeria is on the verge of civil war. Each year we build a new addition to the charnel house of contemporary life.

Virtually everything we read in novels and newspapers, not to mention the video games we play and the Hollywood movies we watch, reminds us that we’re steeped in violence and that it’s only going to get worse. And then, along comes Dr. Steven Pinker with "The Better Angels of our Nature".

Faced with the ceaseless stream of news about war, crime, and terrorism, one could easily think we live in the most violent age ever seen. Yet as New York Times bestselling author Steven Pinker shows in this startling and engaging new work, just the opposite is true: violence has been diminishing for millennia and we may be living in the most peaceful time in our species existence. For most of history, war, slavery, infanticide, child abuse, assassinations, pogroms, gruesome punishments, deadly quarrels, and genocide were ordinary features of life. But today, Pinker shows (with the help of more than a hundred graphs and maps) all these forms of violence have dwindled and are widely condemned. How has this happened?

This groundbreaking book continues Pinker's exploration of the essence of human nature, mixing psychology and history to provide a remarkable picture of an increasingly nonviolent world. The key, he explains, is to understand our intrinsic motives- the inner demons that incline us toward violence and the better angels that steer us away-and how changing circumstances have allowed our better angels to prevail. Exploding fatalist myths about humankind's inherent violence and the curse of modernity, this ambitious and provocative book is sure to be hotly debated in living rooms and the Pentagon alike, and will challenge and change the way we think about our society.
Are you as tired as I am of seeing, hearing, and reading about impending doom and inevitable destruction? I think we all should take the time to read what Dr. Pinker has to say. At the very least, it will give us several hours of peace and non violence in our lives!

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