It’s getting better all the time.

Jim and I were talking about how we were going to divide up our parts of leading the class. One of the ideas we came up with was a collaborative Google Doc where we could both write down our thoughts and ideas, and then work out our individual talking points and some discussion questions to share with the class. For the sake of transparency, the document is here. I’m sharing it here so the class can see collaboration in action.

I had seen Pinker’s talk (TED video) some time ago, and it made an impression. Like probably everyone else, I hear about all these violent things that happen in the world, or in my city, and I feel like it’s a dangerous world out there – as dangerous as ever. But Pinker says it’s just the opposite. We’re safer than ever. We’re less violent than ever. Maybe we don’t realize it because the big stories get lots of hype, or because they make such an impression on us.

sterasmusBut if we think about the way things were in the past, we are in better times. When I worked in printing I did a lot of Catholic church bulletins, so I got to hear tales of many martyrs. St. Erasmus (aka St. Elmo)  was one of my favorites. Here’s a nice picture of him having his intestines wound up. He’s the patron saint of stomachaches, by the way.

"Crowds loved a good ear nailing or whipping or, choicest of all, a hanging. Interpreter Steve Holloway as the sheriff thwacks the ear of a miscreant portrayed by Ralph Thurman. - Photo by Dave Doody"

“Crowds loved a good ear nailing or whipping or, choicest of all, a hanging. Interpreter Steve Holloway as the sheriff thwacks the ear of a miscreant portrayed by Ralph Thurman. – Photo by Dave Doody”

And then there’s the way they used to punish regular criminals. Pinker mentions this – stoning, hanging, burning at the stake, the rack. Here’s a reenactment of common punishment in Colonial Williamsburg. As the caption says, it wasn’t just punishment, but public entertainment. We’re taught to revere our Founding Fathers, but I think we’re better people now.

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