Douthat challenges Pinker's thesis:
[W]e regard public executions as an anachronistic barbarity, to say nothing of flogging, the stocks, and other pre-modern forms of punishment. But we’re kept safe from crime by a penal system that locks lawbreakers away in a self-enclosed world pervaded by hidden cruelties and unacknowledged forms of torture.
We have a growing distaste for cruelty to animals, manifest in polls, pop culture, foxhunting bans, you name it. But the vegetarian minority notwithstanding, our daily meals come from factory farms and industrial slaughterhouses where animals are treated in ways that would make our gorges rise if we ever actually confronted them. And more provocatively, of course, there’s the case of infanticide: Common in premodern societies, abhorred in our more civilized age … unless, of course, you count the million-plus abortions in America every year, perhaps the most common and the most concealed form of violence that our society accepts.
I hope Pinker responds. Having read a large chunk of the book, I think the case is pretty air-tight. I second Ross on mass incarceration and its horrors – but any look at prisons in the past will disabuse you of the idea of regression. On animals, factory farming is a great crime of our time, and perhaps earlier, more intimate relationships with animals were better. But I doubt it. It's a function of civilization to even worry about animal welfare.