News Ticker

The Better Angels of our Nature and Steven Pinker

Patrick Sweeney / The Arbiter

Abraham Lincoln was the president who kept our nation from splitting in half indefinitely during the Civil War.

“We are not enemies, but friends,” Lincoln said. “We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic cords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

The last portion of Lincoln’s speech “by the better angels of our nature” was used by cognitive scientist Steven Pinker in titling his most recent book “The Better Angels of our Nature: Why Violence has Declined.” Pinker stated the better angels of our nature to be self-control, empathy, moral sense and reasoning.

“Over history one can see the circle of empathy expanding,” Pinker said during his Oct. 4 speech at The Morrison Center for The Performing Arts.

Pinker’s book was the main topic of the lecture he gave to a full-house for the fall installment of the distinguished lecture series. He also cited books, movies, etc. allowing people to enter different mindsets and gain empathy for people of different cultures, classes and race.

Students who attended the lecture said Pinker brought up points they had not thought of before.

“I really like how he pointed out that in the 20th century that there wasn’t actually more deaths  just because we saw a higher number of deaths, because he looked at it in relation to the increase in population as well,” said Cassandra Sullivan, junior economics major. “So when we look at that ratio between population and the amount of people that died, it’s actually a lesser percentage dying. So I thought that was a really good argument that I hadn’t thought of before to justify an increase in death, but there’s more people, so it actually doesn’t mean there’s more violence.”

Pinker focused on bringing evidence for his claim to his audience. A lot of it was in the form of charts, graphs, other visuals and straight facts.

“I thought he was well spoken and made some really interesting points,” said Kevin Colwell, junior math major.  “I didn’t know what to expect but I’m very pleased that I got to see him speak. I thought his data was very well collected and very diverse in the sources, and he looked at it from a lot of different angles. I just think that the number of different things that he was looking at, including rape, civil war, interstate war, methods of war, they all went together and made his point very clear.”

After the lecture there was a short question and answer session, and Pinker stopped by the side of the stage to sign autographs and answer more questions.

“It’s a privilege to have to have all of these notable people come to Boise State and talk to us about their field. (It’s) really interesting, really enlightening,” said Max Chambers,  junior math major.

The Distinguished Lecture Series comes to Boise State once per semester and presents people who are at the top of their given field.