Venezuela’s Bad Angels

For most of the 15 years since the start of Venezuela's "Bolivarian Revolution," skyrocketing insecurity, massive shortages, high inflation, and police brutality were simply facts of life with which individuals had to cope on their own. Now, however, a collective sense of outrage demands civil disobedience as the only moral stance.

CARACAS – Fish do not know they are in water. They take it for granted. They would need to get out of water to understand how different things could be. Similarly, one way for people to see the uniqueness of what they consider normal is to contrast it with the past – or with an outlier, an example that bucks the current trend.

A case in point is the dramatically low levels of violence that characterize the present, a fact uncovered by Steven Pinker in his 2011 book The Better Angels of Our Nature. The facts are imposing and incontrovertible. As Pinker convincingly shows, violence of all kinds has declined over the millennia, in recent centuries, and during the past decades. Humans, according to Pinker, have both good and bad angels (or passions), and the good ones have become more dominant. Why?

For starters, Leviathan – that is, the state’s monopoly on the legitimate use of force – has reduced conflict and increased personal security. Second, the state’s administration of justice adopted and encouraged non-violent ways of resolving grievances, thus allowing cooperation and the expansion of commerce. This trend accelerated with the spread of Enlightenment humanist ideals based on fundamental human equality and the application of rationality to human affairs.

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