11.29.2008

Dehumanification

Yes, that is a made up word. In my world, dehumanification is a verb, it means to actively dehumanize the populace through means which reduce, devalue, or undermine human value to which a typical result is violence or neglect of other human beings for the purpose of raising one's own self worth to acceptable levels. I'm sure there is a real word out there that means the same thing, but it simply isn't as clever as mine.

After many hours of contemplating the Walmart stampede(s), and the Toys R Us shootings, I've come to the conclusion that these events are a small part of a much larger societal problem we are currently facing. (That would be dehumanification.) You can see it working it's way through our communities in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. For example, relegating and reducing an entire group of people down to an easy to digest demographically correct bite size stereotype, and then using their situation against them, like a weapon. Poverty is a good example. Race is another. Religion, political affiliation, genres and sub genres - the list goes on and on.

It's very easy to categorize and label people when you don't know them personally, and apply a rather broad brush of judgment across a wide array of individuals. In this way, you have reduced people, individuals, human beings, into a larger faceless group. Much like posting online anonymously, it gives the renderer of judgment an easy target, with no real responsibility or incentive to understand the fact that individuals are affected and behave differently, even when in the same or similar situation, group, or genre.

Plus, the rhetoric is just so easy to spew, it's how Lady Propaganda works her magic.

Obviously, the tragedy that played out on Black Friday is the epitome of not so subtle dehumanification. Although the stampede and killings related to the consumerist frenzy is not the focal point of this argument, it did incite the thoughts about humanity in general. It proved enough of a shock to wake up just about everyone.

I had joked, only slightly, about how degenerates like us Anarchists, punks, skins, and city dwellers of a similar genre had enough decency to prevent such events from occurring in our own violent activities, and a decent point was brought up by Tiffany from Rational Outrage. She noted that perhaps, just maybe, that those of us who are less sheltered from reality, those of us who live on the fringe, or who are a bit "raw" have not yet been sucked into the habit of viewing other people as less than human.

She has a point.

Although our lifestyle is more often than not shoved into the stereotype of an unsightly and disgusting mess on the bottom of society's shoe, we do tend to live life a bit differently, and, outside of the norm of everyday thinking. And quite by choice, at that. We reject capitalism, we reject consumerism, we reject the notion of defining one's value by the toys we own. We also tend to be poorer, live collaboratively and collectively, and reject the notion of gated communities and nuclear families. Typically this is a shocking discovery for mainstreamers, but I digress.

The point is that we are accepting of alternative lifestyles, understand the inner workings of society's worst areas and least progressive states of being, and have seen or operate in the underbelly of the general public. Reality isn't something we learned on a partially scripted TV show. That said, there is a homogenization and isolation of society that has really restricted the exposure of the real world to a great many people, and thus, they have actually become desensitized, not us.

One would think the opposite would be true, and to an extent that is correct. Many of us are desensitized to injury, violence, and drunken debauchery. But on a very real level, I would argue that we are hyper sensitive to tragedies and atrocities of a certain nature. So much so, that we try and reject any contribution to the aspects of society that perpetuate it.

But back to my point. Our society does revolve around consumerism. Without it, capitalism cannot survive. In order for our economic system to thrive, we must convince people that ownership of goods is of the utmost importance. Otherwise, they won't buy. What happens when we insist that the purchasing of goods defines our contribution to society, and thus our value to society? We create an economic caste system that values those who can buy, more than those who cannot. And so the categorization of people into groups begins. It evolves into "othering" and dehumanization of entire groups of people. It removes compassion for those who cannot thrive at the same level as those at the top. Just look at some of the comments about poor people in forums online. "These people won't earn their own way." "These people refuse to support themselves." "These people take our tax dollars and then buy big ticket items."

"These people."

Which people?

In comments and reactions about the incident at Walmart, the comments varied from shock to blame. The comments referred to those who trampled the man as "animals". In a technical respect, this is accurate. However, when paired with claims and statements such as "Well there were a lot of black people there..." and "The poor shop at Walmart..." and "What did you expect from these people?" You begin to get a clearer picture of the problem. I once had a person tell me that a whole plane full of people flying in the economy section could go down and no one would care. "No one cares about these people anyway."

"These people."

I'm in no way defending the actions of the group that trampled a man to death. However you have to step back and look at the reactions, you have to remove yourself just a little bit, and wonder what they mean when they say "These people are animals!" Do they mean this particular group who did indeed act like a stampeding group of animals, or are they referring to a quasi acceptable stereotype of poor minorities? Does the lack of distinction between the two intentions perhaps raise a red flag?

Is the attitude of the "these people" ideology not part of the larger problem? Did anyone stop to consider the fact that those stampeding may have felt the exact same way? Perhaps the consumers who surrounded the participants were "these people" to each and every participant to this tragedy, and so were not valuable enough to be treated with any modicum of decency and respect?

It's food for thought. We reap what we sow, and those of us living in a world where relying on others for cooperation and support, and the value of each person is based on contributions and ability, and not on material ownership are less likely to generalize, to "other" and to classify others as subpar beings.

Perhaps living in the gated well-to-do communities where "self reliance" is based on wealth (because they are not, in fact, self reliant - they rely on a great deal of people to do everyday things for them at a price) has brought down the general welfare of people all over the country. We see it on a large level, every day. I don't see it as being any less effective on a small scale.

In the end, when self worth is defined by the toys you own, it's a bit easier to see why people would literally stamp out a human life for the chance of getting a socially acceptable toy, on sale. The dollar value of the TV itself isn't worth more than a human life, but the chance at being perceived as "someone" is more valuable than one of "these people's" lives.

What a sad state of being.

8 comments:

STRAIGHTALK said...

Nice article and very well said ! before taking desicions or making comments as to THOSE PEOPLE We shall always remeber that We are not going to be the one making the same!

STRAIGHTALK
Norman Flecha

Jesse M. said...

Well written, I am linking you hope you dont mind!

Midwest Mom said...

Anok,

Thanks for writing on this. It is so important. I am not an anarchist; I am just me. But from my perspective, events like this are horrific, wherever they happen.

I agree with you that in America there is an overwhelming tendency to judge the value of individuals based upon the groups to which they belong.

You have hit upon an unsavory truth here... a very ugly one.
-MM

Anonymous said...

the word dehumanification reminds me of something george bush would malapropose (that's my own little made up term).
that's about the closest i can get to a criticism here, as you said everything that needed saying on this subject.
loj...

Anok said...

Straightalk, Jesse, thanks - and no I don't mind!

Mom (heh, that never gets old :D) - It is an unfortunate truth that has been manifesting for decades - every year getting worse and worse. Groups, possessions, if we can give our ego a boost by putting others down - we just do it. Although it is human nature to put yourself, or your immediate family first, we've taken it to the extreme of "getting ours" over the actual welfare of other humans who don't pose us any harm.

And all because we don't view them as humans. We see demographics, not faces. We see stereotypes, not individuals with feelings and needs.

It's sad :(

Jazz - Oh snap! No you didn't! :D The only difference is that I know it's a made up word LOL.

Thanks for the comments everyone, keep 'em coming!

Kyt Dotson said...

Wow. I'm having trouble responding. I think thou've covered most of everything that I'd have to say on the subject.

Just recently on Mill Ave, I tried to explain how some of modern social anthropology -- especially studying Mill -- is that I see how civilization both gives avenues for people to cooperate but it always does a lot of separating people. Tribes all over again.

Compartmentalizing people from each other makes groups less likely to realize how interdependent an entire city is; and too quickly they fall into roles of us vs. them as if eliminating the other group will make life better. When really if they got rid of that other group they might suddenly not have things...like food.

And, of course, it relies on this whole thought that "these people" who are vitally our peers, should we sit down with any of them we'd discover that "those people" are people.

I came to this thinking about WW II propaganda that depicted the Germans as huge ape-men, tearing the dresses off women -- but I guess that caste propaganda is far, far more subtle.

Shirley said...

More and more I keep thinking I must be an undercover anarchist. My views aren't much different than yours. What happened at Wal-Mart I don't blame on people. I blame the commercialism of our society. Why do we need so many toys and gadgets? Is it really necessary? Does having so much stuff prove anything?

Anok said...

Kyt - yes, exactly!!

it's very easy to poo-poo the lowly employee or toiler, but imagine how hard their life would be without all of the lowly laborers and toilers?

Which, by the way. is why unionization and threats of strikes are so gosh darn threatening to corporations.

Shirley, so many people have Anarchist tendencies that it's unreal. That's why I think it's a natural social progression to work towards Anarchism.