A Little Pick-Me-Up on Violence in the World

A number of terrorist incidents have taken place in this year alone. This doesn’t even begin to cover the controversies over police shootings (both of civilians and officers) or the number of violent episodes that go unnoticed by the public and unreported by the media. With the constant news of blood and horror on this earth, it is easy to think that the world is ready to implode. However, here is a little data-based pick-me-up on the state of violence in the world. In response to Hannity’s disbelief over President Obama’s speech at the White House Summit on Global Development toward the end of July, Reason writes,

Obama has made similar remarks before, and what he’s talking about is the fact, documented by Steven Pinker in his book The Better Angels of Our Nature, that humans are, broadly speaking, less likely to die violent deaths than ever before in recorded history. Contrary to what Hannity apparently thinks, that long-term trend—which includes deaths by war, genocide, terrorism, and other forms of mass killing as well ordinary homicide—is unaltered by whatever Fox News report happens to be uppermost in Hannity’s mind at any given moment. Updated graphs that Pinker published last year show, among other salutary trends, that the U.S. murder rate has fallen sharply since the early 1990s, that the worldwide death rate from genocide and other mass killings fell from 10 per 1 million people in 1996 to 1 in 2013, that the number of battle deaths per 100,000 people in 2013 was close to the all-time low since 1945, and that the number of civil wars worldwide, although up since 2010, was far lower in 2013 than in the ’90s. 

Looking specifically at deaths from terrorist attacks in Western Europe, which Hannity sees as a refutation of Obama’s claim, there was a spike last year, but the total was still lower than in 2004 and far lower than the averages for the 1970s and ’80s. Worldwide, according to a 2015 report from the Institute for Economics and Peace, the total number of deaths from terrorism has been rising since 2011, with five countries—Iraq, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Syria—accounting for 78 percent of those deaths in 2014. But deaths from terrorism represent a small percentage of all deaths by homicide: less than 3 percent worldwide in 2012, based on data from the United Nations and the National Center for Counterterrorism. They represent an even smaller share of all deaths, and for Americans the risk of dying in a terrorist attack pales beside the risk of dying from a host of quotidian causes that get much less attention from Fox News. 

So, the next time you feel an overwhelming sense of despair regarding the direction of the world, check the numbers. You might feel better.