Thoughts on: Dehumanisation (Discrimination & Gender)

by Beauchamp Art

Dehumanising is a phenomenon  which is intrinsic to the pervasiveness of all forms of discrimination, sexism, racism, homophobia, and so on; it allows one group to put itself above another, and stamp the lower underfoot.

“Dehumanisers do not think of their victims as subhuman in some merely metaphorical or analogical sense. They think of them as actually subhuman. The Nazis didn’t just call Jews vermin. They quite literally conceived of them as vermin in human form.” [Smith, 2014]

This particular point links onto Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil by Hannah Arendt, but may be considered equally true for those of whom may choose to see certain groups, such as women, as lesser forms of humans, in order to place themselves in the superior position. It is not simply a matter of bullying of differences in opinion, but of the genuine belief that certain people are less human, or to be awarded less humanity or respect than to the people one may identify as one’s own. Simply put, dehumanizing is intrinsic to discrimination, because it allows the privileged figure to whole-heartedly believe they are doing nothing wrong in their belittle of whom they see as lesser people.

In terms of gender, this makes some people, predominately men, able to see women as less forms of human than man, as if they are just dogs; bitches to be kicked about and dragged along without the sense to think or command their own facilities. This is perpetuated through language and action. The sustained use of derogatory phrases and systematic, institutionalized dehumanization enables such discrimination to be sustained as acceptable behaviour in the minds of those that perpetuate it.
Hence, even tongue-in-cheek bigotry, which may be described as ‘banter’ or ‘jest’, not to be taken seriously, has a harmful effect. As even if those people are using such language disingenuously, it may be heard by those individuals who do have a real belief in that some people are worth more than others and should be treated so, and may take this satire as sympathy, and so reinforce their belief. And those who object may not wish to speak out against the bigoted, dehumanizing voices, for fear of reprimand, ostracisation, and exclusion; and thus may be drawn into the spiral of silence. A maelstrom that condemns counter-argument into complete apathy.

Thus dehumanization must be prevented from entering language before it enters the subconscious and becomes a unshakable believe in the inequality of peoples. Even inspite of evidence to the contrary, there may be an inescapable doublethink that makes undoing the act of discrimination impossible.

Dehumanisation Discussion Continued, with Jeanette Karen

Jeanette Karen:
In terms of discrimination it’s quite easy to forget the underlying structures, such as dehumanisation, are so ingrained in into our psyche.
As much as the idea of being able to educate discrimination out of people is great, the inherent ability to dehumanise other people may make it, to a certain extent, near impossible especially if you’ve grown in an environment that enables it (let’s face it we all have).
You point about use of langue, even in a light or ironic manner is spot on, continued use of repressive terms, no matter how innocent the intent further perpetuate this process of casting people as others or less human than ourselves.
It’s surprising how little research has actually been done into this, surely something that is such a common factor in atrocities such as genocide would prove to be an incredibly important concept to understand.
Then again, if we understood our abilities to dehumanise other and fought against it our current power structures probably wouldn’t exist, which may be why such research doesn’t really get the attention it needs. (Not that I’m insinuating a certain class of people rely on structures of discrimination to retain their power or anything like that).
At least that’s an easier idea to entertain than the possibility that this could be an innate part of human nature.

Benjamin Beauchamp:
It may be a part of nature to want to discriminate, to classify, and to assert one’s own power, but this is exploited on a massive scale, and we have the potential to excel our base instincts.

Jeanette Karen:
We defiantly have that potential, but the first step in order to combat those base instincts is realising that they are influencing our conscious decision making, which is where the challenge lays.
For example, when acknowledging the damaging effects of language, those who point out that certain terms or ways of expressing things are intrinsically oppressive are often greeted with a chorus along the line of ‘not being able to take a joke’ or even the classic retort of ‘political correctness gone mad’ and ‘erosion freedom of speech’, making it more likely that the people calling out the problem will want to correct their behaviour (or at least stay silent) to line up with what is institutionally expected than visa versa.
However, on a slightly more positive note, with things like the internet democratising access to knowledge, different ways of living and ideas about our potential to overcome our innate biases, as well as being able to link people with similar ideas together, it makes a shift towards a much fairer and equal society not only likely but also something that could happen in a much shorter time frame than if we didn’t have access to these resources.
Granted that is pure conjecture, but without a belief that humans can overcome theses problems within society it would be tough trying to be a feminist.

Benjamin Beauchamp:
Quite so. However, I may dispute that knowledge has been democratised; data has, anyone with the access to the internet (which excludes a few billion people) can access information en masse, but that does necessarily mean knowledge; the information glut can be counter-productive to the spread of knowledge. This data smog may be used deliberately to create apathy, and dissuade action; or for commercial benefit of those already in power, with the power to filter and to choose what raised above the chaos into the public light, and what may be suppressed. Such Libertarianism is a means of establishing business control over the general populous, and is extreme Conservatism under the guise of popularism.

As David Shenk notes; “The so-called information poor don’t need internet access; they need basic classroom materials, building infrastructure, and highly qualified teachers.” And as András Száno observed; “Just as elites have taught themselves to diet in the face of food abundance […] in the future, elites are more likely to express their tastes through purging the data round them.” [Shenk, 211] Simply being able to access information that may undermine established forms of discrimination does not necessary result in the dissolution of dehumanisation.

And as dehumanisation may be a useful tool for political action and oppression, what results is “the manufacture of consent”, and the production of propaganda “to tame the bewildered herd” Noam Chomsky describes “Propaganda [as] to a democracy what the bludgeon is to a totalitarian state.” Control is establish through the disruption of knowledge, this may be achieved through polluting the information flow with excessive irrelevant information, rather than simply limiting the flow.

Reference:

  • Chomsky, Noam. (1997) Media Control. Seven Stories Press. 2nd Edition. USA.
  • Shenk, David (1997) Data Smog. Harper Collins, Abacus. Great Britain.
  • Smith, David Livingstone (2014) The essence of evil. Aeon Magazine [Online] – http://aeon.co/magazine/society/how-does-dehumanisation-work/ – Accessed 31.10.14
Advertisements