Ian Welsh with a thoughtful piece. I’ve thought about this, too — there are so many cameras everywhere, people are less violent — but also more aware of being under surveillance:
Stephen Pinker, in 2011, for the Wall Street Journal, wrote an article on the decline of violence, arguing that it has been decreasing for thousands of years for a number of reasons, including the rise of states. Pre-state periods had a lot of violence (15% according to Pinker.) This sweeps a lot of pre-history into the basket (violence was not that high when humans were far below carrying capacity), but I’m willing to grant the point for the sake of argument.
What I want to say is something different: the decline of violence due to repression has a price. To be sure, a subject of the Pharoahs was much less likely to be killed by their neighbour. But they had a vastly increased incidence of disease, worked far longer hours, lost their teeth by the time they were 40, were forced to labor for their overlords and not allowed to keep much of the proceeds of their own labor, almost certainly died more frequently in childbirth, and didn’t live as long if they avoided a death by violence.
The power of the state is, as Pinker notes, used to reduce violence so that assets useful to the state (people) are not destroyed. But the state’s primary means of reducing violence is that it is much better at violence than individuals or small groups. People put up with living conditions and political conditions they would not put up with if they had recourse to violence. (They also don’t get as involved in feuds and so on, which is a good thing.)
This is visible even in very recent history in the United States. Everyone likes to go on about how violence was reduced in the United States from the 80s on, or so.
So was equality. This is not unrelated. The more powerful the means of repression, the less violence there will be
That doesn’t mean that reductions in violence always mean reductions in equality. But all other things being equal, a reduction in the capacity for non state/government/chieftain violence will generally lead to a reduction of equality, and that loss of equality will lead to an increase in other types of suffering (inequality is correlated with everything bad from heart attacks to depression, even controlling for objective material possessions.)