In his book The Better Angels of Our Nature, Steven Pinker examines evidence around numerous factors that contribute to violence or that we might expect would contribute to violence. In one section, he specifically looks at factors that do and do not contribute to genocidal violence. Better understanding what does and doesn’t cause violence can help us better understand how we should organize societies. And when we think about how we should organize societies and think about global populations given global poverty and ethnic diversity, the results that Pinker highlights regarding genocide can help us learn a lot.
“Measures of ethnic diversity didn’t matter, refuting the conventional wisdom that genocides represent he eruption of ancient hatreds that inevitably explode when ethnic groups live side by side,” Pinker writes. Genocide is hard to understand and ideas of natural ethnic group hatred and conflict seems like it must be a contributing factor to genocide. However, evidence indicates that across the globe many ethnic groups live side by side, without one side trying to completely eliminate the other. Either increased or decreased ethnic diversity relative to the global average isn’t what seems to be a sparking factor in whether genocide occurs, despite what we might assume.
“Poor countries are more likely to have political crises…” Pinker continues, “but among countries that did have crises, the poorer ones were no more likely to sink into actual genocide.” The second non-factor that Pinker highlights with regard to genocide is poverty. Economic development is also not a leading factor that determines whether a genocide will occur in a country or within a violent conflict.
These two factors are important to recognize as non-factors for genocide because both factors can be used to further harmful political goals. Claiming that ethnic diversity can lead to genocide might be used as a reason to restrict immigration and the movement of people across borders and regions. Some may claim that they are trying to prevent genocide by reducing the freedom with which some minority groups may be able to move. For the second non-factor, we can also see that poor countries are not inevitably inclined toward genocide as they try to increase economic wellbeing. We can dismiss poor countries and aid to poor countries relatively easily, especially in the United States if the poor countries are far away from us. Associating poorness with genocide may be a reason for some people not to support global aid and assistance, fearing that aid may be captured by a powerful ethnic group and used to wage genocidal violence against others. Showing that levels of poorness are not associated with genocide may be helpful in encouraging people to support global aid to poor countries.