Dehumanization

It’s an amazing thing to be able to witness the base anger and resentment towards each other that people carry  today. It appears society is getting so bitter that we can barely stand the sight of each other anymore, and for many people they will hardly admit that the other person is truly a human.

This seems to happen most in modern industrialized countries. Take a look at the average minimum wage worker. Typically a bored teenager, working for extra money or to save for school, and they face a constant stream of upset customers. Now, the business tries their best to get the worker to be enthusiastic and kind to the customers, regardless if the worker truly cares or not. The moment the person allows this to happen, his identity is that of the worker, and not the human being he actually is. The best example of this is Jean Paul Sartre’s idea of ‘Bad Faith’. He gives the example of the waiter that moves with too much precision and acts all too “waiterly” in a sense putting his role of a waiter before his role as a human being. Sartre would say that this man was in bad faith because he deceived himself about who he actually was.

But there is an obvious reversal here to be made. This is when the people around that person convince themselves that the individual is nothing more than the role he plays. A customer walks into a fast food restaurant, at the counter he does not see another human being, he simply sees the servant that is ready to take his order. This is an incredibly dangerous thing, it allows only for the dehumanization of the person right in front of you. The effects of this can be seen everywhere. We’ve all seen an irrationally angry customer yell at an employee, but do you suppose they would do the same thing if they were to magically realize the other person’s struggles and passions? I would think not, unless that customer were a truly rotten person. We live in bad faith believing that people are nothing more than the roles they play.

We especially see this during election time. Imagine a scenario in which before engaging in conversation with anyone, one person asked the other whether he is a Democrat or Republican. If the man did not give the right answer, the other man would simply walk away on the grounds that “he already knows everything important about him.” In this example the man does not see that he is talking to a human, he sees only that he is talking to a Democrat of Republican, and therefore knows all of their bad traits. Again, we are dehumanizing the other party simply because it is more convenient. And do not think that it is simply a small number of people that do this. For instance think back in the last year of how many times you’ve muttered a phrase like “damn democrats” after they made you upset. Are you not simply lumping together half the nation into this one category, and assuming they all play the same role? Is it not easier to have road rage looking at the back of a car instead of thinking about the person driving it?

We are we so willing to dehumanize the people around us? Maybe it takes the blame off ourselves, that way we can blame the other party involved and not feel bad about it since they’re subhuman. Maybe it takes too much effort to actually care about all people. Perhaps living in ‘bad faith’ to such an extreme degree has blinded us so greatly. Whatever the answer is, it is unnatural. No matter what role a person holds they are still a person. It may be the greatest tragedy of our day that man has forgotten he is man, and that society no longer sees men. It can therefore be said that one of the most honorable gifts you can give to someone is not to treat them as a title, but as the person you are.

This is not to say that if everybody understood each other there would be no more conflict, that is absurd. Many of the conflicts we face are because we brutally understand each other. What I’m saying is that we react to the dehumanized form of each other, not the people we truly are. Once we strip away those barriers then we can more appropriately deal with our problems with each other. If we are to continue to live on this planet together we must learn to get along, we must suck up our own egos and admit our mistakes. Once we admit the humanity of the people we dislike then we are simply one step further in this.

Advertisements

40 thoughts on “Dehumanization

  1. ” It may be the greatest tragedy of our day that man has forgotten he is man, and that society no longer sees men.”
    ~ I agree with your observation. I do believe that we – at least in the western world – have been conditioned by the powers that control our world to place our self-interests before others and to fear those who are different from us: whether by race, religion, sexual orientation, or whomsoever ‘they’ deem a threat to our way of life.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Hi, I’m not sure that acting like a precise waiter in order to maximise your employers profit and thus putting this role above your role as a person can be so simply read across to a political party where the goal is to obtain cocensus views in order to compare and contrast visions with another group or party who through debate have arrived at conflicting views and to present these views in order to make group decisions for a community or a nation.
    Or maybe my fairy tale is too far fetched.

    Pat

    Ps I like your writing

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Nice essay, and well written. You lament a component of human nature, and one I’m sure will continue. I’m constantly amazed at how Christians, conservatives, the police, and our military are dehumanized and forced into social “templates,” (by some). All the petty labels created created to divide us have no real meaning, for example: homophobia…what does that even mean? No-one has “an irrational fear” of homosexuals, some simply find them disgusting. They have that right. Some feel that gays, along with other tiny and selfish groups, should set aside the quest for special status and special codified “rights,” and simply live their live without demanding the other 98% of the people on Earth celebrate and embrace their “identity”, which is wholly based on a sex act. How petty! If one’s “identity” is solely based on where they place, or allow someone else to place, their sex organ, they really don’t have much to add or contribute to our society. Their “identity” is no more than an adolescent excitement over the newly discovered act of sex and a desire to shock others with their “passion” in order to gain titillation at the expense of those who they force to hear about what should be private.
    This applies to other groups as well, and it seems that the “progressives” are the best at dividing people into sub-groups and pitting them against each other. Understand this…the “cis-sexual, hetero-normative, patriarchal, Christian, Capitalist hegemony” that some curse…IS SOCIETY and CIVILIZATION. Without it there is no electricity, toilet paper, running water, food, clothing, etc., just people running to and fro with machetes hacking each other to death…
    Thus, may you remain true to the essence of your essay. When you look at an older person, instead of seeing a harsh, cruel person, set in their ways…realize you are seeing someone wise, who built the world you enjoy, and knows at a glance who you are, where you are heading, and wants to help you avoid the pitfalls in your path. A Christian is not a bigoted, closed minded, hater…they serve the only real and true GOD, and simply offer you life and freedom, with a heart of love.
    Best of luck, sir…and you do write well…
    triggerreset.net

    Liked by 4 people

  4. I think that the compensation for being subservient to your boss under capitalism is getting someone else to be subservient to you, like a waiter or fast food worker. A parallel can be drawn with the hatred of minorities, they are the lower Other which compensate the white working class for otherwise being in a subservient position. If you can create a ring below you on the ladder, suddenly you’re higher up without having moved anywhere.

    We need to explore the possibilities of worker co-ops and non-market logic (gift economy) as non-hierarchical and humanizing counter-forces to capitalist hegemony.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I worked one night only as a waitress and it shocked me how people looked at me talked with me with disdain and sometimes outright hatred. I couldn’t understand it. Of course, I am a shy person with not much self-esteem. I was very nervous that night; I guess that was irritating to some.

    One man was nice to me. He was a Hell’s Angel, and he asked me to run away with him. Lol If I hadn’t been married with 2 kids, and if he had promised me I’d never have to be a waitress again, I might have done it.

    We do need to look at every person we meet as someone special, because they are. You are right, if we knew their whole life story I’m sure we would sympathize with them. Most people have a lot of shit happen to them before they are even a teenager. Everyone is carrying some kind of burden – even those who sneer at a waitress.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Writing from a UK perspective.
    We have had our own range of turbulences.
    In the background the mildly amusing ‘shocked’ group of atheists who are horrified at the thought of anyone believing in any religion and spend a great deal of their time looking for things to be horrified and outraged about (and seem obsessed with taking the English translations of the Old Testament literally, which is rather ironic)
    Far more serious the legitimatising of racism under the guise of
    (a) Being alert to the danger of Islam extremists
    (b) In the wake of the Leave EU referendum result…. anyone who is not Caucasian AND speaking with a recognised UK accent.
    (c) Anyone Jewish, (under the guise of being disgusted at the Israeli Government)
    In the case of (a) & (b) these have crossed the political divide of Right & Left.
    After a life time (I’m 65) of being a very left-wing socialist (best way to describe that for American readers- anyone who says the current US president is socialist would be greeted with friendly chuckles and advised he would fit in quite nicely in our current Conservative Government), I am now in the curious position of being quite fed up with both sides of the political spectrum….and you’ve pointed out quite succinctly in your post why.
    Thank you

    Like

  7. Part of the problem of “dehumanization” is computers. Everything is run according to computer parameters and machine efficiency. Act this and this way because it has been found to be most efficient and means to make the most money – despite one’s human nature revolting against the whole process. “Would you care for an apple tart with that?”

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Wow! Great post. I agree that seeing others as “roles” rather than as people is a horror of modern life. I used to rail against this sort of thing eons ago when I was in college and waiting tables. Ever since I have tried to make a point of not treating people like that. I have heard of incidents in which a person would not help another person change a tire on the side of the road because of the political bumper sticker on the disabled vehicle.

    Like

  9. You know what’s kind of sad, though? I think sometimes we, the workers, get startled when someone treats us like a person. I know that in my line of work, when someone asks me something about myself… I have to actually stop and think. I’m used to answering certain questions, but when someone actually asks about me, I draw a blank for a second. It’s a shame not to be used to a human trying to relate to you as a fellow human and not as someone that’s “supposed” to offer them a service.

    It’s tragic that operating in ‘bad faith’ has become the norm. That has to stop or we dare not call ourselves humans anymore.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Sartre said that the crux of his philosophy was the idea that “existence precedes essence” (hence “existentialism”). In the history of western philosophy, this is a revolutionary notion–the idea that particular things do not manifest some deeper truth or essence that ultimately defines them; that, rather, the truth about things is just what they manifest, the way they are, their existence as particulars. For human beings, this means that there are no valid stereotypes. We have the choice to fashion our own existences. If we deny ourselves this choice we are in bad faith. If we deny it to others we are morally compromised.

    Thanks for an article that brought back memories of my graduate school days!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. First, thank you for the “like” on my recent post! I’m following your blog now.

    This was an amazing piece. You write so eloquently. I echo what others have said – Computers and technology have been a significant part of dehumanization. For me, I have to unplug quite a bit, and that’s pretty difficult, since I use a computer 8 hours a day for my full-time job.

    I look forward to reading more of your work!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Dehumanization is natural and not indicative of the modern world. It really is nothing more that segregation and discrimination. Humans, apes, other mammals have done this for eons, nothing new about it. In it’s simplest version it is me versus you. My group against your group. It is part of the competition for life and life’s resources. Of course much moralization has been written as if this survival mechanism wasn’t suppose to exist. But it does and it is natural. On a simple level we learn this through games. If I am on a team, it is my team, of whom I know all the faces and names and identities, and you, the opposition, a group of faceless players who must be defeated.

    Oh yes, we talk about sportsmanship, but is playing by the rules and occasionally recognizing our opponent as not only an individual but one that has a face we can recognize. That recognizes the duality of nature in much of life. The survival of the individual and the survival of the group. We always swing from one to the other. And it should be surprise that it carries social cognition. Does a CEO identify with an assembly line worker? Perhaps if he started as an assembly line work and worked his way up the promotion ladder. But such is a rarity. You see, the world is ordered into group memberships. We are born into a group, we form groups during our years of primary and secondary education, and even into college/university education. Then we join, or at least attempt to join a group that provides us with work and a paycheck. We join a group when we marry or otherwise live together in such a capacity. we join other social groups, both formally if we become a member of the Elks or chamber of commerce, or habituate a local nightclub or bar and lounge.

    We may register our political affiliations and even become formal members of the party and work as precinct workers. We join networking groups, become friends with the neighbors, and even try to connect with others by helping in food banks and soup kitchens. But we still discriminate and segregate. We don’t associate with drug dealers or rapists. We avoid bad parts of town. We may feel that one group of religious adherents is unworthy of association because they don’t want to accept us.

    The worst part of this natural phenomena is that we try to negate it by attempting to show that it is immoral. We try to fool ourselves that we should not engage in such survival techniques. Then we tell our children to pick their friend wisely.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Great insight. I know people give mankind a bad rap, but I always try to convince people that we’re doing pretty well for hyper-intelligent apes with nuclear weapons. Think about it: If dogs had nuclear weapons, there would be no more dogs left by now. Most animals in the wild just go around killing each other and don’t even give a shit if their own children die. Us? We’ll let someone else have the last nacho without murdering them. That’s pretty good. Let’s not be too hard on ourselves considering where we came from.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The animal kingdom operates a bit differently than you suggest. Predators cull the weak and diseased from the herds. If the herds become too large than the individuals are subject to hunger and lowered resistance to disease. That leads to a bonus year of the predators. But when the predators over populate the then they suffer from hunger and disease. Thus, there is a general steady state for the predators and prey that is occasionally upset but the conditions usually are restored. So no, if dogs had nuclear weapons they would not destroy their society.

      We, on the other hand, have a propensity to destroy much of our fellow man simply because we can. Our weapons of choice are religion, progressivism (political theory tends to take on all the characteristics of religion), and unrequited love. Now this may seem strange since the planet’s population is already over seven billion and likely to reach eight soon enough. But we are reaching a point where we may become so completely dysfunctional the we end up a dying species. One may draw a few parallels from Calhoun’s Rat Utopia experiment.

      Like

  14. Maybe all we can do is to treat others kindly, and and as individuals, always remembering they are equal to us in our shared humanity. Show that we understand this, in our engagement with them. It takes a lot of practice and consciousness to go against the flow of stereotyping and the dehumanisation of technology. Treating others as equally valid human beings feels more open and actually liberating. But I’m lucky enough not to have a precisly defined job where I have to take on a role. I have done this in the past though, as a sales assistant, some people treated me as an individual, many didn’t …so after that experience I was careful not to degrade myself (because that’s what it is) by being treating someone soley as their role and taking out any frusrations on them when they aren’t in a position to defend themsleves.
    Good post, which helps to stimulate this kind of change.

    Like

  15. Often termed “professionalism”… And a message to commenter Woebegone but Hopeful: your comment is not clear. What is it about Jewish people you wish to paint in generalities with one broadstroke? Please explain to this Jewish person what you mean?

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I looked at the date of this post, thinking it might’ve been written just a few days ago (considering all that is on the news) and then realized it’s been quite longer than just a couple of days, that the issues you write about, have been escalating. It’s true, until we can look past the title, we won’t make the steps we could – if we’d just seek to understand more. A couple friends of mine were just talking about this. It is more common than not (at least it feels that way). I hope we can try to remember to take the extra moment to try to understand more and assume, less…. ❤

    Like

  17. I was trying to get my head around this subject in the early hours of sleeplessness and though most of my precise thoughts have receded, I was going back somewhere in time to when we as a species would all migrate to follow resources as nature provided. I can’t imagine a time when we wouldn’t have perceived ‘outsiders’ as in a threat to our immediate group/can/whatever over the acquiring of resources for survival. I don’t know… Isn’t it just our sheer numbers and proximity that cause so many problems. No one has any real sense of space and our brains are very, very lazy for the most part. So we categorise everything. It’s an easy way of getting through vast amounts of data and we need to really commit to forging new pathways in the old grey matter. Apologies for the ramble.

    Like

  18. Hello. You shared some interesting insights. In several of the scenarios you mentioned I could not help but also think that the agents in those instances (i.e customer, political questioner etc) are not only involved in the dehumanization of the other person but also of themselves. This results in compounded dehumanization. The failure to consciously respect another person’s humanity is to simultaneously diminish our on. Keep the philosophy writing going. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Observations of an old man:
    good writing, but let me make some observations. That what you call rightly dehumanisation is a changing process of mankind. Without any doubt an unpleasant one. But society is in a process of being reconstructed. That happens in the development of mankind. In this connection development is possibly not the right expression. Mostly this expression is used in a positive way. In our case, we can better say humanity is a process of progressing change.
    From Feudalism to industrialism, to capitalism and to what now? To globalised i-cloudism? Society splits into two parts. In those who are able to live and communicate with their gadgets and the angry others, who have icons like that guy from New York, who wants to be the master of Gods chosen nation.
    In the past you could move through the class system, you could climb steps. Now it is impossible. Society in the western world is permanently separated into Cybernats and useless.
    This all leads to the observations you describe so eloquently

    Like

  20. You cover some interesting issues in this and other posts. Yes, if we dehumanise, it is easier to get by, less responsibilty, less chance of looking in the other’s eyes and feeling the commonness. All the more useful if circumstances are requiring you to do unpleasant things to others. In Russia, the elite are notoriously ready to treat the rest like cattle, and so when you meet one who treats all as fellow citizens, regardless of their station, you know this is someone worth putting more trust in. But they are few in my experience.

    Like

  21. Very true. And I think a subsection of this nasty trend is when people are seen in terms of how ‘useful’ they are. Which is why it’s always very illuminating to see how somebody treats restaurant staff.

    Like

  22. I was waiting to see something like this, and i’ve written about it in my journals the past few months. I find it disheartening how much we just hate each other, and nobody wants to listen to each other anymore. I see the online equivalent in comments all the time that are like someone (virtually) clapping their hands over their ears and running off before somebody can try and reasonably rebut their argument. I get so fed up with it–I won’t read comments on YouTube EVER anymore because people troll for the heck of it. I had a group of kids I was teaching yesterday, and I told them to keep their eyes and ears peeled for bias and dehumanization. I said when you hear the words “Those people…” you know that nothing good’s going to come out after that. I HATE that phrase, because its all too true, and people look at you like you’re silly and “i’m not racist, what makes you think that?” they’re either in denial or clueless, and sometimes I can’t tell which.

    Like

  23. Cogent assessment of the current human condition. And the reference to Satre was particularly apt. I often think Shakespeare was correct, life is a stage and we are all forced to play our assigned roles. But those roles are diametrically opposed to the essence of we actually are, and thus in denying ourselves humanity we become automatons out of economic or social necessity, existences steeped in perpetual nihilism.

    Like

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 )

Twitter picture

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

Facebook photo

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

Google+ photo

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

Connecting to %s