I abhor violence, and I hate war. When I grew up, my parents – who had been small kids in the final years of World War II – taught me never to point anything remotely weaponlike at any sentient being, not even a blade of grass at an ant, and not even in jest. The aftermath of the wars in Vietnam and Cambodia, the terrors of the Gulf Wars, and the everlooming threat of the Cold War spinning out of control made the reality of war a constant painful presence in my childhood and youth. Starting on the day when Irak first fired Scud missiles on Israel in early 1991, for a couple of weeks, I lived in stark naked fear of a new world war exploding in our faces. Until today, I cringe at pictures of soldiers, tanks, bombs, or blood. “Nie wieder Krieg”, as in Käthe Kollwitz’s placard from 1924 in this post’s header, is one of the very few rally cries I’ll follow anywhere, anytime.
“Arma virumque cano”, says Vergil in the first line of his Aeneis. Like him, I want to talk of men and arms today – or: Of mankind and war, of human beings and conflict, and of men of mind and their methods. Concretely: A recent article by Pasquale Cirillo and Nassim Nicholas Taleb, “On the tail risk of violent conflict and its underestimation”, has (re-)ignited a discussion first sparked by Taleb’s earlier criticism towards the hypotheses regarding the decline of violence put forward by Steven Pinker in his book “The Better Angels of our Nature”, first published 2011. Is there – this is the question on the table – less violence today than in the past of mankind as we know it?