Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Books and Violence

Have you ever come across a thought about "Power / Powerlessness of writing"? Ofcourse now I understand writing and books better compared to how it was while we were in schools (ironically becasue, I read more now), I thought as a child that writing doesnt have the power it generally claims. The whole talk of "Pen being mighter than sword", I thought was fake.

Was hearing a lecture from one of the respected thinkers of today - Steven Pinker, on "History of violence". The lecture makes a case on how we are living currently in one of the most non-violent times that our species has ever seen. It talks about the various facts and figures that goes on to prove it. Post this he delves into the reason and evolution of violence. And also on the reasons on decline for violence.

Now how are books connected to violence? I too never saw both of them connected before this one point which Steven Pinker made, and which I would like to share with you. Firstly , he states that most people thought that violence must be getting reduced due to "affluence". As you earn more, you live better life. As you live better life, you value life more. Then he goes on to negate the point saying that, decline in violence started much earlier, were as affluence was primarily an outcome of industrial revolution.

Over the middle ages, and ofcourse, the data he presents is purely "western" in nature (except their obsession with China), one of the driving forces for violence has been "plunder". Capital punishments were common across all countries. Even offences like "Being seen with Gypsies""Sorcery and witchcraft" etc. were capital offences. He goes on to show that somewhere from the middle of the 18th century to 19th century there was a "humanitarian drive" which reduced violence across world. He gave multiple reasons for this drives. But one of the main he cited was quite interesting.

He said much before the Industrial revolution, there was one form of industry that gained immense effeciency. That of printing. It was during 16th - 19th century that technology of printing and it efficiencies grew many fold. It was then, that more books started getting published. More people read what other's wrote. Writing he said gives you "empathy" or more often "sympathy". You can react in disagreement without really having an option to go violent when you read. Books, he says, created tolerance. Book could transform people. It made people understand other's point of view and appreciate its intricacies. He hence sites this one reason to be one of the major reason for decline in violence.

Books and violence, on a second look, looks quite related !

SO next time you take that pen and start penning down something. Think of it. You might be influencing someone.


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