Moral progress

Robert Hanson observes we are less inclined to kill, rape and plunder than in past centuries, and proposes some explanations for this:

  1. Virtue is a luxury good.  We are less inclined to enslave people when we have invented the horse collar, and so can make a horse pull heavy loads instead of a man
  2. Communications.  We are inclined to ally with those close to us to protect ourselves against those distant from us – and now everyone is close to us.
  3. Some of his contributors suggest genetics – we have killed off people who make trouble.

I suggest we are not more virtuous. Consider the crimes of the twentieth century. Rather, we have strong states that reserve criminal conduct for themselves. When those states weaken, we see private crime on a scale typical of earlier of history, when they are strong, we see enormous crimes by states.

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