Gothamist is totally fascinated by this Times article about how society has actually been less violent over the centuries. The proposition from Norbert Elias, Swiss sociologist of the 1930s, was that things like using knives and forks (and not spitting or peeing in public) encouraged medieval society to transform into a more civilized one. "Elias has posthumously become the theoretical guru of a field that did not exist in 1939: the history of crime. It was then that pioneering historians began to do what most historians had thought impossible: create crime statistics for eras that did not systematically keep crime data." Further, murder was "much more common in the Middle Ages than it is now and that it dropped precipitately in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. Something very important changed in Western behavior and attitudes, and it stood much prevailing social theory on its head."
Considering how much Gothamist is both riveted by and mournful of the horror that seems to seep into our lives, whether we live in a big city or a small town, it was somewhat encouraging to think that the constraints of society have had good effect. Rather than feeling like we're in a lawless Warriors and Mad Max-esque time. When The Alienist by Caleb Carr came out, Carr revealed that sick, horrible things happened in turn of the 20th century New York, but it seemed like a more civilized time because people were more buttoned up.
The fact of the matter is that crime is horrifying no matter what...Gothamist on other strange NYC crimes: Lyric Benson Murder-Suicide, Tribeca Kidnapping, East Village stabbing, Brooklyn Pipe Bomb, Orchard Street Murder, Shopkeeper Killer