Thursday, June 6, 2013

Everest #3

Exploitation of Sherpas
In Himalayan Mountaineering

     Almost any climber who has been to Mt. Everest will tell you that the only way anyone would make it to the summit would be because of the Sherpas of the Khumbu region (Krakauer 56).  Why, then, are they constantly exploited for their physical abilities while being paid minimal wages and placed in harm’s way on a regular basis? Since the first expeditions to Everest began in the early 1920’s, approximately one third of all deaths on Everest have been Sherpa porters and guides (Wikipedia). What is more alarming is they tend to die in large groups in avalanches or icefalls, areas that trained expedition groups are familiar with judging and traversing (Anker and Roberts 90). Skilled climbing Sherpas may make $1500-$2000 for two months work while clients are paying the guiding services upwards of $120,000 per person just for the access to attempt a summit of Everest, or as Outside Magazine called it, “assisted suicide” (Schaffer). To better understand the history of the relationship between Western adventurers and the Sherpa people, we need to look back to 1921, when this rocky but important relationship was formed.
          Sherpas are commonly regarded as a distinct ethnic group that spans the mountainous territories from Tibet, Nepal, and India. They hold a relatively small proportion of the total Nepalese population; estimates place their numbers at around 20,000 throughout the mountainous regions. The primary region that the Sherpa occupy is known as the Khumbu, or southern high valleys below Mt. Everest (Krakauer 55). The Sherpa historically were farmers, yak herders, and engaged in trade with Tibet and India before the explosion of tourism in the region. In the mid 1990’s, the Sherpas average annual per capita income was only around $160 US dollars, making the money tied to tourism an attractive proposition. It was during the first British expedition to Everest in 1921 that Sherpas were employed as porters, but it only took another year before seven Sherpas were killed in one avalanche while transporting supplies to British camps (Krakauer 55-57). Since that fateful expedition, seventy-three more Sherpas have died due to accidents or altitude related illness on the slopes of Everest (Wikipedia).
     With increases in tourism to the Khumbu region and Everest, the treatment of Sherpas has improved, but there has been a long history of abuse and disrespect for them dating back to the beginnings of Everest mountaineering. During the British expedition of 1953, where Edmund Hillary became the first person to summit Everest, the Sherpas as a whole were treated as inferior by the British. While assembling the expedition in Kathmandu, the Sherpas were given the British Embassy garage for housing, while the rest of the expedition was given rooms in the Embassy itself. The garage itself was nothing but a converted horse stable in which there were no beds or facilities. The Sherpas protested, but in the end all but two stayed with the expedition throughout its entirety (Unsworth 315).
     Along with racial tensions, the overuse of Sherpas has been illustrated many times over throughout the years. Sociologist Richard Mitchell wrote about this in his book Mountain Experience: The Psychology and Sociology of Adventure. Here he discusses a 1977 expedition by South Korea in which twenty-eight Sherpas transported gear to base camp at 25,850 feet. At the same time, only two of the Korean climbers could reach the same elevation, without carrying any significant load and while using supplementary oxygen. From the camp on the South Col, the Sherpas continued to move gear to the higher camps, although by the end of the expedition, only one Korean achieved the summit (Mitchell 53).
     One of the more startling events to show the exploitation and disrespect of Sherpas by climbers was the Austrian expedition of 1978 in which Rheinhold Messner and Peter Habeler became the first climbers to reach the summit without the aid of supplemental oxygen. At one point during the ascent, Messner and two Sherpas were caught in a ferocious storm with winds estimated at one hundred and twenty-five miles per hour that threatened to either blow their tent off the mountain or leave them frozen to death inside. It was reported that Messner began screaming at the terrified Sherpas, and later he had reportedly “urinated in their cooking pot”. The matter went as far as the Nepal Minister of Tourism who looked into what was described as “inhumane treatment”, but eventually the matter faded into obscurity (Heil 34).
     Later, as the region moved away from expedition climbing to established guiding services, the financial disparity began to be more evident. One of the more difficult and necessary jobs on Everest is when the summit teams begin the process of placing fixed ropes along the climbing route, a job usually left to the Sherpas. The various guide companies hold a meeting every climbing season in base camp to discuss the logistics of who will be fixing ropes and when it is scheduled to begin. In years past, each guiding company would pay a fee to the expedition organizers of the team that fixed the ropes, of which the Sherpas generally received no or minimal compensation above their regular pay. Anatoli Boukreev wrote in his book The Climb about how “colonialism dies hard” in regards to how the expedition leaders received all the pay for the work done by others. “All expeditions use this route, and the expedition leaders take the big money for use of the route”, which he continued to say could be anywhere from ten to twenty thousand dollars (Boukreev 237). Mounting tensions between the Sherpas and primarily Western climbers almost reached a boiling point during the 2013 climbing season when misunderstandings and disregard led to verbal and physical altercations at Everest Base camp on April 27th because of climbers not attending the rope fixing meeting (Neville).
     In contrast, some guiding services take pride in training, equipping, and paying their Sherpas a fair wage, such as Russell Brice’s company Himalayan Experience. Brice is also known for withdrawing his clients and employees from situations he deems dangerous well before other teams (Schaffer). Other Western guiding companies and non-profit groups have made attempts to improve the Sherpa quality of life by creating climbing schools to teach safe mountaineering, and schools for Sherpa children to aid the locals long after the climbing season is over, but they are few and far between (Carpenter). One of the first Westerners to make attempts at improving the health and welfare of the Sherpas was Sir Edmund Hillary.
     In 1965, Hillary began the construction of the Kunde Hospital, originally staffed by doctors from New Zealand, but now managed by Sherpa doctors. The hospital and the Sir Edmund Hillary Fund, or SEHF, also award scholarships to local Sherpas to attend medical school, eventually returning and providing care at Kunde as well as other medical facilities in Nepal (SEHF). Along with the Kunde Hospital, the SEHF also funds both secondary and adult education programs (SEHF). One of the more recent Western non-profits organizations to fund education has been Alpine Ascents International, or AAI, which is based out of Seattle, Washington. In 1991, AAI established the Sherpa Education Fund to sponsor the education of Sherpa youth at the Kathmandu Valley Higher Secondary School in Kathmandu (SEF).
     Finally, one of the more environmentally conscious endeavors in the Khumbu and on Everest to clean up the regions has been non-governmental organizations that have established paid garbage removal programs to clear the years of accumulated clutter at the base camps and high camps. In the last few years, the Save Mount Everest Project and EcoHimal have removed over twenty-five tons of garbage from the slopes of Everest and along the trails back to Lukla (Oko-Himal Austria). During the cleanup efforts, local Sherpas have been hired to remove waste, build waste bins, as well as work with local recycling projects. Sherpas trained in waste management have been hired as directors of recycling facilities, water systems, and to oversee local education and infrastructure projects. By training and turning projects over to the local villages and Sherpas, the projects hope to become self-sustaining as the Nepali government begins to place deposit fees on climbing teams and their equipment. Each climbing team pays a $4000 deposit based on the amount of equipment and supplies that they take to Everest. The money is only refunded after they can show they removed all of their waste from the mountain and disposed of it properly. If this is not the case, the forfeited deposits go to paying cleanup teams to recover and dispose of wastes at a later time (Goldberg).
     As time passes, there are many in the Everest climbing industry that are hoping to see a shift to better management and fair labor practices to make the Khumbu region a more stable economy long after the guides and clients have left. By developing other tourism pursuits such as eco-tourism and long distance trekking, Sherpas and guiding companies are making efforts to keep the region working for a longer season than normal two month window that most Everest climbing teams generally adhere to. Along with cultivating new tourism markets, the development and maintenance of roads, trails, and lodges by the Sherpa people will aid in bolstering the local economy and help keep the money in the local hands. Until the Northern routes in Tibet are reopened by the Chinese, the South Routes and the Khumbu are going to see continued masses of guided climbers and trekkers all looking for that magical Himalayan experience. If visitors to the Khumbu can learn to better appreciate the culture of the region and of the Sherpa people, then their adventure will be much more complete and fulfilling.

Works Cited

Anker, Conrad and David Roberts. The Lost Explorer: Finding Mallory on Everest. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999. Print.
Boukreev, Anatoli. The Climb. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997. Print.
Carpenter, Shelby. Rock and Ice: Sherpa Killed Fixing Lines on Everest. 9 April 2013. Web. 29 May 2013.
Goldberg, Suzanne. Gurdian UK: The Mission to Clean Up Mount Everest. October 2011. Web. 5 June 2013.
Heil, Nick. Dark Summit. New York: Henry Holt and Co., 2008. Print.
Krakauer, Jon. Into Thin Air. New York: Doubleday, 1997. Print.
Mitchell, Richard G. Mountain Experience: The Psychology and Sociology of Adventure. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1983. Print.
Neville, Tim. Outside Online: Brawl On Everest. 2 May 2013. Web. 29 May 2013.
Oko-Himal Austria. Saving Mount Everest Project. 2013. Web. 5 June 2013.
Schaffer, Grayson. Outside Online: Take A Number. October 2012. Web. 29 May 2013.
SEF. Sherpa Education Fund. 2010. WEB. 4 June 2013.
SEHF. Sir Edmund Hillary Fund. 2013. WEB. 4 June 2013.
Unsworth, Walt. Everest the Mountaineering History Third Edition. Seattle: The Mountaineers, 2000. Print.
Wikipedia. List of people who died climbing Mount Everest. 28 May 2013. Web. 29 May 2013.


Monday, May 6, 2013

Mallory and Irvine

George Mallory and Sandy Irvine
The First to Summit Mt. Everest?

     The year 2013 marks several anniversaries in Mt. Everest history. May 29th marks the 60th anniversary of Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay’s climb, which has been universally accepted as the first successful summit of Everest. May 1st was the 50th anniversary of the first American summit by Jim Whittaker, followed by the first successful West Ridge Route summit by Tom Hornbein and Willi Unsoeld on May 22nd. Everest has had a long and storied history of triumphs and tragedies for those who have attempted to reach the highest point on Earth. One tragic story in particular has always stood out as both a mystery and a question: Were George Mallory and Andrew “Sandy” Irvine the first adventurers to reach Everest’s summit?
     George Mallory and Sandy Irvine set out to climb Mt. Everest in 1924 as part of a British led expedition. They were last seen by Noel Odell on June 29th as the clouds broke momentarily above him, giving him an estimate that the pair was less than a thousand feet below the summit and “moving expeditiously.” This was the last that anyone saw the men, until Mallory’s body was discovered in 1999 by an expedition including world renowned climber and mountaineer, Conrad Anker (Anker and Roberts 11-20). That expedition, as well as later work by Anker and others, brought up the lingering question of whether or not Mallory and Irvine were in reality the first to summit Everest, a hypothesis that I tend to agree with.
     I first became interested in the Mallory and Irvine story after watching the movie The Wildest Dream in which Conrad Anker and Leo Houlding tried to replicate the events of the 1924 expedition. From the beginning of the documentary, questions arose about whether or not Mallory and Irvine might have achieved the summit of Everest, with several key pieces of evidence being presented. It was already known that they had been momentarily spotted about 800’ below the summit and still ascending, but Anker and the 1999 expedition team found evidence that showed the two were in the process of descending, possibly several hours after Noel Odell had witnessed their progress through the cloud break. According to the historical record, Odell states seeing the men around 12:50 in the afternoon, and the pair were making forward progress (Anker and Roberts). While examining the body in 1999, Anker and that expedition team found several personal items still on Mallory’s body including his sun goggles. This would be a strong indicator that he and Irvine were descending after the sun had set. The location of Mallory’s body was another clue to the sequence of events and timeline, as it was found to the East of the summit also indicating the pair was descending (The Wildest Dream).
     As the mystery surrounding Mallory and Irvine deepened, another clue as to the possible summit achievement came to light. In Mallory’s pockets, the researchers found multiple personal effects and letters that were perfectly preserved, but one item he was known to carry was missing: A photograph of his wife Ruth. This one seemingly miniscule item could be the key piece of evidence that proved whether or not Mallory and Irvine had in fact reached the summit. It was well known to the 1924 expedition members that Mallory had promised his wife that he would place her picture on the summit once he reached it, and now this one personal item was nowhere to be found. Mallory’s pockets were full of personal items such as letters, an altimeter, and even receipts, but the picture was never found (The Wildest Dream).
     By this point, I was already becoming convinced that Mallory and Irvine very well could have been the first humans to reach 29,029 feet. In his book, Anker actually says he doesn’t believe that the men made it to the summit, and wondered if his discovery “aided in the destruction of a mystery.” In 2007, Anker, along with British climber Leo Houlding, set out to retrace Mallory and Irvine’s steps, and see if it was in fact possible for the men to have reached the summit. They even replicated the equipment the men used and made a specific point of attempting the notorious “Second Step” without the aid of a placed ladder. If any hurdle could keep a man off of the summit, this could very well been it (The Wildest Dream).
     For the purposes of 2007 expedition, Anker and Houlding had clothing and equipment accurate to the 1924 expedition recreated for them. This included the style of clothing in authentic period materials, cotton ropes, long wooden handle ice axes, and even hobnail boots. Hobnail boots were essentially just as they sounded, boots with metal nails or spikes driven through the soles to give the boots grip on the icy slopes. High up on Everest, Anker and Houlding tested the clothing and equipment, coming to the conclusion that it would work in such an extreme environment, but only if the climbers kept moving, and the weather didn’t shift to the extremes with the monsoon season approaching (The Wildest Dream).
     The remaining hurdle to possibly proving if Mallory and Irvine could have achieved the summit came as they approached the notorious Second Step; a 90 foot high overhanging cliff that separates the summit ridge from the actual summit. A Chinese expedition placed a fixed ladder on the Second Step in 1975, which has remained in place and has been used by almost every climber on the North Col Route since. While solo climbing Everest in 1995, and doing so without oxygen, climber Alison Hargreaves stated that even without the ladder or fixed ropes, “it would have been physically possible” for Mallory and Irvine to have climbed the Second Step in 1924 (Holzel and Salkeld 312-313).
     Just as with the 1924 expedition, Anker and Houlding were climbing into the start of the monsoon season, and were nearing the end of the climbing window for the year. As they made their summit push, they reached the Second Step on June 14th, close to the same time in the climbing season and with similar conditions to what Mallory and Irvine would have experienced. The expedition Sherpa’s removed the Chinese ladder as well as the fixed ropes, returning the Second Step to the same condition as it was in 1924. With over 7000 feet of drop-off below them, Anker and Houlding then began a free climb of the Step while roped together, just as Mallory and Irvine would have been. Anker succeeded in free climbing the Second Step after studying the route, with Houlding following behind shortly after. Houlding, who up until this point in life had no experience with high altitude climbing, stated unequivocally that in regards to free climbing the Second Step, “they were definitely capable of doing it” back in 1924 (The Wildest Dream).
    Although Anker himself had been skeptical after the 1999 climb that Mallory and Irvine had indeed succeeded in reaching Everest’s summit, he had now proven to himself and others that it may have been possible to reach 29,029 feet given the equipment and techniques that were standard in 1924. Still, several books have been written about the events of 1924 that hold a higher degree of skepticism, but many in the climbing community would like to believe that Mallory and Irvine had indeed been the first. The evidence to support either case is open to interpretation, but I like to believe that the evidence supports the hypothesis that Mallory and Irvine were in fact the first to climb to the heavens. As Tom Holzel wrote in 1999 after the discovery of Mallory’s body, “we are inspired anew by their spirit that is truly invincible.”
     As you read this, you may ask the question, “Why?” Why climb in the first place. George Mallory was asked this question after an earlier expedition to Everest in 1922. During a trip to the United States between the 1922 and 1924 expeditions, Mallory went on a speaking tour around the East coast and Midwest. At an event in Philadelphia, he was asked why he wanted to climb Everest. Mallory simply stated “Because it is there” (Mitchell 152). Mallory’s enduring desire to reach the highest point on Earth lends credence to the possibility that through sheer determination, he along with Sandy Irvine may have in fact been the first people to reach the summit of Mt. Everest. I’d like to think that somewhere on the summit there is a picture of Ruth Mallory, left by her husband George just as he promised.

Works Cited

Anker, Conrad and David Roberts. The Lost Explorer: Finding Mallory on Everest. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999. Print.
Holzel, Tom and Audrey Salkeld. The Mystery of Mallory and Irvine. Seattle: The Mountaineers, 1999. Print.
Mitchell, Richard G. Mountain Experience: The Psychology and Sociology of Adventure. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1983. Print.
The Wildest Dream. Dir. Anthony Geffen. Perf. Conrad Anker, et al. 2010. Film.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Everest Paper

As an assignment for my writing class, I wrote an article summary on Grayson Schaffer's piece in Outside Magazine's May issue, called "Lost on Everest". Figured it was something to share, and if you'd like to read the full article, it is available here:

Works Cited

Schaffer, Grayson. "Lost on Everest." Outside May 2013: 64-76. Print.

The article by Grayson Schaffer titled “Lost on Everest” highlights the upcoming 50th anniversary of the first American ascent of Mt. Everest by Jim Whittaker and Sherpa Nawang Gombu. It serves to give a timeline of events as well as the main participants, but also highlights a lesser well know accomplishment. Whittaker and Gombu reached the summit on May 1st, 1963 via the already established South Col route, but two other American climbers would summit by a different route that hadn’t been climbed successfully prior to their ascent. On May 22nd, 1963, Tom Hornbein and Willi Unsoeld became the first climbers to summit Mt. Everest via the West Ridge route (67).  Compared to other routes on Everest, the West Ridge has proven to be one of the most difficult. As Shaffer wrote, “In 50 years, only 17 climbers have repeated variations on Hornbein and Unsoeld’s ascent, and 13 have died in pursuit” (76). The article looks to highlight the achievements of Hornbein and Unsoeld, since their accomplishment seems to have become forgotten by historians, but is well recognized in the alpine climbing community.
As a magazine article, the text is presented in a way that is both factual and engaging to a wide audience. It presents both factual data such as dates and other pertinent statistics, but it also addresses the attitudes and mindset of the climbers (74-76). It also serves as a historical document that compiles information for multiple sources to summarize the events of the 1963 expedition (76). Most of the expedition members wrote books about their experiences, but not all of them. Willi Unsoeld was the most notable to not write a memoir, “Unsoeld, the team’s most articulate member, never wrote a book, but his career was celebrated as well” (76).
This article can be read and enjoyed or understood by a wide variety of readers. The audience could consist of hobby outdoor enthusiasts, to alpine climbers, to historians. There are elements of all three aspects included since this is both a historical article as well as an outdoor article, which gives the piece a broad target audience. The article struck a chord with me as I’m both an avid outdoor enthusiast as well as interested in history. The article summary does an excellent job of catching the reader’s attention by stating “Fifty years ago this month, Jim Whittaker became the first American to summit Everest. Three weeks later, a second party from the same team made an even more stunning assault on the mountain’s unclimbed West Ridge” (64).
Without knowing the authors background, you can get a sense that he has a strong background in various outdoor pursuits, as well as an interest in history. He is also an articulate writer, the work has a smooth flow to it, so it is very possible he has a degree or extensive education in writing. According to a sentence at the end of the article referring to a previous piece Schaffer wrote about Everest, it lists him as a senior editor for the magazine (76).
A point I feel the author made a significant attempt to stress was that even reaching Everest in 1963 was no small feat, let alone making it to the summit. This was an era well before established guiding companies and established routes, and the funding to even make it to base camp usually entailed either government sponsorship or research grants (68). The expedition leader, Norman Dyhrenfurth had to raise $400,000 through several sources to make the expedition possible, so to be the first American team to successfully summit Everest would have been an amazing feat unto itself. This also would serve to overshadow the other accomplishment of the West Ridge summit, to the point that Dyhrenfurth tried to prevent this from occurring by initially not releasing the names of the first summit team. According to Schaffer “Dyhrenfurth had at least two more assault teams, as they were called, still trying to make the summit - one of them via the fearsome new route up the West Ridge, a steep and technical line - and the group didn’t want its potential to accomplishments overshadowed” (66).
Historically speaking, the achievements of Hornbein and Unsoeld have gone relatively unnoticed outside of the climbing community. With the 50th anniversary of the first American ascent approaching, I feel Schaffer was compelled to revisit the expedition’s story and expose a newer generation to the events of 1963. History is written in hindsight; as new information or new revelations come about, history is revisited and revised. Since Schaffer had access to transcripts that hadn’t been published, he could put more pieces of the story together to paint a bigger picture of the expedition, as well as Hornbein and Unsoeld’s achievement. Schaffer ends the piece with a quote from Tom Hornbein that I feel accurately sums up the dedication it took to achieve the West Ridge and why it has been such a difficult route to be followed, saying “the total feeling of detachment with anything else in the world that seemed to matter - family, child - only Mount Everest was there at the time, and only the summit above us seemed to be beckoning me” (76).

Sunday, March 17, 2013


Conflict Resolution Paper
Jeff Pierce PS211
March 17th, 2013


Human beings are complicated creatures, capable of both lofty humanitarian and cultural feats as well as horrific atrocities. Attempts have been made all throughout history to try and explain our duality, even to the point that we deify both our good and evil natures almost universally in our various religions. Essentially, humanity is based on this struggle between our “better angels” and “inner demons”, as we’ve been learning about the last few months. Is it more in our nature to be essentially good and kind, or are we only kept in check by the outside influences of society? Scientists and theologians have struggled with these concepts for centuries. We’ve seen Darwin’s “Natural Selection” come into play, as well as the idea of original sin and salvation. Our attempt has been to determine, along with Steven Pinker’s guidance, whether or not humanity has in fact become more peaceful, as well as what forces have been at play throughout the process of civilizing us from tribes of hunter-gatherers to the society we live in today (Pinker) . Along the way, we have studied specific triggers to identify reasons for our shift to a more peaceful society. The most important, I feel, have been the formation of sovereign nations, the rise of gentle commerce, empathy, skepticism and reason, as well as various individual rights movements later in our history.
     It would be nice if we could identify one particular reason why we have become more civilized, but that would make life too easy and put many social scientists out of work. Instead, we’ve come to realize that it is a complex and interconnected series of events, which modify our perspectives and change our agents of socialization, and these events have been unfolding for centuries (Pinker xxiv-xxv). One of the civilizing and socializing agents that has led to the reduction of violence is the philosophy of the “Leviathan”, attributed to Thomas Hobbes (Hobbes). In his book Leviathan, Hobbes writes about the nature of mankind, laws of nature, the sovereignty of nations, as well as laws and politics. His writings have become recognized as a blueprint for the development of a more stable society, leading to common language and tradition, which acts as an agent of socialization bringing humanity together in social and economic settings (Hobbes 5-6). One of the primary characteristics of the Leviathan is that it holds a monopoly on the “legitimate use of force” (Pinker 538). Simply put, the citizens of the sovereign nation recognize the government (Leviathan) as being legitimate, and as such, holds the power for the use of force or violence to maintain order. Without the Leviathan to govern over a society by holding the power to use legitimized violence, society would fall into a state of anomie (Croteau/Hoynes). Anomie was defined by Emile Durkheim as chaos and normlessness, comparable to anarchy (Croteau/Hoynes 14).
     One of the civilizing aspects that comes with the formation of the sovereign nation is the networks of trade and commerce that develop. For this commerce to stay civilized, it must be both fair and generally viewed as equal, with punishments for theft and dishonesty, as well as granting (or selling) land rights to individuals. When people were allowed to work their own land, and then sell their products for profits, great leaps were made in the advancement of individual human rights as well as for the decline of violence as people realized that they had to rely on others for their livelihood (Pinker 75-81). In Medieval times, commerce was controlled, or outright banned, by church ideology that said profit was sinful. This has been termed a “zero-sum” situation, meaning that in theory individuals were not allowed to profit, only to produce or trade what they needed to survive. As attitudes changed along with the development of new religions, the idea of profit and “gentle commerce” became the dominant ideology (Pinker 77). This new concept of gentle commerce also brought about the idea of positive-sum outcomes, that is, business or personal interaction to where both parties benefit. One of the roles of the Leviathan was to safeguard and regulate these interactions to maintain, or by decree of punishment, attempt to ensure that these interactions remained fair. By implementing punishments whose outcomes were deemed worse that engaging in fair trade to begin with, dishonesty was kept more or less in check (Pinker 77).
     A side effect of the rise in gentle commerce was a reduction in unquestioned religious devotion. It was observed that as people made more profits, they desired to spend their profits, which was thought to detour them from church ideology (Weber). This opened the doors to new ways of thinking, a heightened skepticism, and the use of reason rather than religion to explain the natural world. Around this time, published materials and literacy were on the rise, so that knowledge could be freely shared with others who shared the same skepticism. These events led to both the rise of empathy and a movement historian’s call The Enlightenment (Pinker 177-181). Although it is in human nature to feel sympathy and empathy toward others, the ability to empathize with complete strangers didn’t really begin to evolve until the 18th century when books and other printed materials could be easily shared with others, allowing commoners and aristocracy alike to have the opportunity to read about and experience the lives of others that they had no connection to (Pinker 176). Max Weber described this concept as Verstehen, which could be applied to both individual and historic points of view. Weber explained the process as valuable to reconstruction and understanding of past events, as well as the ability to put oneself in the shoes of others to understand their motivations and emotions (Parkin 19-20).
     By this point, groups of “enlightened” thinkers began using print as well as other infrastructure such as postal services and ship transportation to begin a process of sharing their thoughts and deductions of the rational world. Key players in the Enlightenment movement included Voltaire, Thomas Hobbes, Isaac Newton, John Locke, as well as a number of other scientists and philosophers from both Europe, and later in the Americas. Enlightenment ideals centered around skepticism and reason as a way of explaining both the natural world as well as to rationalize how people think and act (Pinker 181-182). Both the American and French revolutions used elements of the Enlightenment and rationality as the basis for their movements, and fostered the idea of individual rights. One key aspect of the advancement in the sharing of ideas and philosophies is that it begins to connect the global community, allowing other likeminded thinkers to perpetuate Enlightenment ideas. Later, this would play a larger role in the various human rights movements over the following centuries (Pinker).
     One of the difficulties faced in trying to explain our decline in violence over the millennia is how a “culture of honor” can still cause humans to react with acts of violence to avenge a perceived or actual insult (Pinker 21-22). Sociologists and psychologists have spent years trying to explain why people react violently and impulsively when they feel the need for retaliation, and whether or not these are biological responses or due to our socialization (Croteau/Hoynes 153). This carries over even to the Leviathan in regards to crime and punishment. Retribution as a justification for harsher punishment has led to worldwide debates over capital punishment and the philosophy of an eye for an eye that has carried over from biblical times (Croteau/Hoynes 208-210). One sign of progress toward a society becoming more peaceful has been the abolition of capital punishment throughout the world. According to Amnesty International, capital punishment has been abolished in closed to two-thirds of nations, with an average of three more per year following suit (Amnesty International).
     Another prevalent hurdle to the advancement of peaceful human relations is radical ideology. When large groups believe in the same radical ideology, they can be capable of horrendous atrocities (Pinker). Ideology can take multiple forms, such as religious, class-based, economic, or political, and due to a human tendency to follow charismatic leadership or a goal of utopian outcomes, they can commit violent acts they otherwise wouldn’t even think of committing otherwise (Pinker 557). Groupthink is a term used to describe those who will blindly follow an ideology, as well as suppress dissent against the ideology. These masses of blind followers have been described as sheep, conforming to the dominant ideology whether or not they truly agree with it (Pinker 560-561).
     Overall, it does appear that we have been following a trend to a more peaceful humanity, but we still have a long way to go. We have made amazing advancements in human rights, we’ve worked toward peaceful globalization, global literacy is increasing, and we’ve seen decreases in civil conflict as societies move toward more democratic governments (Pinker 671-696). Unfortunately we are still dealing with sensationalism in the media of violence, which in and of itself can spawn further violent acts and a lack of coverage when human rights violations are involved. We see governments or corporations turning a blind eye to make a profit, exploitation of less advanced cultures, and a modern counter-enlightenment taking place in the United States and other nations. I feel to make truly great strides toward a more peaceful humanity, we need a new enlightenment, as well as transparency of governments and a rise in inter-governmental organizations (Pinker 166-168).
     As I began this class, I was skeptical about the truth behind the hypothesis that violence has been declining. The modern era is constantly bombarded with reports and images of violence, making us believe that the current situation is one of an increasingly violent society. We fail to see that wars are declining, crime rates are tied to economy, and we haven’t seen the horrific genocides of past centuries. I fear we may be due for an African genocide given the current political climate and the unwillingness of the Western world to intervene in an advisory capacity. Overall, though, I do agree that our tendency towards violence, interpersonal, institutional, or militaristic, is declining. If we can learn from our past, promote another enlightenment, and lose our biases, then we may become an even more peaceful society. Bias is a social construction, as well as most of the other “justifications” for human violence. Over time, social constructions can be changed, but not until humanity recognizes their shortcomings. As we learn to change our agents of socialization, our “better angels” have a better chance of winning the battle of our duality.

Amnesty International. 2012. Internet. 17 March 2013.
Croteau/Hoynes. Experience Sociology. McGraw-Hill Companies, 2013. Print.
Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan. Mineola, Ny.: Dover Classics, 1651-2006. Print.
Parkin, Frank. Max Weber Revised Edition. New York: Routledge, 2002. Print.
Pinker, Steven. The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. New York: Penguin, 2011. Print.
Weber, Max. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Mineola, Ny.: Dover Classics, 2003. Print.