One of the gravest affects of our time, and of history, is the effort to reduce another person, or class of people, to something other than human. It is this effort to dehumanize that has been the purpose behind so much of the troubles of society. It destroys compassion and concern for others. It even becomes the gateway to destroy that which is most sacred, their agency and ultimately their life.
It is the strategy of dehumanization that has been behind the Holocaust, Apartheid, Slavery, Human Trafficking, 9/11, political bickering and unrest, poor treatment of Catholics and Mormons in the mid Nineteenth Century, the pushback against civil rights, the disdain for health orders over the past eighteen months, inhumane treatment at the Us border, the revolt on our Nation’s Capitol and so much more. It is up to us as how we respond to the affects of dehumanization. Do we see people as us and them or do we seek to see humans but with different views, cultures, or comprehensions? We will not find unity through condemnation and playing the victim.
In his book, Not in God’s Name, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks explains the dangers of a pathological dualism. He lays out a three step process in this way;
“Pathological dualism does three things. It makes you dehumanise and demonise your enemies. It leads you to see yourself as a victim. And it allows you to commit altruistic evil, killing in the name of the God of life, hating in the name of the God of love and practising cruelty in the name of the God of compassion.
“It is a virus that attacks the moral sense. Dehumanisation destroys empathy and sympathy. It shuts down the emotions that prevent us from doing harm. Victimhood deflects moral responsibility. It leads people to say: It wasn’t our fault, it was theirs. Altruistic evil recruits good people to a bad cause. It turns ordinary human beings into murderers in the name of high ideals.”
One of the problems that I see from people of all faiths and political views is this need to point fingers. They may feel like government is not doing enough, that religious leaders are doing a poor job, or that those of another group just are not as good of a human as they are. These are all the wrong way to approach it. We need to act and not allow ourselves to simply be acted upon. We must stand up and be accountable first.
The method of dehumanising another makes it easier to condemn them simply on the basis of who they are or what they believe. It distances us from them. They become expendable.
One of the things that we have witnessed during the global pandemic is the power of diminishing life to a basic statistic. There have been many that choose to deny the existance, or even the seriousness, of the COVID-19 virus. They cite the supposed fractional affect of the virus on the population.
By reducing the effects of war, pandemics, guns violence, or other harmful acts, to simple numbers keeps these events from feeling real. They don’t affect real humans because they are just reported numbers. it allows for cognitive disonnance to control our perception. We become desensitized to the value of a human life.
If we can reduce life to a number then it matters less what happens to the number. If we recognize that these numbers are indeed individual people like us then we have greater regard. Compassion is a powerful tool. As we learn to respect people as people then our feelings of compassion kick in and cause us to be considerate of others and the things that the regularly deal with. Whether they are affected by a pandemic, a victim of social injustice, a global refugee, or hated because of their religious practices.
As we learn to look beyond our differences and not just tolerate other humans but work to embrace them then we begin to find unity. A unified society is not one that is the same but it is one where we can come together with our differences and work to bring results that benefit the whole. We must go beyond tolerating each other and learn to serve, love, and unite with each other.
Unity will require us to stop dehumanizing. It can only happen if we take accountability and stop pointing fingers. We must not play the victim card. We must see all people as divine. C. S. Lewis said it best by pointing out that if we could see people for who they are then we would have a far greater reverance for them.
“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which,if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations… You have never talked to a mere mortal.” C.S. Lewis, The weight of Glory
The reverance for the other should transcend the color of their skin, their country of origin, their financial status, Their religious or political views, or any other number of elements. A person is a person no matter who they are. We are all of divine origin. This is what makes the belief that we are all children of the same God.