RyanCarey wrote:Steven Pinker, on the basis of his book The Better Angels of our Human Nature would argue that we are more benevolent.
Yes, fascinating. I didn't read the book but I now watched a talk
where he presents his main points and evidence. I think what's interesting is that the major reasons of the decline in violence, namely the Leviathan (central government, policing, law) explanation and the "Gentle Commerce" (positive-sum trade) explanation don't require benevolence at all. Humans could even have a malevolence bias and still come up with these trends that are essentially just increases in sophisticated cooperative techniques to facilitate selfish goals. Maybe I'm a sadist but control it because I want to make a profit, keep my underlings loyal and functional, and so forth. Only the third explanation, the Expanding Circle, seems to show evidence for a benevolence bias, but a cynic might say that's just an artifact of public homo hypocritus signaling, i.e. people present themselves as (mildly) benevolent (i.e. trustworthy) in order to gain an advantage in recruiting potential allies, and the more visible it is through technology, the more the expectation of general benevolence will build up, hence the Expanding Circle. In this model, you'd still predict subtle forms of signals to accept cooperative exploitation of others, such as the use of euphemisms
My point is that the historical trend towards non-violence, even if it is strong and robust, is not necessarily a sign of benevolence-over-malevolence bias in total, nor is it necessarily going to continue in the future.
Pablo Stafforini wrote:Human benevolence seems clearly to preponderate over human malevolence. Thus, there are lots and lots of charities that campaign to help people and animals, but there is to my knowledge no organization with the express ultimate goal of harming other beings.
A homo hypocritus explanation would put this down to signaling in a world in which expectation of empathy is a norm, while sadism happens covertly, including selectively cooperative, conspiring sadism. Everybody's publicly against rape, yet human traffickers make billions.
This however doesn't mean that we create more pleasure than suffering, since benevolent or malevolent intent only explains a tiny fraction of all human behavior.
Yes, hence my question what would happen if vast increases in human power occured (such as through technology), which would remove the need to act benevolently in pursuit of self-interest. The question of whether self-interest in our actual future will coincide more or less with benevolence than today is a different type of question, though an important one. If we were all vastly empowered, would empathy or aggression tip the scales? Imagine all currently existing humans became god-like entities who could rule omnipotently and intuitively over a (finite) universe of their own - would that cause more pain or more pleasure, or equal measures of both?