War and Violence: A Philosophical Appraisal- Interesting Insights for 21st Century!
Introduction about Current Situation of War and Violence
What is progress? Is it guided, regulated and directed towards moral upliftment in terms of virtuous acts, pleasurable feelings and optimistic thoughts? Is it necessarily synonymous to the term ‘development’ and either a cessation of something which was considered as against the spirit of moving forward in progress or the implementation of something which furthers progress? Progress is something which can be considered in a different sense by different individuals possessing different ideologies, skepticisms and beliefs they cater to in their mind! So, then how do we unequivocally define progress into a specific set of ideas, concepts and occurrences?
Let us respond to this skepticism by understanding John Gray’s analysis of progress in the perspective of war and violence and whether the world has progressed in terms of war and violence, or progress is simply a myth for the current prevailing conditions of the 21st century?
Progress in the 21st Century regarding War and Violence as opposed to earlier centuries in history
John Gray has presented to his readers, quite an intriguing picture of the world, which according to him, as opposed to Steven Pinker’s views has not progressed at all, when the basis for justifying it is that of violence and war. Steven Pinker has been observed as substantially nullifying the persistence of war and violence in the current time frame and has his own specific orientations as evidences to support his views on the same.
Pinker states that war and violence has been on a steady decline due to several factors which have been paid emphasis, which weren’t paid heed on earlier such as women empowerment, the growing influence of the ideologies of Enlightenment and the enhanced capacities of individuals to reason and in turn the arousal of increasing empathies for fellow humans. He further states that humans are becoming less violent and more altruistic, by supporting this view by stating that violent deaths have significantly reduced in numbers due to the heavy reduction remarkably observed in barbaric practices of human sacrifice, execution by torture have been abolished and therefore violent deaths are steadily declining.
This particular point itself drives one into an array of suspicions, whilst considering its plausibility. Is it truly valid to essentially generalize the abolition of inhuman practices such as human sacrifice and execution by torture in a global context? Also, while talking about progress in terms of women empowerment and enhanced capacities to reason and empathize with the fellow human species, has Pinker nullified the existence of several countries in the Orient and the Gulf such as the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, Afghanistan which even in the present circumstances of demanded reformation and alteration of conservative orthodox ideologies of governance, are head on devoted to expressing ruthless discrimination against women in particular, in terms of controlling their education, employment opportunities and preventing their venture outside their respective households and specify the consequences of not abiding to the conservative laws framed against their dignity and thereby hindering their identity in a socio-political context.
Is it really progress from war and violence when one comes across the recent turbulences observed in Afghanistan under the Taliban regime, beheading opposers of their governance, kidnapping and murdering women who tried to escape in order to safeguard their families and their children? On what grounds can one justify a public execution of women, forcefully abducting them from their houses, beating them up, grabbing them from the head and pulling their hair and leading them to public grounds for execution? Has Mr. Pinker not considered these situations and geographical territories, while talking about progress?
Does he define progress to be observed in a daily increase in carbon emissions as observed by significant pollution caused by automobiles such as cars, trains, airplanes and motorcycles in the air? Does the daily deterioration observed in the climatic conditions of the Earth, is what is defined as progress? In the earlier centuries, there was no instance of increased global warming thereby leading to the overall increase in the global temperature index of the world, and now it has been stated by scientists and scholars leading research in environment and climate change that the Earth has observed an increase in one degree Celsius of its temperature since the past century due to carbon emissions and increased dependency of humans on private automobiles as means of transport. So, is it progress to state that in the earlier centuries, humans relied primarily on public transport such as buses and trains in order to commute and now they prefer using their own automobiles, thereby increasing the emission load in the air? Is it merely a change in lifestyle of humans, an indicator of progress, regardless of whether it hinders or decelerates well-being in general? How does this justify mere negation of war and violence?
On the other hand, considering Pinker’s position on empathizing with fellow humans, is any form of discrimination an extension of empathy? Recent instances of racial discrimination observed in the United States against Black people of African and Afro-American descent, in terms of publicly murdering them, abusing them and ill-treating them merely on the basis of their skin color, is it what is empathy constitutes of? As far as empathy as an emotion is considered, it propagates one to step into the shoes of another and understand things from their perspectives. If the world had essentially become more empathetic towards their fellow species, then would it support any form of discrimination, be it racial, socio-economic, political, intellectual, gender-based, appearance-based in practice? This only furthers the occurrences of war and violence.
Significant belittling of women undergoing their menstrual cycles, attempting to venture into religious settings such as temples, processions, sacrificial grounds and prayer meetings as ‘unhygienic’, ‘impure’ and associating dirt and displeasure towards a specific deity of worship, truly progress and justified? Is it progress to associate the names of religious scriptures, individuals propagating religion such as spiritual leaders, priests and religious institutions as being responsible for introducing discrimination of women in their menses, a part of progress?
As mankind has approached and made acquaintances to technological developments, it has significantly neglected its necessary mental health by succumbing to stress, anxiety, depression and sleep disorders due to increasing peer pressure, work-related commitments and an increasing sense of competitiveness observed in order to have a fair share of resources, power, position, identity and satisfaction of achievement of goals. Is this progress? Progress can be considered in terms of the introduction of terms such as mental health in the public realm and a serious amount of attention given to their interventions by introduction of psychology as a discipline in schools as well as universities and as career opportunities and promotion of therapy sessions and counselling in public settings, but to what extent are these being implemented and are becoming beneficial to the general population? Is it really progress from war and violence when it comes to neglecting mental health concerns?
Due to depletion of environmental conditions, there has been a reduction in basic resources such as water, fresh and breathable air, coal and oil which creates the competitiveness as observed amongst individuals, governments, institutions and alliances thereby promoting stress, anxiety and a fear of losing control over resources. It has been predicted that over the next ten years, there shall arise a global shortage of water across the world and it shall create a heavy inflation amongst water resources due to the limited availability of it and heavy demand amongst nations not possessing it naturally. Is this the necessary progress one is looking for?
Conclusively, we can state that whilst incorporating multiple perspectives from multiple disciplines such as psychology, political sciences, biology, economics and sociology, each state in a unique manner that progress has not been achieved in the past hundred years. If it were so, then would not have been discussing this question like this and nor would we as a race shall have to bear the consequences of a pandemic such as that of the Spanish Flu, yet again just within the span of hundred years with the name of COVID-19.
Therefore, I shall like to quite transparently state that progress has not been achieved in the past hundred years, in fact the world has been deteriorating in negation day by day when it comes to perceiving war and violence!
Gray, John. “John Gray: Steven Pinker Is Wrong about Violence and War.” The Guardian, The Guardian, 13 Mar. 2015, www.theguardian.com/books/2015/mar/13/john-gray-steven-pinker-wrong-violence-war-declining.
Geoffrey Galt Harpham. (2018). Get Shorty: Steven Pinker on the Enlightenment [Review of Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress, by Steven Pinker]. Evolutionary Studies in Imaginative Culture, 2(2), 103–110. https://doi.org/10.26613/esic.2.2.95