Michael Lind at Salon has a new piece discussing his contention that the world is now "more peaceful than ever." The crux of the piece is simply that we as humans naturally overreact to incidents like the Boston Marathon bombing when there are no civilization-level threats to speak of. Due to that, Lind urges us to keep things in perspective when analyzing tragedies like this one. In one sense, his argument resonates, "Keep Calm and Carry On" and all that wonderfully British stoicism.
How he gets to this conclusion, however, reeks of chronological snobbery. Let’s start with his premise that the world is now more peaceful than ever before, which is a bold and unverifiable claim. The problem with his analysis is that he barely goes back far enough. He discusses how the violence from terrorism since 2001, the ensuing wars and the general geopolitical climate pales in comparison to widespread violence of the World Wars and Cold War conflicts. I hardly think it is fair to compare the past 2-3 decades against the first 7 of the 20th century. He’s cherry picking his data. The 20th century was without question the most bloody in all of human history. Our current century is barely a teenager, give it time.
Lind rightly states that the majority of violence in the last two decades has been "ethnic," meaning internal state conflict between ethnic/religious/cultural groups. What if these are simply the warning shots in a greater conflict to come? Lind’s implicit assumption that these will not spiral into something more is questionable.
All of this line of reasoning suggests that Lind believes we have reached some pinnacle in human history. Liberals love this kind of conclusion. Never before has humanity flourished like now! We moderns know best, clearly better than those cavemen from Ancient Greece or the Enlightenment or our Founding Fathers. They think this despite widespread human rights abuses in the second most powerful country in the world. Despite horrors like female circumcision, Gosnell murdering babies, despite war and chaos in Syria, Libya and Egypt, despite mass graves in Darfur, conflict in Afghanistan and open drug warfare in Mexico. The brutal truth is that we have only found better ways to kill each other. This illusion that the world is ever-improving in terms of morality and violence is bunk.
In short, never bet against the depravity of mankind. This world is broken and no modern ethic is coming to save it. We would be wise to avoid the hubris of modernity and allow ourselves to be lulled into thinking we are the heights of enlightenment. After World War I, it must have been unthinkable that a greater conflict was on the horizon, I pray we are not as unaware of such possibilities.