Friday, October 31, 2014
10

Estarão os seres humanos a melhorar?

MELBOURNE - Com títulos a focar diariamente a guerra, o terrorismo, os abusos de governos repressivos e com os líderes religiosos a lamentarem frequentemente o declínio dos padrões de comportamento público e privado, é fácil ficar com a impressão de que estamos a testemunhar um colapso moral. Mas acho que temos motivos para estarmos optimistas em relação ao futuro.

Há trinta anos, escrevi um livro intitulado The Expanding Circle, onde afirmei que, historicamente, o círculo de seres a quem nós estendemos consideração moral alargou-se, primeiro, da tribo à nação, depois, à raça ou grupo étnico, depois, a todos os seres humanos, e, finalmente, aos animais não-humanos. Isso, certamente, é progresso moral.

Poderíamos pensar que a evolução leva à selecção de indivíduos que pensam apenas nos seus próprios interesses, e dos seus parentes, uma vez que os genes para tais características seriam mais propensos a propagarem-se. Mas, tal como argumentei na altura, o desenvolvimento do raciocínio pode levar-nos a uma direcção diferente.

Por um lado, ter uma capacidade de raciocínio confere uma óbvia vantagem evolutiva, porque torna possível resolver os problemas e planear para evitar perigos, aumentando assim as perspectivas de sobrevivência. No entanto, por outro lado, o raciocínio é mais do que uma ferramenta neutra para resolução de problemas. É mais como uma escada rolante: assim que nos colocamos em cima dela, ficamos susceptíveis de ser transportados para lugares que nunca esperávamos alcançar. Em particular, o raciocínio permite-nos ver que os outros, anteriormente fora dos limites do nosso ponto de vista moral, são como nós em aspectos relevantes. Excluindo-os da esfera dos seres aos quais devemos consideração moral pode então parecer arbitrário, ou simplesmente errado.

O recente livro de Steven Pinker The Better Angels of Our Nature dá um importante apoio a este ponto de vista. Pinker, professor de Psicologia na Universidade de Harvard, baseia-se nas investigações recentes em História, Psicologia, Ciência cognitiva, Economia e Sociologia para argumentar que a nossa era é menos violenta, menos cruel e mais pacífica do que qualquer período anterior da existência humana.

O declínio da violência regista-se nas famílias, nos bairros, nas tribos e nos estados. Em essência, os seres humanos que vivem hoje são menos propensos a terem uma morte violenta, ou a sofrerem de violência ou crueldade nas mãos de outros, que os seus antecessores, em qualquer século anterior.

Muitas pessoas duvidarão desta afirmação. Alguns têm uma visão cor-de-rosa das vidas mais simples, supostamente mais tranquilas, dos caçadores-colectores tribais, em relação à nossa. Mas um exame aos esqueletos encontrados em locais arqueológicos, sugerem que cerca de 15% dos seres humanos pré-históricos tiveram uma morte violenta nas mãos de outra pessoa. (Em termos de comparação, na primeira metade do século XX, as duas guerras mundiais causaram uma taxa de mortalidade na Europa, de pouco mais de 3%.)

Mesmo aqueles povos tribais enaltecidos pelos antropólogos como sendo especialmente “gentis” - por exemplo, a tribo Semai da Malásia, a tribo Kung do Kalahari e a tribo Inuit do Ártico Central - revelaram ter taxas de homicídios que são, tendo em conta a população, comparáveis a Detroit, que tem uma das maiores taxas de homicídio nos Estados Unidos. Na Europa, as hipóteses que tem de ser assassinado são actualmente inferiores a 10% e em alguns países é de apenas um quinto, das que teria tido se tivesse vivido há 500 anos.

Pinker aceita que o raciocínio é um factor importante subjacente às tendências que ele descreve. Para apoiar esta afirmação, ele refere-se ao “Efeito Flynn” - a descoberta notável feita pelo filósofo James Flynn que, desde que os testes de QI foram administrados pela primeira vez, os resultados têm aumentado consideravelmente. A média do QI é, por definição, 100, mas, para atingir este resultado, os resultados em bruto têm de ser padronizados. Se um típico adolescente dos nossos dias realizasse um teste de QI, em 1910, ele ou ela teria um resultado de 130, o que seria melhor do que 98% daqueles que fizeram o teste na altura.

Não é fácil atribuir este aumento à melhoria da educação, porque os aspectos dos testes onde as pontuações subiram mais não exigem um bom vocabulário, ou até mesmo habilidade matemática, mas sim a avaliação dos poderes de raciocínio abstracto.

Uma teoria é que nós estivemos melhor nos testes de QI, porque vivemos num ambiente mais rico em símbolos. O próprio Flynn pensa que a propagação do modo de raciocínio científico tem desempenhado um papel.

Pinker defende que o reforço dos poderes de raciocínio dá-nos a habilidade de nos separarmos da nossa experiência imediata, e da nossa perspectiva pessoal ou paroquial, e de enquadrarmos as nossas ideias em termos mais abstractos e universais. Isto, por sua vez, conduz a melhores compromissos morais, incluindo a prevenção da violência. É exactamente este tipo de capacidade de raciocínio que melhorou durante o século XX.

Portanto, há motivos para crer que as nossas melhores capacidades de raciocínio permitiram-nos reduzir a influência desses elementos mais impulsivos da nossa natureza que levam à violência. Talvez isto reforce a queda significativa do número de mortes provocadas pela guerra desde 1945 - um declínio que se tornou ainda mais acentuado nos últimos 20 anos. Se assim for, não haverá como negar que continuamos a enfrentar graves problemas, incluindo, naturalmente, a ameaça da catastrófica alteração climática. Mas haverá, contudo, alguma razão para ter esperança no progresso moral.

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  1. CommentedSergio Mayorga

    1. Even though reason makes it possible to solve problems and to plan to avoid dangers, it is a fact that stupid people reproduce at far higher rates. I witness this starkly as I live in a developing country.

    2. Humans may have been getting smarter since 1910. This trend has surely stopped since the surge of Facebook, and is in reverse now. More and more people trifle away their time and their talent perusing banalities and making meta-meta-...-meta-comments.

  2. Portrait of Peter Singer

    CommentedPeter Singer

    Correction by the author:
    The column states that the Semai people of Malaysia have a murder rate comparable, in proportion to population, to that of Detroit.
    I have since been contacted by Professor Robert Dentan, an anthropologist who has carried out extensive research on the Semai, and whose information was used by Bruce Knauft in an article that in turn is referenced in Steven Pinker's book. On the basis of the information supplied by Professor Dentan, and after consulting Professor Knauft, I withdraw the comment about the Semai. The evidence of homicide among the Semai is anecdotal and insufficient to support the conclusion that they have a murder rate comparable to that of Detroit, or anywhere else, for that matter.

  3. CommentedNijaz Deleut Kemo

    Yes, if you are representative of 1% of the worlds population, for sure you are living - getting better. But, what if you do represent 99% of the population (cca. 7 billion). Therefore, OCCUPY MOVEMENT in Spain, U.S.A. and around the globe have made good point, and answered on your wrong thesis, my dear prof. Singer. After all, long time ago Marx said:"The task is not just to understand the world (i.e. neo-colonialism/imperialism) but to change it", and John Cage said:"We can't change our minds (the collective consciousness) without changing the world." So, two dangerous developments in the world still overshadow everything else: first, there are real threats to "Getting Better" for homo sapiens - since 1945 we do have nuclear weapons, and second is, of course, environmental catastrophe (lost habitats, species, natural resources, all since 1850). Simply, our question is not "Are Humans Getting Better?" Why? We do know that science is all about establishing cause and effect. This is why there is a "scientific method" at all. Because it is so easy to fool ourselves (that we are getting better) regarding what causes what to happen in the real world today (i.e. unemployment rate in the Mediterranean countries - cradle of the civilization). Therefore, many problems in the physical world are not amenable to laboratory investigation, or theoretical lamenting. Global warming is only one of them, my dear professor.

  4. CommentedNijaz Deleut Kemo

    NO, MY DEAR PROF. DO NOT USE STATISTIC, OR CONSIDER THIS ONE ONLY ON POPULATION RISE:
    1850................................................ 1 BILLION
    2012................................................ 7 BILLION
    NEXT ONE ON GEOGRAPHICAL REPRESENTATION
    ASIA, AFRICA................................20TH CENTURY AND TODAY (BEGINNING OF 21ST), AND
    EUROPE...........................................19/20TH CENTURY.
    SO MY QUESTION IS: HOW MUCH INDIVIDUALS (PER CAPITA) SUFFERED ON A 1% RATE FOR BOTH PERIODS AND TERRITORIES.
    MY ANSWER IS THAT OUR WAY OF LIVING AND WORKING; I.E. BARBARIANISM, SLAVERY AND COLONIALISM DID THAT. NEO-COLONIALISM IS DOING THAT ONLY 40 YEARS, SO FAR. SO, WE MUST WAIT AND SEE WHAT WILL BE, OUR NEW-NEXT STATISTIC !?

  5. Commentedjohn scanlon

    It is not clear you if stipulate improved individual reasoning for such causes or improved cultural reasoning. The article seems like a case for the former as having a major bearing of our improved outcomes as opposed to the wonderous cultural evolution over time being inherent now in both our institutions (e.g. law & order, concepts of democracy, education), or just plan society & language. It is our advancing cultural progress and conventions which may in large lead to many of our progressive outcomes. Where is the split if any on culture vs individual leading to such outcomes ? Can we go in different directions ('backwards', 'sideways'), and what cultural pressures would lead us there ? Enjoyed the article - thank you.

  6. CommentedProcyon Mukherjee

    Kropotkin’s book ‘Mutual Aid’ had huge number of evidences that proved the theory that societies from ancient times including in the case of animals, both for the wild and the timid to have prospered with one helping the other to face adversities; it is not reason alone that has mattered for people to come together for survival, it is something beyond reason. The survival of the fittest theory and natural selection on the other hand stands the testimony of times that genetic patterns have helped the stronger, farer or more beautiful and attractive to progress than the less endowed ones; truth perhaps lies somewhere in between.
    In today’s world with so many stimuli around us, we have the challenge of rational attention to these stimuli and perhaps due to paucity of time and interest to so many we take the route of rational inattention. This has an impact to our decision making every day. The ability to reason may have improved, but we have other influences that could make us vulnerable and we must be aware that a plethora of information that we are fed with, only a small percentage would end up with a testing of hypothesis with a high probability of success.

    In a world that has to survive and sustain millions of products, services and ideas to which consumers must be attracted to, it is again more than what reason can deliver.

    Whether we are getting better of or worse, again time will tell as yardsticks would keep changing.

    Procyon Mukherjee

  7. CommentedZsolt Hermann

    Interesting article.
    And I share the writer's optimism about the future, as we truly have a cognitive function that we can use for our benefit.
    But we are not doing this consciously yet.
    We can consider human evolution as the development of the Ego.
    We were separated from other animals with the appearance of our Ego, that introduced self awareness, feeling of unique individuality, and the desire for self fulfillment, even at the expense of others beyond necessities.
    This "maximum pleasure/minimum pain" software drove us up to the present moment, where this egoistic development seems to have run into a dead end.
    We evolved into a closed, integral, totally interconnected and interdependent human system, where our egoistic software turned us into cancer cells, suddenly destroying ourselves and the environment.
    We cannot measure this through murder statistics, we need to look at the total picture with the breakdown of almost all human institutions starting from the family unit up to national and international levels.
    And outside of human society we have devoured our environment and now threaten to cause irreversible damage that can seriously threaten even our survival.
    We have a very unique cognitive function, our ability of self analysis and self critique, but we have never used it before. So far we followed our inherent egoistic desires and instincts automatically like robots.
    Today we are at crossroads. The deepening and unsolvable global crisis, and environmental crisis that is the result of our unsustainable, excessive, exploitative lifestyle is pushing us into a corner, where we cannot avoid self scrutiny any longer.
    Now we can activate our mental powers, our human cognition in order to analyze our new global human system, how we relate to nature's laws around us always thriving for homeostasis, and then work out how we, the only truly active element in this system can contribute in such way that we return the whole system into harmony.
    The only question today is if we can do this proactively, wisely, using our mental powers and free choice before we are forced by suffering, or we wait like we have done so far, until the present state becomes so unbearable that we have to change against our will.

  8. CommentedJohn-Albert Eadie

    These are MY ideas, Mr. Singer %^) What I maintain, however is that the "brain software" must have a great leap forward right now, or we won't avoid incineration from climate change.

  9. CommentedJosué Machaca

    Mr. Singer, you said that the world is better now becouse the percentage of deaths decreased. But you did not consider that there are more people in the world. For example, you said "in the first half of the twentieth century, the two world wars caused a death rate in Europe of not much more than 3%". Everybody knows that the two world wars caused millions of deaths. In the past wars caused thousends of deaths only. So, ¿Does the world get better? Your points of view are well, but when we talk of deaths we consider amount, not percentage. (Sorry for the vocabulary, I speak Spanish)

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