By , published in Huffington Post, March 31, 2015. 

Watching the recent chaos in Yemen and Tunisia, it’s easy to feel as though the Arab Winter will never end, and that the violence will just spiral upward, both in the Middle East and worldwide. But that’s not a foregone conclusion. Steven Pinker, noted cognitive scientist and author of Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declinedstates in a recent article for Slate:

The kinds of violence to which most people are vulnerable — homicide, rape, battering, child abuse — have been in steady decline in most of the world… Wars between states — by far the most destructive of all conflicts — are all but obsolete.

But how can this rosy outlook on violence be possible in the era of ISIL, nontheist bloggers being hacked to death, and death sentences for atheists accused of blasphemy? As Ayaan Hirsi Ali pointed out on the Daily Show last week, the spike in violence we see in the Islamic world is part of an emerging reformation where activists are “risking their lives trying to get this change done.” Some studies, like a recent one by the World Bank into ethnic violence and economic growth, provide evidence that as societies become more economically-developed and stable, instances of violence among different ethnic and religious groups decrease. Another barrier to bloodshed is empathy. Empathy might prevent violence because people are less likely to hurt others when they come to understand that we are similar in so many ways. The onset of globalization brought increased opportunities for travel, communication and education about others in many different circumstances, and with it increased empathy.

The growth of peaceful conflict resolution is something that people of all backgrounds, religious or not, must encourage if we wish to stop religious and ideological extremists from instigating violent reprisals, both individually and through government action.

Peaceful resolutions to conflicts, at personal and national levels, are not unattainable aims. Rather, they are rational means of behavior that have time and again resolved problems and prevented dangerous escalations. And such methods are rooted in self-preservation because without them, these dire conflicts can lead to holocausts and global wars.

Read the full article here.