Violating the Humanity of Others

23 December 2014

 

This week we're thinking about Humanity Violated -- the tendency of some people to think of other people as less than fully human. Humans do that to each other way too often.  Nazis despised their Jewish victims as little better than diseased rats that deserved to be eliminated for the public good.  Slave-owners saw their slaves as little better than pack animals.  

Of course, maybe we should avoid over-generalizing.  Nazis and slaveholders were uniquely evil.   Most people wouldn’t go nearly that far.  That said, the tendency is more widespread than we think.  Rush Limbaugh called the prisoners humiliated by the U.S. military at Abu Gharib as quote, “subhuman”.  Michael Savage called them “vermin”.  Neal Boortz called Islam “a deadly virus.”  And Maureen Dowd said that Muslim terrorists “replicate and come at us like cockroaches.”   

Do we really think Dowd or Limbaugh meant those words literally? After all, they’re not ignorant or uneducated.  They know that, biologically speaking, human beings constitute a single species.  Surely they know that biological or ethnic differences between different groups of people are superficial and morally insignificant.  Maybe they just got carried away with distasteful and repugnant metaphors.  

But then take Thomas Jefferson.  He famously said that all men are created equal.  So how do you explain his slaves toiling away in the fields like animals?  I think Stephen Douglas got it right in his debates with Abraham Lincoln.  He claimed that Jefferson and the founding fathers weren't refering to what he called quote, “inferior or degraded races”.  Douglas is denying that the founding fathers saw black slaves as fully and equally human. 

You could say that was just false consciousness.  All you have to do is open your eyes.  You'll immediately see that other human beings are just that -- other human beings.  They aren’t Martians or monkeys or pack animals.  They speak.  They feel pain.  They reason.  They love.  They hope.  Humanity is pretty hard to miss.  

But it's not hard to miss if you start out thinking of others as snakes, parasites, or leeches, the way Hitler did with the Jews in his book, Mein Kampf.   Even if Hitler was just using pernicious metaphors, they proved to be pretty dangerous.  Look where that supposedly “metaphorical” thinking led to. 

Where would such ideas come from?  Given that humans are in fact a single species, why do some people think of groups of other people -- whether literally or figuratively -- as not quite fully human? 

If we're wondering whether we’re the only animal that does this sort of thing, that's  hard to say.  We do know that fighting amongst groups of the same species is fairly widespread, from ants to chimpanzees.  The question is whether fighting chimps … “de-chimpanzee-nize” each other, for lack of a better word.  

My guess is the ability to make morally-based discriminations among the members of one’s own species is another one of humankind’s great accomplishments.  It’s enabled us to far outstrip more primitive creatures when it comes to hate and cruelty.  So if genuine biology provides no basis for our dehumanizing theories, do we just make them up? 

Consider religion.  We start with God, then the angels; humans are third in line as to perfection, but then some of us somehow or another fell off even that perch.  Now obviously not every de-humanizer is a religious believer.  There’s always science -- or better, pseudo-science.  Genuine evolutionary theory teaches that all humans are a single highly evolved species.  But that leaves the door open for pseudo-scientific racists to hypothesize that certain humans belong to certain less evolved, more animal-like subspecies.

This can be depressing stuff.  I don’t want to believe that our tendency to dehumanize is inevitable.  I’d like to believe that through education and just more people to people contact, we might put an end to it.   I don’t want to believe that the urge to dehumanize the other is so deep in our psyches that it can never be changed.  Presumably our guest, David Livingstone Smith, author of Less Than Human: Why We Demean, Enslave, and Exterminate Others can help.

Comments (27)


David99999's picture

David99999

Sunday, August 20, 2017 -- 8:05 PM

Well said.

Well said.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Monday, August 21, 2017 -- 10:12 AM

It appears that most of the

It appears that most of the covert and overt causes for dehumanization have been addressed by Dr. Smith and others. Everyone has something to gain and everyone else has something to lose. It is fascinating that we can so easily delude ourselves concerning true motivations for why we do what we do. Human consciousness is complicated. And, over the ages of man, we have been accustomed to conflict, so much so perhaps that we are able to rationalize any sort of egregious behavior(s) in order to justify preservation of culture and ways of life. So, the conflict piece seems important. Conflict leads to ideology and the sense of belonging to something bigger than one's self. The past six months (give or take), are micro-cosmic. It may be that we have not seen anything yet...

feminale's picture

feminale

Tuesday, August 22, 2017 -- 10:11 AM

Terms like "human" are used

Terms like "human" are used by males when discussing in negative terms the actions of males. "People" dont commit genocide, rape, and the like- males do. By sharing the blame with the first and foremost victims of patriarchy-women- with terms like "humans" and "people" when "patriarchy isnt mentioned- and is conspicuously absent from all of your discussions- you have detracted from the issue at hand.
Why-despite declining sperm counts, are patriarchies tipping the gender balance towards a larger population of males despite the violence they bring and will continue to bring? When will you start to acknowledge Toxic Masculinity and it being at the source of ALL social ills?

pfordney's picture

pfordney

Thursday, August 24, 2017 -- 9:40 PM

I'm surprised no one has

I'm surprised no one has brought up Social Darwinism started by Richard Spencer in the 19th century. His ideas began about the time Charles Darwin's Origin of Species and he felt the white man was the top of the evolutionary scale.

martinc2's picture

martinc2

Thursday, August 24, 2017 -- 9:58 PM

We don't so much dehumanize

We don't so much dehumanize those of another tribe as they aren't humanized for us in the first place. Attunement and limbic resonance occurs with actual working together on a significant piece of infrastructure. A hunt, or food preparation, or shared child care. These trigger all the mirroring circuits that create an experience of the other as shared in the mirror circuits. Education and walking in someone else's shoes won't have any where near the same impact.

rogg's picture

rogg

Tuesday, December 23, 2014 -- 4:00 PM

Killing or abusing other

Killing or abusing other people begins with killing or abusing any living creature. To kill or abuse an animal with impunity sets the stage for killing or abusing one's fellow humans--after the fellow human has been reduced to an animal in the mind of the perpetrator. Or, perhaps conversely, the perpetrator identifies with a predatory animal which preys on humans.

Gary M Washburn's picture

Gary M Washburn

Wednesday, December 24, 2014 -- 4:00 PM

Aristotle divided the world

Aristotle divided the world between noble and ignoble, Christian era thinkers divided it between the saved and the damned, very much within the same community. Sociologists have found that isolated communities with strict social norms do not apply them to strangers, even where the stranger inhabits the next valley. After the fall of the Soviet Union highly socialized young Brits were often complained of engaging in barbarian outrages in formerly Soviet Bloc Eastern European nations. In WWII merchant marines were astonished at the lack of racism they encountered aboard supply ships. In racism and human affliction context is all.
 
According to Paul Vinogradoff, Growth of the Manor, slaves left from Roman times or brought in by Vikings were nominally retained that title but gradually assimilated to the same social arrangements as others in their community. In Northwestern Europe throughout the Middle Ages most of the population lived in a social arrangement, at least in relation to their immediate neighbors, unrecognizably different from democratic equality, though church sovereign and lord all vied for a more top-down system. It is clear that in England, at least, the condition of slavery was not naturally acceptable, and needed support from more powerful institutions, and gradually faded out of use. It is odd, then, that so fierce a form of racism should emerge in the Anglo-Saxon colonies of America. But, combined with a bit of xenophobia and a pattern established by the Spanish colonization of the Caribbean, the plantation south was so dependent upon the institution of slavery that the white population was terrified of a slave revolt and demanded, in no uncertain terms, the cooperation of all whites in a readiness to suppress any sign of rebelliousness. A curious effect of this is the development of "Southern Hospitality", a sort of 'happy talk' mentality carefully avoiding any offensive intimations such as the possibility of true equality of the races. It is anything but benign. Jim Crow, of course, only deepened the coercive social pressure to share in the "responsibility" of keeping "them" in "their" place. When Jim Crow lost its support in law it was replaced by an economic system that has a similar effect, but, despite the obvious and never to be overstated fact that blacks especially but nonwhites generally have it much worse, even poor whites now are acceptable to the new Jim Crow economics as part of the underclass. But again, such affliction of man against man is never without its context. How do we change the context so that local affections expand to all, and internal divisions that trend toward a caste system fade into a broader context? The point is, if America is to sustain the caste system it has set its course upon since the Eighties it must perpetuate a sort of internal exile, almost to the point of extermination, of black men. I think this is the context that has us thinking here. An important social point, though, if America would sustain the fantasy of greatness and special status among nations, it cannot afford to get anything but the most out of every talent and initiative and industry every citizen of any color or social station is capable of. If we want to have Social Security healthcare and a decent educational system into the future we all need to be able to attain a maximum of prosperity. The 'minimax', as Rawls put it, for every American without discrimination.

Jmshold's picture

Jmshold

Saturday, December 27, 2014 -- 4:00 PM

Is there the possibility that

Is there the possibility that people who participated in these acts before the days of modern advancements in biology and taxonomic categorization (before we knew scientifically that we are all the same species) would change their beliefs and/or practices if they knew biologically that we really are the same?  I realize that a lot of this is still going on, even with our modern advancements but maybe people like Jefferson would have rid themselves of these behaviors much sooner. I know some humans are sadly inhuman themselves so they act in inhuman ways. I am also curious if there is scientific proof that the oppressors are maybe biologically or chemically different than us?  What causes a person to act this way? If Hitler was medicated for schizophrenia or something similar could the holocaust have been avoided?   I am fairly certain that hatred is a learned behavior and not given with birth. I am curious if certain groups of people are more or less inclined to this behavior. If you take a baby from a devout member of the KKK and raise them with a family of another race would they not grow up to love who their parents despised?  If one of the Hitler youth was taken from that environment and raised in a non aryan family would they still have tendencies towards this behavior or accept their new surroundings and family?  I thought that this was a human characteristic strictly but the more I think about it, I realize that animals do sometimes show tendencies in this direction. The basic instincts to seek out similar specimens for mating to carry on the most "desirable" traits in genes is a similar behavior. So is this an ancient survival instinct that has been mostly weeded out by evolution?  Or is it a learned behavior fueled by greed and hatred.  

Gary M Washburn's picture

Gary M Washburn

Saturday, December 27, 2014 -- 4:00 PM

The Greeks enslaved their

The Greeks enslaved their immediate neighbors and despised the illiterate peoples on the fringes of their own cultural domains as "barbarian". The Romans despised other cultures because they did not shave. The Norman French invaders of Anglo-Saxon England despised the English because they drank beer instead of wine. The difference between the Tutsi and Hutu peoples of Rwanda and Burundi is that one is a nomadic herding tribe and the other farmers. This is a typical strain in sociology where a settled people are not paranoid about their possessions (land doesn't up and run away), whereas nomads are on constant alert that their prize possessions, their animals, not be poached, and these develop ethics quick to aggression and moral 'austerity' (possessiveness of women). The Yugoslavs divided by religion, as did the Northern Irish. But in every case there is some motivation implicit but secreted in the 'reasons' for bigotry. I may have given the impression that American bigotry began in the Southern states, but only meant that the context of insistent solidarity derived from a dread, very real, of a slave revolt. But it in many ways, though seldom as acutely, the culture of vigilantism victimized whites too. Some whites may have been more abusive than naturally inclined, for fear of reprisals from other whites, and some whites were lynched or tarred and feathered for speaking out against racism. The cases of Elizabeth Freeman and Frederick Douglas are telling (in both cases whites became instrumental in their appeal for recognition). But many abolitionists were racists too. But their style of racism points to a contrary motivation in racism which highlights, maybe, why American racism overall is so intractable. This is a crude way of putting it, and there are many alternatives to and variations upon this that may be at work, but there seems to me a general division to racism between xenophobia and domestic servitude. The North-South divide may roughly underscore this. But the effect is that with contrary strains of motivations, strategies that militate against one may be turned to reinforce the other, and so nothing we do seems to have the effect of obliterating it.

mwsimon's picture

mwsimon

Saturday, December 27, 2014 -- 4:00 PM

I think the human drive to

I think the human drive to oppress other races comes from a combination of our greed and the inability to fit the whole species into our empathic circles.  Psychology has shown that we can really only have empathy for about 150 others - a refuge from a time when we lived as primates in small groups.  Now, a person can know that others are part of their race, but it is hard for them to really feel empathy and compassion for them unless they count them amongst those like them.  Otherwise, they are strangers, competition.  So they take the excuse that they look different - that they are further genetically from one's own family - to opress people of other races.

mirugai's picture

mirugai

Sunday, December 28, 2014 -- 4:00 PM

DEHUMANIZING POLICY        

DEHUMANIZING POLICY        
Policy-making is very different from truth-telling, and so philosophy?s concern with truth doesn?t get very far in trying to understand policy.  In policy-making, truth is not what is important to those upon whom the policy is being imposed; what is important to investigate, and what we should be talking about, is the effect of the policy.  One central philosophical question in all this is ?why do people believe, and act upon, ?false? beliefs?? I always look to the perceived power of the conforming community, and the attractions of membership in the community. The show didn?t really mention this convincing and conforming force.
Two characteristics of foreign policy are 1. Demonization of an ?enemy,? and 2. Frightening exercise of irrational warfare behavior.  Demonization, as discussed in the show, is always the basis of it all.
In the ?working class bar? described by a caller African-Americans are spoken of as a different ?kind? of human (not ?subhuman? at all), because the w.c.b. culture there supports and fosters this characterization. Why does it? 
I have an anthropologist friend who was employed by an agency of the USArmy to teach other-cultural awareness to the troops going to the middle-east.  I think the project failed because it conflicted with the demonization policy of the government, and with the very real need for a soldier to dehumanize those he might have to kill.

MJA's picture

MJA

Sunday, December 28, 2014 -- 4:00 PM

Humanity is equality and

Humanity is equality and inhumanity inequality, and we are what we are taught. Rather than teaching out children the inequities of the gods and mortals and devils or the divisiveness of religion, imagine teaching our children simply that God is just another name for One, and One is all there is. And rather than teaching the measure and division of everything via science, (super colliders and big bangs, electrons and Higgs, energy and matter, mind and body, ying and yang, duality I could scream!!!), imagine teaching the unification of everything, the bigger picture called the infinite Uni-verse. As for the traditional inequities passed down of race, color and creed, why not pass down to our children the simple truth, lessons of the absolute, Equality 101. John Lennon wrote the song "Imagine", and Martin Luther King had a "dream"; the light they saw is the light I see, the light is crystal clear to me. The light is freedom, "free at last".
Does Stanford teach Equality 101 Professor Perry? If not, why not?  You want to change the world of inhumanity or inequity Professor, teach our children to be true. Truth is indivisible, with liberty and justice for All.
Truth is One
=

Gary M Washburn's picture

Gary M Washburn

Monday, December 29, 2014 -- 4:00 PM

Mirugai,

Mirugai,
Did you know that in the two world wars very few frontline soldiers used their weapons lethally? A small percentage, three to six percent, thrived on the chance to kill, another fifteen or so would 'take orders', but something like eighty percent avoided killing anyone, because it was simply not in their nature to do so. The military, as a result, has since employed a number of strategies to inure recruits to violence. So much so that we are now sending out newly trained soldiers already traumatized. The sharp rise of PTSD may be the product of training, less than war. And it's less about being subjected to violence than subjecting others to it.
 
MJA, Micheal,
The question is, which "One"? Or doesn't discernment 'count'?

Gary M Washburn's picture

Gary M Washburn

Monday, December 29, 2014 -- 4:00 PM

MJA,

MJA,
Or, which one of us is who we are? Either the most discerning term is loss, or the 'One' is 'total', i.e., totalitarian.
 
 

Gary M Washburn's picture

Gary M Washburn

Monday, December 29, 2014 -- 4:00 PM

?

?

Gary M Washburn's picture

Gary M Washburn

Tuesday, December 30, 2014 -- 4:00 PM

The secret of induction has

The secret of induction has been sought for thousands of years. Thinkers have ever intuited it the resolution of all difference and conflict, and, in the form of metaphor and analogy, the foundation of langauge and so of rationality. But as bedazzling as the power to assemble all into a grand unification thesis, it is common error that many fall into to suppose that the story ends there. A more jaundiced perspective will help us recognize that there is no reality in it, and what seems so deserving of our confidence dissolves into vapor. "All that is solid melts into air." Plato shows us, in Gorgias, how analogy is actually reductive, and not reductive at all. Induction is not the founding term of reductive reason, it is the final term of it. Reason is incomplete in its rigor of "one". The logical which "one" is just not the same "one" as the arithmetic "one" (as in how many is "one"?), are incommensurable. The final term in our conviction that they are is the loss of that conviction. Not so much Aristotelian wonder as Platonic bewilderment. That lost conviction enables a response through which the lexical richness of all terms grows more completed, and even in the face of the, unwarranted, intuition of a structural unity. That intuition convicts us in a rational process that authorizes assertion as fact, but a more properly philosophical interest is in understanding how the growing lexical richness supersedes any intuition of a structural unity. This applies to the current issue because the intuition of a structural unity is always at the root of human cruelty.
  
?

MJA's picture

MJA

Tuesday, December 30, 2014 -- 4:00 PM

The story of truth does not

The story of truth does not have an ending Gary, you are right, for once the truth is found it must be practiced and shared, and that becomes the ultimate purpose of life, just living.  = 

Gary M Washburn's picture

Gary M Washburn

Wednesday, December 31, 2014 -- 4:00 PM

Like Platon Karatayev,

Like Platon Karatayev, perhaps? Or Pierre Bezukhov? A pragmatist would not make such unwarranted assertions, nor deflect questions. The is one question I think you need to ask yourself, and I don't see how you can say anything pertinent until you do:
Is '=' transitive?

MJA's picture

MJA

Wednesday, December 31, 2014 -- 4:00 PM

Equal and is are synonymous

Equal and is are synonymous as truth and is are One or the same. Truth is.
If you are looking for truth, try answering this question: What is the measure of yourself, your true self?
Michelangelo told me when searching for truth to study Nature. So I went down to the river and found the truth of a river is the same as me. Try measuring a river, find its depth and direction, tell me what you see.
 
Happy New Year! =

Gary M Washburn's picture

Gary M Washburn

Wednesday, December 31, 2014 -- 4:00 PM

Do you have contact with the

Do you have contact with the dead? Or do you mean the Ninja Turtle?
Let me clue you in: hydrology is a well developed science.
'=' is transitive? Then I suppose:
A = B and B = C therefore A = C also could be written B = A  and C = B therefore C = A, without altering the meaning.
But this implies you don't know what you mean, which makes it hard to suppose that I should. In any case it is a critical difference between philosophy and sophistry to respond to queries and respect the struggles of others to get a grip on what is being said.
?
 

MJA's picture

MJA

Thursday, January 1, 2015 -- 4:00 PM

The great Eastern masters

The great Eastern masters believed the truth could not be spoken, whereas I believe it simply cannot be heard. As for teaching the blind to see, One must surely learn to see Oneself.
Be One,
=

Gary M Washburn's picture

Gary M Washburn

Thursday, January 1, 2015 -- 4:00 PM

I think somewhere in Hesse

I think somewhere in Hesse there's a character whose teacher keeps pointing him toward a river for enlightenment. Well, fine. Or was is Kim, whose master spent a lifetime looking for 'my river'? It's an old theme. As far as I'm concerned, though, a river is just a ditch to get rid of the excess water that would inundate us all if it had no place to go. I've seen them drain to a trickle and swell to a frightening torrent. But what we learn from them is what we bring there ourselves. The point is, where is the philosophy in it?
Cruelty derives from an assumed understanding that is unmitigated by the protests of those assumed to be understood. As I have often said in other contexts, free speech, even enforceable free speech as specified under the Constitution, entails listening. Too many of us think it means a right to be heard, but not an obligation to listen. Ronald Reagan, the father of Jim Crow Economics, got his 1980 campaign off the floor in New Hampshire at a press conference he called in which he railed at the press for asking embarrassing questions, shouting petulantly, "I paid for this microphone!" Well, maybe he did, and surely it was this event that sparked his ultimate victory, but he didn't pay for our ears. If someone else has another idea of what we mean, this is not a matter for retrenchment, but for showing some responsiveness. And if the most pertinent issue for philosophy is how this responsiveness grows into a language in which the meaning we share is as real as the thought we think, then passing over in silence is not the answer, even if situations often strike us dumb. Even that calls for an explanation and an ensuing dialog. Silence is a kind of cruelty.
A question should interrogate, not command. I know exactly how I know who I am. I am the respondent, or I am nothing at all.
?

Gary M Washburn's picture

Gary M Washburn

Thursday, January 1, 2015 -- 4:00 PM

Truth = Troth, trow, most

Truth = Troth, trow, most often taken as promise-keeping or covenant. But a better rendering is responsiveness.
In Latin we have veritas, fedelitas, and veracitas, none of which, together or separately, quite rise to the English truth, as respondence.

Truman Chen's picture

Truman Chen

Sunday, January 4, 2015 -- 4:00 PM

The interesting thing with

The interesting thing with examples like the Nazis or the Slaveowners is that there appears to be a power-benefit in the process of dehumanizing another group of people to which horrors are committed. In this sense, dehumanization closely resembles the scapegoat mechanism, used to unite a group of people against another individual or group of people for some sort of dubious cause on weak evidence but strong rhetoric. It is my hunch that wherever we find dehumanization, we will find a desperate need for power and social image. Additionally, dehumanization makes violence easier to carry out. With these two phenomena in mind, I think there is a case to be made that violence, dehumanization/scapegoating, and power can be used as conceptual guides to navigate through political situations and rhetoric. Where one can find one of the three, one would be wise to bet that the other two can be found in the situation, as well.

MJA's picture

MJA

Wednesday, January 7, 2015 -- 4:00 PM

Which One? 

Which One? 
Be One, One is All there is.
Einstein's search for an all inclusive unifying equation was much more simple than thought: = 
When all is equal all is One.
=

Gary M Washburn's picture

Gary M Washburn

Thursday, January 8, 2015 -- 4:00 PM

~~The scapegoat gets away. It

The scapegoat gets away. It's the sacrificial goat that gets knackered. The confusion is that the scapegoat gets the blame, but not the knife. But is sauce for the goose poison for the gander? What convinces the geese of the justice of this? For a century and a half Anglo-American philosophers have been operating on the assumption that human language in some way reflects transcendent logical structures, in the sense physicists suppose the results of experimentation represent universal natural law. But the difference is that philosophers are also patently convinced that the only possible source of ?linguistic competence?, as they so quaintly put it, human consciousness and emotion, does not exist at all or at least is not commensurable with reason. But if reasoned expression evidences the determinism of logical form it is hard to see how we could be so irrational as to construe in opposite senses the very same expression. Unless, of course, logicians suffer from a cultural bias of their own.
Gentlemen throw razor-sharp barbs into streams to torment fish in a celebration of cruelty. We are suppose to suppose the fish feels nothing, but it sure doesn't act like it!. But the human victim of cruelty usually makes its preferences known too, and it must therefore be explained how this expression gets so wildly misapprehended. Is there something to rationalism that denies us the ability to reason? It's quite a kicker if there is! Is human language a human artifact? Or the gift of the gods? Or of some impersonal ordering of all? If human, how do we say we are rational if we misconstrue so wilfully? If transcendent, how do we say we are human if our logic is so prone to contradictory construals of the same expression? Can we say we understand each other if our perspective prohibits our finding the same meaning in others we express ourselves? If not, is language a failure that rationalists celebrate only in conceit? Lies? Does logic lie? Or does cruelty require a context that blinds us to understanding each other? And is logic more in service to that context than to understanding?
?Spoc, (to sexual pleasure android 372) 'I love you!...,'
Spoc, (to sexual pleasure android 537) '..., but I hate you!'
Android 537, 'But I am identical!'
Spoc, 'That is precisely why I hate you!'
Both androids malfunction.?
Spoc, 'Fascinating!'?

Guest's picture

Guest

Thursday, August 11, 2016 -- 5:00 PM

Noorani Travel is very famous

Noorani Travel is very famous for its Luxurious travel services. We proudly serving our Muslim brothers and sisters with the reliable and affordable Hajj and Umrah services from United Kingdom.
All inclusive packages, NO extra charges or tax. Our professioanl Counsultants are 24/7online for you support. Feel free to contact. We are giving services in
London Borough of Hounslow, Cranford, Grove Park, Lampton, Heston, North Hyde, Norwood Green, Greater London and for all Muslims from United Kingdom.
TEL :0208-819-3505
Visit us for more Details :  www.nooranitravel.co.uk

 
 
 

Blog Archive

2018

October

September

August

July

June

May

April

March

February

January

2017

December

November

October

September

August

July

June

May

April

March

February

January

2016

December

October

September

August

July

June

May

April

March

February

January

2015

December

November

October

September

August

July

June

May

April

March

February

January

2005

December

November

October

September

August

July

June

May

April

March