Is Violence Declining?

Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker, in The Better Angels of our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (Penguin Books, 2011), argues that human violence has declined. Violence was much more widespread in primitive societies than in historical times, and more widespread in the Middle Ages than in the twentieth century — yes, even worse than the First and Second World Wars. After reading his lengthy but quite readable book, I am convinced — violence between humans has indeed declined. It’s an engrossing and ground-breaking book, by the way; everyone from Peter Singer to the Wall Street Journal has praised it.

However, there are a few small points I want to raise concerning the book. Specifically, violence towards animals has increased; and the peace between humans is largely dependent on our relative affluence, which in turn depends on our exploitation of natural resources, which are now seriously depleted. Continue reading “Is Violence Declining?”

“Be the Change” — where did this saying come from?

“We must be the change we want to see in the world.”  This is one of the most widely quoted sayings attributed to Mahatma Gandhi.  But did Gandhi actually say this?  In June 2009 I posted an article questioning whether Gandhi actually said this. While this statement is everywhere on the internet, tracking down a reliable print source is much more difficult.  Now, I have a better idea of where this saying comes from, and the answer certainly surprised me. Continue reading ““Be the Change” — where did this saying come from?”

Is the Gospel of Thomas Vegetarian?

Blessed is a lion that a man eats,
because that lion will become human.
Cursed is a man that a lion eats,
because that lion will become human. (Gospel of Thomas 7)

The Gospel of Thomas, discovered at Nag Hammadi, doesn’t contain anything obviously vegetarian.  In saying 12 Jesus advises the disciples to follow “James the Just” after he is gone.  Saying 71 has Jesus saying, “I will destroy this house,” which reminds us of the gospel sayings about the temple being destroyed.  Both of these hint indirectly at vegetarianism.  Continue reading “Is the Gospel of Thomas Vegetarian?”

“Be the Change”: Did Gandhi really make this statement?

GandhiNOTE: I first published this on my web site on June 5, 2009, as a static file. I’ve now rather substantially changed my ideas on this subject; Arleen Lorrance is the author of the earliest written source of this saying, from 1971. But I include the present article in case people are interested in how I reached my conclusions.

One of the most widely-quoted aphorisms of Mahatma Gandhi is, “We must be the change we want to see in the world.” But when, and where, did Gandhi make this statement? Or did he say it at all? Continue reading ““Be the Change”: Did Gandhi really make this statement?”