Dehumanization


#1

My educational experience basically points to dehumanization as the most evil and destructive part of the Holocaust in WWII.

The political antecedents brought dehumanization to the table. And dehumanization led to all the worst war atrocities. So dehumanization is the biggest threat to humanity.

I’d really enjoy a discussion on dehumanization, including the language of dehumanization, and I’d like to state that I always avoid using dehumanizing language when talking about people. I don’t want to be a fucking nazi pile of shit.


#2

Whoah, a thread that can’t be Godwin’d. Nice.

Dehumanization seems to be based on being able to point out how weird, different, and ‘unnatural’ or ‘wrong’ other cultures are. Because they’re weird and unnatural, they must be inferior. Otherwise, we would be, right? And we couldn’t accept that. Naturally, we want to be the best and to be right.

I think we’ve made a lot of progress by opening up the world with tech, specifically communications. What would seem weird, different, and unnatural in our grandparents’ time (when they mostly only dealt with people from their own hometown) is normal to us because we’re exposed to it all the time on the 'net and TV. We’re global. Our kids even moreso.

If we see somebody with a passion gap, we don’t assume they’re subhuman, even if we’re not from South Africa. We can talk to people in Scandinavia directly and from what they tell us learn that their socialist medical care isn’t really far worse than our corporate medical care. We may not know Asian cultures, but we’ve met and dealt with Asians who were nice people. We’ve met people, decent people, from many religions, so a ‘foreign’ religion doesn’t seem like some kind of alien thing.

How can someone dehumanize in a world like this?

In the U.S., it seems to be based mostly on economics (the poor vs. the rest of us), immigration (“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” - but not if they’re different!), and religion (they’re fanatics!). But I hope and believe that that doesn’t work for the majority of people younger than me. I’d like to think that they’re better than us and previous generations. They can talk to people directly and see firsthand that they’re not that different.

I like to believe that dehumanizers are a dying breed and soon no one is going to believe their propaganda. They’re still around, of course, but mostly just spitting into the wind.


#3

You have quite a bit to say, most of which I agree. But I’m a little more concerned with the language of dehumanization.

For instance, in the movie Inglorious Basterds, the first scene’s Nazi guy kept referring to Jews as “the jew rat” and it made me wince every time. Because it was referring to humans as undesirable vermin. So that he didn’t feel bad exterminating them.


#4

It’s still perfectly normal, unfortunately. For example, David Cameron referring to Syrian refugees as a ‘swarm’. He is alleged to have avoided the term ‘plague’ - but only because in the biblical sense this might have implied that we deserved it. I agree with @Daaksyde that as people have become more cosmopolitan the old divides have weakened somewhat, and thinly veiled class prejudice has become more rife, such as ‘dole scum’ - scum not even being animate. The chav phenomenon in the UK is similar.

It’s also interesting to note that in the UK, the government can’t openly out and say - “these people are subhuman” but a lot of policies they have implemented serve little purpose except to foster division and let those inclined to perpetuate discrimination fill in the gaps. A good example is the fit for work testing which is saving the government very little money and proving to be very ineffective at identifying disability benefits fraud. What it does is present all disabled people as crooks - and disability hate crime has risen enormously as a result.


#5

This.
I was going to say dehumanizing language is still present and almost so ubiquitous that people don’t even notice. As a lady on the internet I wince every time some uses “female” instead of woman.
This kind of othering is all around us all the time and it takes a conscious effort to even notice it before we can make an attempt to correct our own language.


#6

This thread made me think about how people who really know something are happy to explain it to you, and will work to figure out how to explain it in terms someone outside the field would understand. And, they’re happy to learn something about whatever it is you do. Whenever you find someone who says “oh, you wouldn’t get it, it’s too complicated for you to understand” you know you’ve got someone who is in over their head and doesn’t want to admit it.

I think there’s an element of that in dehumanization. If you don’t really understand yourself and your culture – maybe you’ve never even thought about WHY you do something a certain way – then when presented with someone who does it differently you go on the offensive to hide the fact that you’re really feeling defensive on the inside.

I do think there’s a basic evolutionary basis for being afraid of strangers, but we’ve had thousands of years of “civilization” now so we should be able to get past the initial friend-or-foe gut reaction. But most of the time we don’t, because most people live an unexamined life, and so are blindsided when confronted with anyone or anything new.


#7

I think that people’s arbitrary classifications of people for purposes or marginalizing and disrespecting them is certainly problematic. But I think that the concept of “dehumanization” functions as a thin veneer which covers a destructive speciesism. Basically, one has to already buy into the idea that there is something special about being human. That life here is organized as a hierarchy with humans at the top of it. It is a quite pervasive outlook, but I don’t subscribe to it. Linguistically, this also ties into my dislike of pejoration. The superficial problem is someone’s intention to harm, and the deeper problem is internalizing that there is something innately wrong with what they’ve called you. The insulted individual or group brings their own bad meaning into the pejorative.

Speciesism is kind of a niche thing to be concerned about, apparently. Many don’t even consider it a word or a real concept. But I honestly think that humans assumptions of their superiority and the ecological problems resulting from this are the biggest threats to life on Earth. Of course it’s an atrocity if there is genocide against a country or ethnicity of people. But there is also a vast over-population of people! So I think the real genocides of entire species of non-human life are far worse. They are an atrocity against those species, and a threat to biodiversity, which so directly harms other species - even humans, despite their frequent failure to realize this, for their perceived convenience. 30,000 deaths of humans would be immensely tragic, but still leaves too many humans. Whereas 30,000 deaths of rhinoceros would be their complete extinction. The problem of people rendering the planet uninhabitable for anybody else by far trumps however shitty they choose to be to each other.

There is also a degree of transhumanism to my thinking, with the disclaimer that it is not of the naive “immortal cyborg” variety. By which I mean that human means whatever we decide that it does. I have never self-identified as human! Largely because of people’s strong desire to stereotype themselves, as well as others. From childhood even, I have been and continue to be very critical of many things people seem to take for granted as being fundamental. One of the most common explanations I have gotten for why I should internalize something stupid is because “It’s human nature!”. So it was not a far leap to that if some bogus concepts really were “human nature”, and I didn’t share them, that I am not human. Othering myself allows me perspective. Or, the transhuman take on this could be explained that if I am human, then I get to decide for myself what being human means - which seems easier to justify than being a different species.

The worse dehumanization I think people encounter in my experience is not positing that other animals are sub-humans, but rather that humans are machines, or interchangeable with machines. Not to say that there is anything wrong with machines either, but that this is used to rob people of agency. Even if it is meant as a complement in the workplace, or with sexual relationships, I don’t like being told that I am a machine. In the sense that I am a physical system, it is not wholly inaccurate, but in human society this implies that I am a commodity rather than an agent. It furthers bogus notions of social hierarchy to suggest that a few people self-actualize, while the majority comprise an interchangeable resource for them.


#8

WWI even. A lot of propaganda lessons were learned there about the making the enemy not ‘human’ in that war.


#9

We have a long way to go. I would like to believe that we are better at empathy and respect in general, than at any other time in history. But I also believe that we are seeing a powerful backlash against that.

There are people like Trump, admired for “speaking his mind” when being openly racist and misogynist. There’s Gamergate and the Hugo anti-diversity kerfluffle. There are people ranting about “SJWs” and “the pussification of our culture.” There are people boycotting movies because they feature women and people of color as major characters with their own agency. There are people like my father-in-law, who refuses to eat tasty Middle Eastern food because halal meat is another way in which Islam is secretly destroying all other cultures and imposing Sharia law. There are people who refer to Black Lives Matter protestors as “animals” and trans people as “it.” There are people like Kim Davis convinced that stubbornly clinging to their bigotry makes them heroic.


#10

This.
I don’t think we’ve very far forward at all, maybe a few baby steps, but we’ve just found new ways of saying things mostly…


#11

Totally agreed. Within any particular tribe or group it’s pretty easy to shift the lingo or the vernacular a little bit in an attempt to avoid everyone thinking you’re a bigot/racist/etc despite the rest of the tribe knowing exactly who and what are being degraded and dehumanized (GG’ers and their ilk being particularly adept at this).

Perhaps it’s because dehumanization can feel like the easiest way to discredit and demoralize an opponent–as has been said above, we’re tribal in nature, so “othering” would seem to be a defense mechanism at the top of our toolset.


#12

The current term of art is “cucking,” I believe; which I like because it concentrates so many of the anxieties of the Redpill Right into a single syllable.


#13

But why should I assume that somebody needs to be human to have my respect?


#14

And some, I assume, are good people.

I think it’s been interesting to see the reactions to refugees here in Hamburg. I think one common technique is to refer to people as large, uncontrollable and depersonalised “swarms” that threaten our way of life by their very numbers. There’s also insinuation without actually saying something, letting people draw their own conclusions. Refugees who had been walking along roads and were picked up on buses had abandoned food and other items (presumably there wasn’t a lot of space on the bus or time to collect all the food). Of course this was because they were that sort of people; dirty, wasteful, ungrateful economic migrants, who were just after financial handouts.

It’s quite interesting to see the groups facing off against each other - a week ago there were people welcoming the refugees at the main train station. PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamification of the West) showed up and there was a confrontation with TEGIDA (Tolerant Europeans Against the Idiotification of the West). People realise that they have to come out in numbers to oppose dehumanisation and be consistent in their support of vulnerable people.

I saw this today on FB:

What do you say to all of those refugees as a Hamburger?

I say hi and nod. You don’t want to seem pushy.


#15

The difficulty is that dehumanizing attitudes and acts don’t stop with the reduction or abolishment of dehumanizing language. In fact they become more difficult to police. That’s kind of what I’m on about.


#16

I 100% agree.

Back in 90s when I was at college I had a friend, she was (is still I’m sure) Black & from Alabama, but going to school in Toronto. She always said she couldn’t wait to move back home to Alabama, because “At least there people are racist to your face, here they’re racist behind your back.” - and I think thats where we still are. Attitudes haven’t changed much only the words have.


#17

I get what you’re saying, but I still think it’s a flip/flop of cause and effect. Yeah, language that degrades people may make us feel justified in doing so. But that’s still more of an effect than a cause.

Do words cause people to commit atrocities? Or do people commit atrocities and use words to justify them?

The character that you’re referring to probably would have been equally comfortable to exterminate “the hun rats” or “the sanfranciscoan rats” or “the mileycyrusfan rats”, if he’d been led to believe that they were the ‘other’.


#18

True enough.

I think what probably sparked my desire to kick off this thread was specifically Trump. He uses the language of dehumanization so often, and his complete… Not even a lack of empathy, more like a confusion of empathy with caring, makes me keep thinking he’s a fascist of some kind.

Like, he’s not really a nationalist, but he definitely considers some people subhuman, while others are useful tools to him, if he were smart enough to be good at manipulating people.

And it scares me that anyone thinks such a callous and hateful person who also has no plans and really no position other than “fuck the immigrants” is in any way qualified to be president.


#19

The government can’t directly say it, but their friends in the Free Press will quite happily do it for them.


#20

What’s really scary is that there are still enough people in the mindset to go along with it such that he can even have a chance instead of getting rejected outright as a ludicrous crackpot.