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Dying for the Group/Dying for the Country
The Mind Meld of Bill Gates and Steven Pinker
(New York Times, Jan. 27, 2018)


Better Angels of Our Nature The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (Steven Pinker)

For information on purchasing this book through Amazon, click here.
"My favorite book of the last decade is [Steven] Pinker's Better Angels of Our Nature. It is a long but profound look at the reduction in violence and discrimination over time."
—Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft
About the Author
Steven Pinker is the Harvard College Professor of Psychology. A two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist, he has been named one of Time's 100 Most Influential People in the World Today and Foreign Policy's 100 Global Thinkers.

A regular reader of the Library of Social Science Newsletter, Steven Pinker, has been particularly interested in a piece we recently published, Koenigsberg's Second Law (see directly below). He wrote to me about a new paper, Dying for the group: Towards a general theory of extreme self-sacrifice (Harvey Whitehouse), published in Behavioral and Brain Sciences.

Koenigsberg's Second Law
Dying for the Sacred Ideal
The nature of the entity or idea for which human beings die is fungible. Among these entities or ideas:
• France
• Germany
• The British Empire
• The (Japanese) Emperor
• Allah
• Freedom and democracy
• A Tamil homeland
• A more perfect union
The mechanism is the same: death and memorials erected in the name of those who have died—testify to the reality of the entity or ideal. Death and memorialization perform a validation function.

I’m grateful to Professor Pinker for alerting me to this paper. The title echoes research I’ve been conducting for the last twenty-eight years, ever since I chaired a Panel, “The Social Psychology of Nationalism with Special Reference to Sacrifice”—and presented a paper, “Dying for One’s Country” on July 13, 1990 at a meeting of the International Society for Political Psychology.

As those of you who are reading this now know, Library of Social Science has been developing this theme for quite some time (we have a special website presenting the best writings we’ve published on this topic, Essays/Papers on War, Sacrifice and Genocide).

When I began writing about sacrificial death as the essence of group psychology—and perhaps the foundation of culture—it seemed a radical idea. It’s been a long, arduous trek—from 1990 to 2018.

Like many disquieting ideas, it is not only a question of establishing its “truth,” but of overcoming psychological barriers to accepting—or looking closely—at this idea. Scholarly change is not separate from psychological change.

I am deeply grateful to those who recognized the significance of this idea, stepped forward to support it, and wrote papers or essays for the Library of Social Science.

Among these thought leaders: Ivan Strenski, Michael Vlahos, Kelly Denton-Borhaug, Yael Feldman, Roger Griffin, Pingchao Zhu, Panayiotis Demopoulos, Brian Crim, Geoffrey Cocks, Alexander Chirila, Liah Greenfeld, Walter Skya, Murray Schwartz, Brian E. Crim, Michael Roberts, and Akio Kimura.

Before I comment on Whitehouse’s paper, I believe it’s time for a retrospective—to reflect upon how the idea of sacrificial death has evolved since 1990. I will write about this in subsequent issues of the Library of Social Science Newsletter.

I called my project—as I first conceived it—“Awakening from the Nightmare of History.” OK, perhaps a bit grandiose. But what I’m suggesting is quite simple: once we recognize sacrificial death as the central dynamic generating political history, the world changes forever.