This is a quite interesting half-hour panel discussion hosted by the Institute of Art and Ideas in Britain on Steven Pinker’s 2011 book The Better Angels of Our Nature (which I reviewed in this earlier post).
Participants include Pinker himself, who delivers a talk compactly summarizing his massive book, along with British Humanist Association chief executive Andrew Copson, self-described “renegade” economist Judith Marquand, longtime BBC journalist Roger Bolton, and moderator Rana Mitter. Unlike most such talking-head discussions, this one left me regretting that it was over so soon.
Pinker at one point mentions the turn away from extreme punishments in Western European culture that began in the second half of the 18th century, as illustrated by, for one obvious example, the prohibition on cruel and unusual punishments in the U.S. Bill of Rights. In England the number of offenses eligible for the death penalty was cut from 222 in the mid-1700s down to just 4 in 1861. Those earlier 222 capital offenses had included such things as robbing a rabbit warren, being in the company of Gypsies, and “strong evidence of malice” in a child 7 to 14 years of age. (Admittedly that the last law is no doubt missed by schoolteachers.)
The Institute of Art and Ideas webpage for this discussion has links to subsegments of the discussion.
There are quite a few other such discussions available at their website (http://iai.tv) covering a range of subjects from philosophy and science to the movies.