The Violence Paradox
The Money Maker
Brain scans show that, when we tuck into a Mars bar or nibble on a square of Fruit & Nut, a specific region of our grey matter lights up with joy — our pleasure centre.
Curiously, exactly the same area of our brains is stimulated when we carry out an act of calculated vengeance.
‘The old saying, ‘Revenge is sweet’, is literally true,’ remarked psychologist Steven Pinker in his two-part study The Violence Paradox (BBC4).
With his greying rock-star curls and black leather jacket, Pinker looks like he’d sacrifice all the letters after his name if only he could be the lead guitarist in a Led Zeppelin tribute band.
Professor Steven Pinker from BBC4’s The Violence Paradox argues the world is getting less violent
He argues that the world is getting less violent — despite the chocolatey delight we get from tit-for-tat reprisals. In the Middle Ages, or so his figures show, the murder rate was 20 times higher than today.
And even though modern international conflicts — with megaton bombs and armies bristling with automatic weapons — are infinitely more destructive than the old methods of swords and spears, our ancestors were still much more likely to die in wars.
Genghis Khan and his Mongol hordes in the 13th century worked really hard at mass slaughter. They didn’t have nuclear weapons but they still made sure that, when they laid waste to a city, not a single man, woman or child survived.
In fact, they wiped out about 10 per cent of the entire global population, Pinker said. Pol Pot was a peacenik by comparison.
It’s an intriguing idea, though it did feel like we were being bamboozled with statistics. The numbers were carefully lined up to create a misleading impression, one that fits the usual academic pattern of dewy-eyed optimism.
Robert Cieri takes skull measurements at Duke University in the Violence Paradox
In the late Nineties, a similar theory swept Left-wing intellectuals, proposing that humanity had reached ‘the End of History’. Everything was so wonderful, what with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the arrival of matey politicians such as Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, that everlasting peace and prosperity beckoned.
At the same time, economists pronounced the ‘Long Boom’ meant recessions were over. Both those notions went quickly out of date.
Pinker’s ‘self-domestication hypothesis’, which aruges that humans have tamed their own wild instincts and are evolving beyond violence, also seems unlikely to last. It’s the smug, over-privileged viewpoint of a scientist who doesn’t have to live in an inner city or Third World slum, or see his work censored by dictatorial officials.
As one mild-mannered professor countered sadly: ‘It depends on who you are and where you live.’
A possibility Pinker didn’t investigate was that violence subsides as prosperity increases. Far from being the root of all evil, money is what prevents us from slaughtering each other.
In that case, entrepreneur Eric Collins from Alabama is on track for a Nobel peace prize. He’s a venture capitalist, investing in ailing businesses on The Money Maker (C4). Eric isn’t really doing this out of saintliness, of course. He expects a fat slice of the profits — taking 25 per cent of Mancunian Jasen Jackiw’s repair business in exchange for £100,000 up front.
Jasen Jackie, Eric Collins, Steve Monaghan from Channel 4’s The Money Maker
I’ve never understood the financial logic behind shows like this or Dragons’ Den. If your business is sound and you need investment, why not go to a bank? Once the loan is paid off, the banker won’t still own a quarter of your life’s work!
It was good to see Jasen use the money to take on trainees, though. Never mind fancy theories, it’s real jobs that matter.
Superstar of the night: Lisa Eldridge celebrated Twenties dance sensation Josephine Baker for her much-imitated looks, in Make-up: A Glamorous History (BBC2). The segment ended too soon – this incredible woman needs a three-part series all to herself.