The decline of violence as a lens for understanding effective altruism

Greet­ings all! There’s a puz­zle that I’m work­ing on and I’m in­ter­ested to see what the mem­bers of this com­mu­nity have to say about it.

I am an elec­tri­cal en­g­ineer that is cur­rently work­ing on a mas­ter’s in coun­sel­ing. One of the big ques­tions I keep ask­ing my­self in this pro­gram is “how effec­tive is this field in mak­ing the world a bet­ter place”?

To help fo­cus the dis­cus­sion I want to fo­cus on vi­o­lence. This video from Steven Pinker is a great overview of the data http://​​​​talks/​​steven_pinker_on_the_myth_of_vi­o­lence. But for those who don’t want to spend the time to watch it, the short ver­sion is that vi­o­lence per cap­ita is at an all time low for hu­man his­tory, and other peo­ple will state it as “there has never been a safer time in his­tory”.

The ques­tion then, why is this so?

My per­sonal be­lief on this is that our tech­nol­ogy ad­vance­ment has re­duced the effort it takes for peo­ple to sur­vive so there is less drive to be­come hos­tile to­wards peo­ple who have what we need. This be­lief ap­plied to effec­tive al­tru­ism would sug­gest that the most effec­tive method of im­prov­ing all of hu­man life would be to con­tinue to in­crease our tech­nol­ogy level so that there is an abun­dance of ba­sic needs and no one has a need to be­come hos­tile. I do be­lieve that as a planet, we do not yet have that abun­dance so I don’t be­lieve this is merely a mat­ter of re­dis­tri­bu­tion. The GWP (gross world product) per cap­ita, as of 2014, was $12,400 USD, which is just barely above the poverty line for an in­di­vi­d­ual. This is why I say, we’re not yet pro­duc­ing enough to truly elimi­nate need.

From this be­lief, I won­der if so­cial move­ments and psy­cholog­i­cal train­ing are re­ally do­ing any­thing in com­par­i­son to the need that ex­ists.

Go­ing back to the vi­o­lence is­sue, I am think­ing if we can un­der­stand why vi­o­lence has been de­clin­ing we can also un­der­stand what is truly effec­tive in bet­ter­ing the hu­man con­di­tion. I be­lieve the rea­son is tech­nolog­i­cal ad­vance­ment. Does any­one have any good ev­i­dence to sug­gest other rea­sons?

Are we pos­si­bly at a tip­ping point? Has our past been dom­i­nated by tech­nolog­i­cal ad­vance­ment but now we’re reach­ing a level where more so­cially ori­ented ad­vance­ments will be more effec­tive?