What happens in our minds when we dehumanize others, and how can we resist it?
These are the kinds of questions David Livingstone Smith, author of the book, On Inhumanity: Dehumanization and How to Resist It, has found himself asking throughout his career.
Most of us are familiar with events of mass violence in recent history, such as the Holocaust, slavery in America, and the Rwandan genocide. David wants to know what motivates us to commit these atrocities.
By studying dehumanization, he's learned what a powerful tool it is. He explains, "If people can convince others that those whom they wish to harm are not really human beings at all, but are, in fact, dangerous animals, then this makes it acceptable to harm them."
David helps us unpack dehumanization's building blocks, including the dangerous myths of race science and biological hierarchies. And he shares how each of us can resist the urge to dehumanize. To begin, he urges us to recognize that no one is immune: "If politicians scare us or flatter us into thinking of others as, essentially, less than human, we're all capable of doing terrible things.
David Livingstone Smith is Professor of Philosophy at the University of New England in Biddeford, Maine. He has written or edited eight books, including Less Than Human: Why We Demean, Enslave and Exterminate Others, which won the 2012 Anisfield-Wolf award for nonfiction.
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