Thursday, June 23, 2016

Violence Tradeoff of Europeans

Bird Dog has a link to a Gateway Pundit article about the enormously higher homicide rate of African-Americans. This connects in turn to Scott Adams’s analysis that Democrats use guns to kill innocent people, while Republicans use them for defense and sport. (A reader here had sent that to me and I forwarded it on.) That may not be an accurate statement emotionally, because the vast majority of gun-owners, Republican or Democrat, do not use them to commit violence. Yet it is an accurate statement statistically. Please note that Adams is a Democrat who is making a starker statement than most Republicans would dare.

I could take this in many directions, but there is one I believe is particularly neglected. It is true – and Steven Pinker’s The BetterAngels of Our Nature  acknowledges it even as he squirms around it – that this gradual reduction in killing of those in one’s own society started in Northern Europe (see, of course Hajnal Line). It is that group that has become unusual for its low violence, not other groups for their remarkable increase. If we can wrench our heads out Eurocentric/Anglospheric places and look at the rest of the world, we see that the violence level is quite high just about everywhere: Indonesia, Africa, Latin America, and Asia rather notoriously so. Even the exceptions, such as Japan, are instructive about this trend as a whole. Violence is generally low within the tribe and high outside it. A very few places in the world learned to expand their idea of who their tribe is, learning greater degrees of cooperation. This has rather obvious benefits for trade and specialization.

The downside in terms of violence is that greater cooperation leads to a much better military, which can kill large numbers of people very quickly.  Europeans have shown themselves to be remarkably good at that the last few centuries. Colonialism did not succeed because of superior technology (though that did help), but because the places the Europeans landed to trade were deeply divided tribally already, and could not get unified to fend off relatively small numbers (backed by enormous resources) of ships and soldiers from individual European countries. European nations have been dramatically effective at killing each other as well, and for similar reasons.  They figured out how to work together and make effective armies and navies. If you were part of their nation – which usually meant a collection of closely related tribes now united – life at home could be peaceful for long periods of time. A lot of that energy got diverted into religious persecutions internally (some about actual religious issues, some only nominally so), with repeated redefinition of who Our People are. But even that subsided. Europe divided into large nation-tribes that corresponded partially to international boundaries, and they tended to mistrust the other nation-tribes and persecute them or go to war with them.  But individual towns , counties, regions saw a continuing decline in internal violence.

So, read about ancient European tribes, with illustrations. Here's an example of France in the good old days.

An objection might be raised that the modern European ”superiority” in mass killing is an exaggeration. The deadliest wars have been largely Asian, especially Chinese, over the centuries after all, and even in WWII most death occurred in Asia. The deaths of the European Colonisation of the Americas, in second place, were largely from disease. I suppose one could say that the greater national cooperative efforts allowed Europe to cross the ocean and maintain enough presence to be the disease vectors, but it is otherwise a stretch to call that a killing efficiency. So with those corrections to the top two, the Europeans largely disappear from the upper list.  However, I think this understanding of internal versus external violence holds up for two reasons: first, the list covers many more centuries than the modern era; second, the example of China bears some resemblance to the European example.  It was a bureaucratic, organized empire with what we currently think were comparatively modest rates of internal violence, whose constituent parts occasionally exploded into highly organized warfare.

*Five years old already.  Wow.


james said...

I suspect that superior military technology/tactics would reduce the body count on both sides. The loser gives up quicker, and you don't have the back and forth of armies over the same ground that wipes out the civilians. (For one take on this effect, see Dr. Boli.)

Texan99 said...

A great history from Dr. Boli. I enjoyed this: "As for the rest of the West, it is true that occasional waves of barbarians are still sweep­ing across the landscape. (Historians once believed that history was made up of a series of such waves, but modern historians have shown that history sometimes behaves as a particle as well.)"