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CVA Weekly Newsletter
March 14, 2012
- Activist Feedback
- Essay: Thoughts on The Better Angels of Our Nature
- The March
Issue of “Peaceable Table” Is Online
- This Week’s Sermon by Rev.
Frank and Mary Hoffman
1. Activist Feedback
who leafleted with three friends at The Rock & Worship Roadshow in
Portland, Oregon on March 2, writes,
The crowd was
friendly and the acceptance rate was high. Together, we distributed
900 booklets. I came across two vegetarians and someone patted me on
the shoulder and said, "Thanks for being here.”
sending us the literature!
2. Essay: Thoughts on The
Better Angels of Our Nature
I recently read this very
interesting book by Stephen Pinker. He argues that, contrary to common
belief, violence has fallen dramatically over the past few centuries,
including over the past few decades. The 20th Century saw some of the
worst episodes of killing in human history, but Pinker states that
this should be taken in context. First, the mass killings attributable
to Hitler, Stalin, and Mao derived largely from their own schemes and
were not widely endorsed by the populace. Second, there have been many
other, earlier conflicts in which there was comparable or greater
fractions of people killed but with a less absolute number of people
killed, because there were a lot more people in the 20th Century than
in previous eras.
Meanwhile, Pinker shows that there have been
great reductions in torture, killing due to superstition (such as
burning of witches), homicide (which in Europe is now 1/30th that of
the Middle Ages), abuse of women (with great reductions in rape, and
only recently has it been a crime for a man to rape his wife), racist
violence (with lynchings that were once a frequent public spectacle
now being rare, fully prosecuted events), abuse of children (including
infanticide and severe beatings), and, he argues, abuse of animals.
I’ll discuss that last item next week. Further, Pinker notes the
“Great Peace” since the Second World War, in which no major world
powers have gone to war. An exception of sorts was the Korean War, but
China was not really a world power, and the war was not fought on the
soil of either major combatant. While violence remains a human
scourge, historically violence has been a leading cause of human
death, and in relation to the past we live in peaceful times.
Much of this lengthy book consists of Pinker’s exploration of possible
reasons for these changes. Among them, he notes that the printing
press has helped educate the people of the world. In particular,
fictional novels have put readers in the minds of characters who have
experienced mistreatment and enhanced sympathy for their plights.
Also, satire has betrayed as silly many ideologies that have lent
themselves to violence, such as extreme national pride. Pinker also
notes that numerous studies have shown that the population in general
has demonstrated a marked increase in abstract thinking ability. This
has been due to in part to growth of scientific thinking, a skill that
also helps people empathize with those who come from very different
backgrounds or tribes.
Pinker does not mention René Girard
and his theory of the scapegoating process as a basis for violence. I
think Pinker’s observations about improved abstract thinking are
helpful for those, such as me, who find Girard’s insights very
relevant to our understanding of the problem of violence. When we
envision the world from the victim’s perspective, we can better
identify injustices. And, as our critical thinking skills improve, we
can understand the many factors that contribute to a given situation,
militating against the simplistic thinking that elimination of one or
a few “evil people” who account for discord and violence will restore
peace and tranquility.
What about animal issues? In terms of
both absolute numbers and numbers in proportion to the human
population, contemporary animal abuse occurs on a far greater scale
than at any time in human history, particularly on factory farms.
Pinker argues that there is far greater sympathy for animal rights
today than in recent generations, and far, far greater than in the
Middle Ages, when torturing animals was a source of public
entertainment. If Pinker is right, why has animal abuse increased? I
will consider this question next week.
Stephen R. Kaufman,
3. The March Issue of “Peaceable Table” Is Online
Articles included in the February 2012 Issue of The Peaceable
* The Editor's Corner Essay, "With an Act of Pity,"
is based on a theme in Tolkien's The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
It discusses the powerfully protective effects of Bilbo's act of pity
when he took possession of the evil Ring of Power. In contrast, Gollum
took possession of the Ring with a murder, and soon became deeply
corrupted. Might there be analogous traces of the energies of mercy or
violence in physical objects in our own world?
* One of the
NewsNotes reports the arrest of six workers on a charge of animal
abuse at a turkey facility in North Carolina.
* New Book
Reviewer Judy Carman evaluates Jonathan Balcombe's magnificently
illustrated book The Exultant Ark, showing the many ways in which
animals enjoy pleasures similar to those of humans.
warmer weather approaching, and lighter meals, you will want to try
out Angela Suarez' Recipe for tasty Chickpea-Red Quinoa Salad.
We at The Peaceable Table welcome letters and other contributions,
including illustrations. Send to
firstname.lastname@example.org, or to my
street address, 10 Krotona Hill, Ojai, CA 93023.
Gracia Fay Ellwood, Editor
Week’s Sermon by Rev. Frank and Mary Hoffman
Being a Living
Testimony of the Fact That Christ Died for Me
Your question and comments are welcome
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