Reading for All Mankind: Why a Decline in Violence Might Be a Bad Thing

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About Andrew Ladd

Andrew Ladd is the blog editor for Ploughshares. His work also has appeared in Apalachee Review, CICADA, Memoir Journal, Paper Darts, and The Rumpus, among others, and his first novel, What Ends (New Issues Press, January 2014), was the winner of the 2012 AWP Prize in the Novel. Follow Andrew on Twitter @agoodladd.


  1. That’s a fair point. It’s a hopelessly old-fashioned empire that needs to maintain its power through military force, when political and economic influence can do it so much more easily and efficiently.

    Just like it’s only the youngest and most naive nations that bother with bloody revolutions to put an elite tyranny in place; why bother when you can simply BUY the existing government and operate it from behind the scenes?

  2. pillowinhell says:

    The book also completely ignored most of what archeology tells us about human existence. Violence, specifically in the case of war, has only been around during the last ten thousand years or so. Right about the same time as agriculture and geographically stable communities started springing up, competition for land and resources resulted in armed skirmishes. I’m sure that there has always been some violent tendencies in humanity, but its a lot easier to resolve a knife fight between neighbors than to resolve bloodshed between two large groups of people.

  3. This is a nice fantasy to say that capitalism will stop wars, but we don’t fight because we want stuff. We fight because we want violence.
    Not even a fool does something for thousands of years unless they love it, and so it goes with violence.

  4. wet_suit_one says:

    Re: power being concentrated in the hands of the 1%. Even the strongest man can be killed by the weakest man who puts a knife in his back. If the imbalance is unsustainable, it will be rebalanced. It’s just a matter of time.

  5. Violence mostly affects the poor…even in wars, they affect mainly the poor – the rich come out unscathed (their millions will ensure their safety and their loved ones). If the earth ever become too violent and unlivable, the rich can probably built themselves a spaceship and launch themselves to another planet and start a new economy there.

    Violence and wars breed disparity between rich and poor.

    Wars = recession
    Wars+recession = rich get richer
    Wars+recession = poor get poorer

    • Capitalists probably don’t mind recession or wars, perhaps even embrace them because wars and recession got nothing on them…and they come out richer anyhow.

      • Who benefits from wars and recessions? (Not the poor).

        I once had a friend who worked for a bank, who’s quite knowledgeable about investments and world economies. He explained to me it’s the one percent who were bringing the financial collapses in the world wide economies; which brought on the recessions and that wars are for profit. That is how the rich stay rich – the one percent.

        • Recessions, loss of jobs etc… keep people poor.

          Poor people, poor men have no choice…but to enlist themselves up for the military where they fight and die. The poor die, the rich lives on. Personally I think recessions are a way for government to build up its military to fight wars.

  6. Ladd, your friend is correct that trading in a true capitalist system encourages fairness, cooperation, and therefore peace, and you’re correct that in a supposedly capitalist country like the USA that a powerful few monopolize violence to the extend of making violence ineffective for the masses. However, your conclusion of blaming capitalism for the monopoly is false (almost by definition). The monopoly & the unfair concentration of power are the result of an economic system that has been subverted & perverted by coersive politics. Political power enables crony capitalism. For example, “defense” contractors would be less inclined to bribe the government to participate in foreign adventurism if the government wasn’t empowered to steal from the people to give money to the “defense” contractors.

  7. van Rooinek says:

    Even when an otherwise respected minority leader tried his hardest to present the violence as the product of serious social and economic inequality, the largely upper-middle-class media still wrote it off as senseless.

    Because most of today’s middle class, had ancestors who were poor 2-3 generations ago, and their grandparents didn’t become psychotically violent in response to poverty, they just worked and went to school and avoided out of wedlock childbirth…. and viola, one day they looked up and they weren’t poor any more. Simply put, our own family histories tell us that it is “senseless”.

    • van Rooinek says:

      okay… voila…. as in french behold. not viola, larger cousin of the violin.

      but yuo all know waht I menat ot tpye. rghit?

  8. CarutherskingcaruthersKingcaruth says:

    When asked what weapon(s) will be used in WW3, Einstein said he wouldn’t hazard a guess.  But then he added that he knew what weapons would be used in WW4: clubs.  Pinker dismisses the clearest and most categorical statistic of all: that although many states have suffered large scale invasions and bombings, no nuclear power has ever been attacked in this way.  Pinker’s own cost-benefit argument explains why: even the most obtuse capitalists understand that there is no profit to be made from a nuclear war.  So while the US invades and bombs many, many countries, it has never done that to a nuclear power.  This is no coincidence.  

    It seems to me any reduction in violence is due to the fact that the rich and powerful  have found better ways of maintaining dominance, such as the manufacture of consent through the mass media and mass “education.”    They also keep the masses atomized, and have mastered the technique of dividing and conquering (by demonizing public workers, or immigrants, etc.)  They have a complete monopoly on force, and so people realize that armed insurrection would be suicidally futile.  And they throw the masses just enough bread and circuses so the masses are not quite desperate enough to commit suicide by insurrection.  

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