With the depressing news of yet another atrocity, this time against satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, I thought I'd take a moment to ask whether the world is becoming a worse place, at least in terms of mass murder. Note this is different to serial murder. A serial killer kills one person, then waits a long time before killing another. Mass murder is killing many in a short space of time.
I think it is getting worse. The solo mass murderer, or death delivered by a handful of deranged people, is a modern phenomenon.
I can't recall from the ancient world, or even the mediaeval, or the Renaissance, or even in Elizabethan times, a single instance of mass murder being conducted by one man acting on his own.
The reason is easy to see. In the time of my hero Nicolaos, the most powerful individual weapon available was a bronze sword. A nutter could kill at most a few people in the street before being taken down.
And a mass murderer would be taken down quickly. In a world without a police force, citizens were naturally inclined to intervene when they saw a crime being committed. Surviving court cases from classical Athens that involve violence in public always mention passers-by running into the action. Not something you see much these days.
But a modern mass murderer can do a whole lot better than a bronze sword. The growth in power of lethal force that can be carried by a single individual is incredibly important.
The same nutter today would have a couple of automatic weapons, hundreds of rounds of ammo, a pouch of grenades, and maybe a few bombs to plant. He could kill hundreds.
Then there's the unfortunate fact that there are more people inclined to mass murder.
The population today is 7 billion. In Nico’s time it was roughly 200 million. The percentage of the population inclined to mass murder is small and probably hasn't changed, but population growth means there are thirty-five times more dangerous maniacs walking the planet today than in the ancient world.
Never mind that there are also thirty-five times more good guys. Good guys don't commit crimes, good news never moves, and bad news spreads like wild fire.
When you add that many potential mass murderers to the extra lethal technology they can carry, it doesn't look good.