We Habitually Dehumanize Each Other. So what?

“And since my moral system rests on my accepted version of the facts, he who denies either my moral judgments or my version of the facts, is to me perverse, alien, dangerous.”

Lippmann, Walter. Public Opinion. Dover Publications, 2004. (Original: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1922.) p 69

Dehumanizing others is a move we often attribute to the ‘bad-guy’. But we as often fail to see our own propensity to make this move. And so, ironically, by thinking one’s self above doing so, she dehumanizes herself.

It’s a human thing to think of the ‘bad guy’ as some sort of sub-human. And by pointing out his humanity to others who regard him so, one risks being alienated from their trust, succour, and companionship . Hence I wrote,

Resistance is not raising up an army and trading fire, by that time too many have needlessly suffered — as will many more. Resistance is inviting someone you’ve been taught (and are expected) to hate to your table and treating her as a friend. The people you need to resist, to this end, are your own.

If you lean hard to the political left, try carrying around a book by Sarah Palin and sing her praises to those with whom you want to maintain your left-leaning credentials. If you lean hard right, a book by Al Gore and sing his praises to those with whom you want to maintain your right-leaning credentials. The kicker is, even if you say joking!, you’ll never quite remove the tarnish to your reputation. Members of your group will never be sure that you are who you say you are and your previously innocuous comments will be scrutinized for signs of your belief commitments.

Why wonder?

Many of us remain bewildered by how so many in Nazi Germany dehumanized the Jews.

Listen to yourself as you call the man who cuts you off in traffic an asshole, notwithstanding you’ve cut others off yourself and expect your little wave of apology to mitigate their anger. I have whoopsies, it’s human. Others don’t know how to drive, they’re defective and shouldn’t be allowed on the road. Listen to yourself as you call other people sheep who, on your view, blindly follow a leader and mindlessly copy each other. Listen to yourself as you call someone in a coma a vegetable. Listen to yourself as you characterize a speaker as ‘wooden’ or ‘a robot’. Or call another a piece of trash. Garbage. Douche bag. Scum.

Of course we make these metaphorical moves in the positive direction as well. He’s a pussy cat. She’s a real peach. She’s a star. These valuations are contingent on our judgments of the person and often times blinds us to other character traits she possesses. But how quickly a star falls from grace when she disappoints us, as Lucifer fell. Angel of light, prince of darkness.

Dehumanising individuals tends to occur in a snap, groups of others in increments: first, defective or sub-humans, irrational; then non-human animals, pigs, or vegetables, Kraut or pea soup (metonymy); and finally inanimate objects, sticks of wood. And these moves happen so easily because we do it all the time.

“Such is the influence of custom, that, where it is strongest, it not only covers our natural ignorance, but even conceals itself, and seems not to take place, merely because it is found in the highest degree.”

David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Section Four, Sceptical Doubts Concerning the Operations of the Understanding, Part One.

So does this propensity to dehumanize others make us moral monsters? No. Only human.

Categories: Catch-All

Tags: , , , , , ,

2 replies


  1. Resistance is… (2018, repost, & links) – pam-mentations.com
  2. A meditation on the character of a political speaker and, by extension, a voter – pam-mentations.com

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: