I’m currently reading Steven Pinker’s massive tome: The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. In the book, Pinker posits that the most recent decades and centuries of human history have been the least violent and most peaceful. Grabbing from a number of fields of study, Pinker is able to present a compelling argument that we do indeed live in the least violent and most peaceful era in human existence.
One of the main driving forces behind this drop in violence Pinker partially attributes to Norbert Elias’ idea of “The Civilizing Process.” In this theory, its posited that the emergence of powerful states, combined with an increased emphasis on “good” behavior has been instrumental to making humans less animalistic and more civilized. As Pinker writes:
Elias’ theory, then attributes the decline in European violence to a larger psychological change…He proposed that over a span of several centuries, beginning in the 11th or 12th and maturing in the 17th or 18th, Europeans increasingly inhibited their impulses, anticipated the long-term consequences of their actions, and took other people’s thoughts and feelings into consideration. A culture of honor – the readiness to take revenge – gave way to a culture of dignity – the readiness to control one’s emotions.
He summed up his theory, which linked the centralization of state power to a psychological change in the populace, with a slogan: Warriors to courtiers.
So what does this have to do with the title of this post? Well, I would posit that the civilizing process has even creeped into the arena of political purges. We all know of the Killing Fields of Cambodia, Mao’s “Great Leap Forward” and Stalin and his brutality in dealing with dissenters, whether it was through direct physical violence or shipping them off to a labor camp in Siberia. Currently, we have a political climate that’s just as charged as any of those countries and movements already mentioned. But, perhaps because of the Civilizing Process, we no longer seem to resort to actual physical violence in our political purges.
One only need to think of Dan Cathy and Chick-fil-a, Brendan Eich, Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame, or most recently, Donald Sterling, to get a firsthand taste of how our political purges work these days. While many of the people who stand opposed to those four men mentioned would probably happily see them dead, they know that’s no longer a viable option. Instead, the dynamic of the purge is to use economic violence to punish dissenters. In each case already mentioned, (and also in recent campaigns against Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh), the most rabid of the left use the threat of loss of sponsors and advertisers to get whomever is being targeted to repent in some way or another.
In Sterling’s case, it was a fine of $2.5 million dollars and a lifetime ban from the NBA. Eich was forced to step down as CEO of Mozilla, while Roberts and Cathy escaped mostly unscathed.
Regardless, it’s an odd, odd dynamic to watch the left gleefully destroy someone’s life for daring to participate in thoughtcrime. One can easily imagine that the most rabid voices of today’s political left would have certainly joined in a physically violent purge of dissenters, and probably would have done so gleefully.
So while it’s incredibly disturbing to see so many people gladly cheer on the destruction of people’s lives because they don’t share popular opinions, at least they’re a bit nicer these days and (typically) don’t result in the actual death of dissenters.
Aint this modern world grand?