Remember “war”? That thing where countries (or kings, or religions) would gather up a bunch of people, give them weapons, and have them slaughter each other and pillage the countryside? For most of the past 3,000 years, war was a more-or-less constant feature of human life. Psychologist Steven Pinker, in his book “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined,” chronicles the transition from a world where violence was the norm to one where it’s a startling, even shocking rarity. That doesn’t mean war is over, as gruesome examples such as Syria attest. And a giant nuclear war could wipe us all out tomorrow. But the disappearance of war as a normal part of daily life poses a great mystery. It might be that modern weapons are so destructive that they deter countries from embarking on war. True, wars before advanced weaponry were brutal too: As a percentage of population, the Thirty Years’ War in the 1600s was more lethal than World War II. It might be because modern popula...

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