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The World: Less Violent than Ever?

David Langness | Oct 6, 2016

PART 6 IN SERIES The World's Progress Towards Peace

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

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David Langness | Oct 6, 2016

PART 6 IN SERIES The World's Progress Towards Peace

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

Do not think the peace of the world an ideal impossible to attain! – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 30.

In May of 2016 the President of the United States, Barack Obama, said “The world is less violent than it has ever been.”

Is that true?

Many people feel that the world has become more insecure recently, not less. Day and night, the news media bombards us with stories about conflict, violence, crime and war. Politicians rail about terrorism, tyranny and terrible danger. We hear a constant stream of doom and gloom, from the merely negative to the massively apocalyptic. Given all this, how could the world be less violent than it has ever been?

On the other hand, peace just broke out in the entire Western Hemisphere, where no wars rage today. The last shooting war in that entire western half of the world—between the FARC rebels and the government of Colombia in South America—has now come to a close. For the first time ever, one entire half of the Earth is at peace.

The psychologist Steven Pinker, who has extensively studied the overall incidence of global violence, and the President of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, recently weighed in on the subject. They agreed with President Obama’s claim, saying that violence and war are not inevitable, and echoed Abdu’l-Baha’s admonition not to think of the ideal of peace as an impossible one:

Because we have come this far, we know we can go further. Where wars have ended, other forms of bloodshed, such as gang violence, can also be reduced. (In just 25 years, Colombia, for example, has slashed its notoriously high homicide rate by 60 percent.) Since the Americas have succeeded in moving away from war, we know this could happen even in the world’s most stubbornly violent regions.

Progress toward peace moves slowly and uncertainly, but it is propelled by determination, ingenuity and the will of millions — and by the realization that peace is not a utopian ideal but an eminently attainable outcome. – The New York Times, August 26, 2016.

“…peace is not a utopian ideal but an eminently attainable outcome,” Pinker and Santos wrote. Their claim repeats the powerful theme of a heartfelt speech Abdu’l-Baha gave at the Church of the Messiah in Montreal, Canada in 1912:

I pray God that these western peoples may become the means of establishing international peace and spreading the oneness of the world of humanity. May you become the cause of unity and agreement among the nations. May a lamp be lighted here which will illumine the whole universe with the oneness of the world of humanity, with love between the hearts of the children of men, and the unity of all mankind. I hope that you may become assisted in this supreme accomplishment, that you may raise the flag of international peace and reconciliation upon this continent, that this government and people may be the means of spreading these lofty ideals in order that the world of man may find rest, in order that the good pleasure of the Most High God shall be attained and His favors encircle the Orient and Occident. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 301.

Judging by statistics alone, President Obama is correct—the broad trend lines all indicate that violence, both state-sponsored and individual, has declined and continues to decline around the world. We know, for example, that the sheer number of wars has fallen dramatically in recent decades:

Between 1990-2014, the overall number of conflicts fell 40 percent. And… today’s conflicts in general have lower levels of violence. Perhaps more important, modern wars tend to be small and localized; the most destructive and costly kind of war — conflict between great power states — has not occurred for more than 60 years. – The Washington Post, August 30, 2016.

So the next time you hear about another horrific ISIS bombing or drone attack, try to think of them as what they actually are: relatively isolated instances of barbarism in a world largely moving toward peace—and becoming more peaceful each day. Five-sixths of the world’s population now lives in places without warfare. That remarkable achievement, never before attained on a global scale, should give us a tremendous sense of hope. We have reason, objective evidence and scientific proof of the decline of human savagery, and we should give ourselves permission to celebrate that decline, rather than constantly dwelling on its dark shadow, war and violence:

The heavenly Jerusalem is none other than divine civilization, and it is now ready. It is to be and shall be organized, and the oneness of humankind will be a visible fact. Humanity will then be brought together as one. The various religions will be united, and different races will be known as one kind. The Orient and Occident will be conjoined, and the banner of international peace will be unfurled. The world shall at last find peace, and the equalities and rights of men shall be established. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 101.

You are a people banded together to increase friendship among nations and races and brotherhood among men. So now, while these men are creating death, you think life, while they are guilty of cruelty, you think tenderness, while they make destruction, you think construction, while they create war, you think peace.

We must hope, we must not despair. We must look forward to the time when war and dissension will disappear, when love and unity will reign, and the light of God will shine upon all banners and into all hearts, and unite them to one another and to Him. – Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Volume 2, p. 5.

Next: The Baha’i Peace Prophecies

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  • Steve Eaton
    Oct 9, 2016
    The idea that things are "worse than
    ever" has never felt true to me,
    overall. Yes, specific things have
    worsened, but prevailing attitudes about whole categories like minority
    rights and the environment have
    improved enormously in our lifetimes. I think any backlash on those issues have just been bumps
    on a climbing mountain road. Some think we have just exchanged one
    atrocity for another, with no gain,
    but I do not agree. I believe Stephen
    Pinker was basically right in his
    book "The Better Angels of Our
    Nature", that society is getting less
    dangerous physically. ...Instead of
    being discouraged about the
    road ahead, we should be very grateful for that big step toward
    a better world!
  • rodney Richards
    Oct 6, 2016
    Facts are facts: War and violence are localized not between countries although there are situations in Asia that still maintain their sovereignty is sacrosanct in inviolable even in the case of North Korea, their people starve in the millions because they refuse to join the circle of humanity as a peaceful non agressor-state. But these we count on ten fingers when once, in 1914 all the countries in Europe were armed camps. Humanity is one people not peoples by country any longer. These vacuums of human existence will cease or starve, literally. Now our task is to stop terrorism in ...all its forms, and criminality in theirs.
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