One issue with Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature is the book’s presumption that popular entertainment may reliably be used as a proxy for cultural sensibilities on the ground. Medieval Europeans did bear baiting and burned cats alive for entertainment. Hardly surprising since their societies were more violent than the most blighted urban areas of modern America. We’re a lot less violent now. We’d never put up with that today.
Okay, but a generation ago baseball was America’s pass time and boxing matches were the events of the year. Today, football dwarfs baseball and the UFC towers over boxing. Our entertainment got more violent while our society became less so.
Or so I thought. It might be time to rethink that critical assessment. Maybe our popular entertainment is a leading indicator and our better angels are in retreat. Violence is ticking up and so is the popular embrace it is receiving by the country’s future. Race is a part of that, but it’s not the whole story. The differences are significantly generational as well:
While stock in the idea of violence is up, there’s not much evidence that an intimate and cultivated relationship with violence has correspondingly increased. The people engaged in and cheering on the violence have little understanding of how to manage it. This is unlikely to end well.