But history appears to be proving Wells right – although a little late – though you’ll have to excuse us if we allow the grandfather of Science Fiction to be a little bit ahead of his time.
Wells was referring to the need to wipe out German militarism, which the Allies mostly accomplished, only having to do it again 20 years later following the shaming of Germany during the peace process which followed. Between the First World War and the Second World War, there were over 100 million casualties. One would assume, then, it would be ridiculous to think that humanity is becoming gradually more peaceful over time. And yet, that’s exactly what we’re doing, according to statistical data. This surprising revelation was at the core of Dr. Stephen Pinker’s controversial 2011 book “The Better Angels of our Nature: Why Violence has Declined”.
Pinker argues that statistically, and given the way humanity’s population has grown in the past thousand years or so, these are the most peaceful times of our species’ history. And while both the First and Second World Wars were truly horrific in their scope and the number of lives lost, they represent anomalies if compared to a longer timeline.
More importantly, the glut of death and human suffering between 1914 and 1945 has lead to what some have referred to as “the long peace”, or an unwillingness of the world powers to wage open war on one another.
But there are a number of factors which are leading to the calming of Earth’s greatest apes: things like literacy, mass media, rule of law, and the endless drive for people to approach issues with calm, rational thought. We’re also seeing more work being done on behalf of women and children, and an almost paternal drive to protect the most vulnerable parts of society. Fewer people are dying in wars, and on the homefront, fewer people are the victims of violence than ever before. We’re getting smarter with every generation, and we’re less inclined to use those brains to harm others straight across the board. We’re evolving to be more domesticated with each generation, in much the same way a lot of animals have done before us.
But it’s more than just the work of a handful of scientists and stacks of data making the claim we are becoming a more peaceful species. The U.N. has been reporting on the worldwide decrease in violence since at least 2005. Consequently, as a result of fewer wars creating fewer deaths, humanity is in the process of moving on to tackle the other sources of human misery we find in our lives.
Around the world, we’re fighting more for women’s rights. We’re making it easier for homosexuals and immigrants, and minorities of all sizes and shapes to enjoy the efforts of a free and peaceful society. And in the past 17 years, we’ve lifted 1 billion people out of extreme poverty across the world. Not too bad at all when you consider how fast the world’s population is growing.
Of course, there are still a lot of terrible things happening around the globe. Wars are diminishing in size and in the number of deaths they bring, but they have not yet been eliminated. Human misery and suffering continues to be an ugly daily truth for millions around the world, even if those numbers continue to dwindle as we speak.
And most of us still feel that the world is a more dangerous place than it was in the past, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary. Some scientists have argued the reason for this is that our brains have been wired to quickly identify and either flee from or destroy problems when they arise. When we spend less time worried about the lives of our families, we tend to fill those gaps with perceived injustices. This has lead to more social movements extolling the virtues of inclusiveness.
While The First World War was the inevitable result of the jinky politics which took place in the decades before it occurred, it appears as that long after the names of millions of men, women, and children who died in the great wars have been forgotten, their legacy of lasting peace is resonating into the future.