2005-10-18

On the causes of human misery

According to report by the Human Security Centre of the University of British Columbia, most forms of political violence are in decline in the world since 1990. Among its findings are that "the number of genocides and violent conflicts dropped rapidly in the wake of the Cold War," and that "wars are not only far less frequent today, but are also far less deadly." Deadly to whom? The report says that "90% of those killed in today’s wars are civilians, and that women are disproportionately victimized by armed conflict." This makes it a bit unclear why these developments are characterized as an "improvement in global security." The Centre's press release (linked above) describes the results as "surprising" and as "confounding conventional wisdom." I would have to agree that it is surprising and confounding, but this may well be because it will provoke criticism of its findings and especially its methodology. I have not yet read the entire report (available in thirteen PDF files) but strongly suspect that many of the results are driven by how the researchers measured (Did India really have 156 "conflict years" between 1946 and 2003? We would have to know what the category is and whether it makes sense.). It doesn't help that a section of the promotional web page titled "data sources" contains only the text "Coming soon." Anyone who is interested enough to read the whole thing, please share your assessment in the comments.

Update: For an alternative representation of the frequency of genocide, try this table prepared by Gregory Stanton's Genocide Watch. For my part, it's hard to avoid the standard methodological objection that all ethnographers have: lots of cases means a poverty of empirical detail.

5 comments:

Yakima_Gulag said...

I guess that if you are male, and in a military or para-military organization it HAS improved. Of course women aren't important. I think that the 'Human Security' page is a lot of nonsense. 1. the 'Comeing Soon' page, ooooj! 2. The airy fairy corpacademia speak just really annoys me. Talk about not liveing in the REAL WORLD! Thanks for shareing.

Todays Secret Klingon Word is: wedwh, it refers to the wrinkles in a Klingon's forehead and the beauty this feature holds to Klingon people.

Eric Gordy said...

Katja, I think that is just it. The research I have seen on recent wars indicates that increasingly, at least from a statistical point of view, the safest thing to be in a war is a member of one of the armed forces. I probably won't get to the report to see what this particular group says before Friday, but I hope I will be able to respond to it.

Yakima_Gulag said...

My late mother had an interesting belief that soldiers not only were less likely to die in war, but were also less likely to die as a result of random violence, such as being on the wrong corner when a gang fight breaks out. I don't know how true it is, but that would be another interesting thing to study.
the thing that most bothers me about it is that whichever side goes to war, damn near always justifies the action in terms of protecting women and children? The same guy may well go home and BEAT his own wife and children, but by God he's out there protecting women and children and Lady Liberty or Mother Russia,Mother England or Poor Kitty or whatever covert godess image he is useing to personify his homeland.
Today's Untranslateable Klingon obscentiy is: xlsxyerb

Eric Gordy said...

For more on mobilizing people in the name of women and children and other ways of creating enemies, see the illustrations in Sam Keen's Faces of the Enemy.

Yakima_Gulag said...

It's too bad that that book is out of print, but the google search led to some interesting matierial.