The argument put forward by Steven Pinker that violence has been in decline
and that “we have been getting kinder and gentler” rests to a considerable degree upon
data concerning violent events, in particular homicide and deaths on the battlefield. In
discussing such data for the modern period, this article questions their reliability and, in
particular, their comparability over time. Pinker’s argument may be stronger with respect
to a growing public sensitivity toward many forms of violence, not least sexual violence, for
which there is considerable evidence. However, the relationship between changing public
sensibilities and changing levels of actual violent acts remains difficult to determine.