Pinker’s work also draws on Norbert Elias idea that culture or a change in culture is another component in how societies either become more violent or less violent.

I have never been a fan of romanticizing hunter gather societies or pre industrial societies in general. It is funny so many leftists (and some anarchists) use this idea of the mythical peaceable stateless societies that existed before state formation is just merely a rebrand of the  “noble savage” myth European intellectuals developed in the eighteenth and nineteenth century.  This idea was central to German and French scientific and anthropological racial theories that non-European societies were merely cultural imitators or remained frozen in time.

In any case, the question to why many societies that are essentially Western (this includes countries like Japan and South Korea) are now less violent than they were a century ago is worth investigating and Pinker’s thesis is certainly interestingly enough to give him a listen to and read.

The Château d'Haroué was constructed between 1720 and 1732 by Germain Boffrand for Prince Marc de Beauvau, Viceroy of Tuscany. The architect had to integrate into his plans the four towers and the moat of the predating medieval castle of François de Bassompierre. The decoration of the castle was entrusted to artists from the Lorraine region: Jean Lamour (1698-1771) for the gates, the balcony, and the banister, Pillement (1698-1771) for the interior painting of one of the towers, and Barthélemy Guibal (1699-1757), the sculptor of the fountains of Place Stanislas in Nancy, for the statuary. The French park was designed by Emilio Terry.

A French carving, dating from the 1700s, designed to look like a human molar. At 10.5 centimeters in height it depicts inside its two halves, “The tooth worm as Hell’s demon” an explanation of the toothache as a battle occurring with the mythical tooth worm. The legend of the tooth worm apparently dates back to 1800 BC Mesopotamia and even has its own creation myth:

“When Anu created the Sky,
the Sky created the Rivers,
The Rivers created the Valleys,
the Valleys created the Swamps,
the Swamps created the Worm,
the Worm went to Samas and wept.
His tears flowed before Ea.
“What will you give me to eat, what will you give me to such?”
“I’ll give you a ripe fig, apricots and apple juice.”
“What use are a ripe fig,
an apricot and apple juice to me?
Lift me up! Let me dwell ‘twixt teeth and gum!
I’ll suck the blood from the teeth
and gnaw the roots in their gums.”
“Because you have said this, O Worm, may
Ea sink you with his mighty hand!”

The idea of a tooth worm was finally put to scientific scrutiny in the late 18th century by both Pierre Fauchard — “the father of modern dentistry” — and Philip Pfaff — who was dentist to Frederick the Great of Prussia. Pfaff seemed loathe to totally commit to such a position however (or was, in fact, a wonderfully sarcastic man), writing that, while he himself had never personally come across a tooth worm, he did not wish “to dispute the observations of learned doctors.”


The first wedding favor, common among European aristocrats in the eighteenth century, probably was a bonbonnière (sweets box). Bonbonnière usually contained sugar cubes or delicate confections that symbolized wealth and royalty.

Bonbonnière (Sweets Box), c. 1765, England

Bonbonnière (Sweets Box), c. 1765, England

The Top Hat Riot of 1797

The top hat was invented by John Hetherington, a haberdasher of the Strand, London. What he called a “silk hat” was a variation on the standard male riding hat of the day, and made from beaver covered in silk.

On the first day he took to the streets wearing it (15th January 1797), he [supposedly] ended up being arraigned before the Lord Mayor on a charge of breach of the peace and incitement to riot. The order had resulted from his wearing “a tall structure having a shiny lustre and calculated to frighten timid people”.

It was said that women feinted at the sight of his headgear, children screamed, dogs yelped, and a young boy suffered a broken arm in the ensuing scrum. Hetherington was compelled to pay a £500 bond to keep the peace. In his defence he said he had not broken any law “but was merely exercising a right to appear in a headdress of his own design - a right not denied to any Englishman”.

It didn’t catch on overnight. Indeed, the topper’s dominance as the gentleman’s headwear for formal occasions wasn’t really established until Prince Albert started to favour it 50 years later.

[Words taken from a scanned article by Eugene Byrne which can be found here. Image: Prince Albert models a top hat]

Cemetery Gun

In the 18th and 19th centuries, grave-robbing was a serious problem in Great Britain and the United States. Because surgeons and medical students could only legally dissect executed criminals or people who had donated their bodies to science (not a popular option at the time), a trade in illegally procured corpses sprang up. This cemetery gun, held in the Museum of Mourning Art at the Arlington Cemetery of Drexel Hill, Pa., was one dramatic strategy used to thwart so-called “resurrection men.”

The gun, which the museum dates to 1710, is mounted on a mechanism that allows it to spin freely. Cemetery keepers set up the flintlock weapon at the foot of a grave, with three tripwires strung in an arc around its position. A prospective grave-robber, stumbling over the tripwire in the dark, would trigger the weapon—much to his own misfortune.

Grave-robbers evolved to meet this challenge. Some would send women posing as widows, carrying children and dressed in black, to case the gravesites during the day and report the locations of cemetery guns and other defenses. Cemetery keepers, in turn, learned to wait to set the guns up after dark, thereby preserving the element of surprise.

Because the guns were rented by the week and were prohibitively expensive to buy, the poorer people most likely to end up beneath the anatomist’s knife—historian Michael Sappol writes that these included “black people, criminals, prostitutes, the Irish, ‘freaks,’ manual laborers, indigents, and Indians”—probably wouldn’t have benefited from this form of protection.

[The website that this is from also has a Tumblr, so go follow them!]


Tipu’s Tiger

‘Tipu’s Tiger’ is an awesome, life-size beast of carved and painted wood, seen in the act of devouring a prostrate European in the costume of the 1790s. It has cast a spell over generations of admirers since 1808, when it was first displayed in the East India Company’s museum. Concealed in the bodywork is a mechanical pipe-organ with several parts, all operated simultaneously by a crank-handle emerging from the tiger’s shoulder. Turning the handle pumps … bellows and controls the air-flow to simulate the growls of the tiger and cries of the victim.

Tipu Sultan, the ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore in India for whom the automaton was built, identified himself with tigers; his personal epithet was 'The Tiger of Mysore,’ his soldiers were dressed in 'tyger’ jackets, his personal symbol invoked a tiger’s face through clever use of calligraphy and the tiger motif is visible on his throne, and other objects in his personal possession [Source]. The death of a young Englishman named Munro carried off by a man-eating tiger in 1792 was the inspiration … Munro was the son of Sir Hector Munro, one of the East India Company’s generals. His death was seen by [Tipu] … as divine retribution against the British invaders [Source - see also documentary].