I can, however, use one tantalizing aside he makes to pronounce again on an altogether different matter that I have been following, viz. whether violence, as Stephen Pinker would have it, is on the decline. I present here Daniels’ concluding anecdote:
I had been asked by the courts to examine a young woman, aged 18, who was accused of having attacked and injured her 90-year-old great-grandmother, with whom she lived, while under the influence of alcohol and cannabis. She had broken her great-grandmother’s femur, but fortunately it did not prove fatal. (Incidentally, the homicide rate, it is said, would be five times higher than it is if we used the same medical techniques as were used in 1960.) I asked the young woman in the course of my examination whether her mother had ever been in trouble with the police.
“Yes,” she replied.
“What for?” I asked.
“Well, she was on the social,” she said—“on the social” in English argot means receiving welfare payments—“and she was working.”
“What happened?” I asked. “She had to stop working.”
She said this as if it was so obvious that my question must be that of a mental defective. Work is for pocket money, the public dole is the means by which one lives.
Referred to that base population, the homicide rate for the !Kung works out to 29 homicides per 100,000 person-years, which is triple the homicide rate for the United States and 10 to 30 times the rates for Canada, Britain, France, and Germany.
Diamond, Jared (2012-12-31). The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies? (pp. 287-288). Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition.
And what if we factor these medical advances into war casualty statistics? Would the 55 million dead in World War II become 275 million? When I reworked Pinker’s data from page 195 of The Better Angels of Our Nature to compare annual—as opposed to raw—death toll scaled to global population from bloody episodes in history I found that WWII, at 9 million per year, still fell far short of the An Lushan Revolt, at 54 million per year. This led me to doubt, with others, the soundness of Pinker’s data and wonder whether we might consider discarding outliers as is commonly done in looking for statistical trends.
But now it would appear that while those to considerations might further strengthen my case, they might not be necessary at all. If 10 years after the end of WWII medical technology was as Daniels describes it, then how much better was it in 1945 than in the 8th century? Another factor of five or six in preventing deaths would completely close that gap, and moreover show our penchant for private acts of aggression to be as strong as ever.