If you want to understand trends in the history of global violence, look to data, not headlines, says Harvard psychology professor and linguist Steven Pinker. The news cycle will never be a good indicator of historical trends because no reporting occurs where problems aren't also occurring. "Because you never see a reporter standing outside a school saying, 'Here I am in front of Maplewood High School, which hasn't been shot up today,' or, 'here I am in the capital of Mozambique and there's no Civil War.'" So what does the data show?
Violence is on the decline since World War II, when the globe was overwhelmed by massive conflict. But that doesn't account for all the decline, says Pinker. Through the seventies and eighties, civil wars dotted the world map, and the death tolls from those conflicts quickly added up. Today, with the notable exception of the Syrian conflict, instances of civil war continue to decline. Syria, however, has set the world back about thirteen years.
Dr. Pinker originally collected data on the history of global violence in his book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, and continues to update the figures yearly.