How could we be less than human?

Dehumanization is a confusing and intimidating concept. Gregory Stanton names it as the third step in his writing “The Eight Stages of Genocide.” He writes that it occurs when a group “denies the humanity” of the other group. What he means by this is that a group will associate the victimized group with animalistic features, or inanimate objects, or even create propaganda that mislabels individuals. Dehumanization is intentional and strategic, and sometimes unnoticeable until it is too late to fight back.

This concept of dehumanization seems rather unfathomable, considering we are generally rational, mannered, thoughtful people. We are all someone’s child… possibly someone’s parent… sibling… partner… boss… best friend… It seems utterly impossible to take the humanity out of those around us.

The explanation is complex, and can be approached by multiple perspectives. David Eagleman explains the preventable neuroscience behind dehumanization in the following YouTube video:

He uses the example of clans within tribes to provide an example of a society that cannot alienate groups within their culture because of the impossibility of separating the crosses of clans and tribes. Because a web is woven between the clans and tribes, it is a solid structure of community.

The dangers of dehumanization begin when we start viewing people as outsiders or those others. Identifying with a culture or group is strongly valued to some people, sometimes leading to a sort of (dangerous) elite mindset.

How do we begin to fathom a mass annihilation of humankind? Why must we create a word different from “murder” to explain this dark side of humanity? How does one look at a human being, yet not see a human?

I think that is is important to remember that something as massive and wide-reaching as genocide is done by individuals, yet with genocide, we lose empathy, we neglect logic, and alter our decision making. We must not undermine our ability to predict, identify, and prevent dehumanization.



How evil can we be?

“If you give a person power over someone who is powerless, someone who has been demonised or made to seem less human, then that absoute power corrupts absolutely.” – David Wilson

Are humans inherently good or evil?

There has been an age-long debate over whether or not humans are inherently good or evil. While I believe that there is no correct answer nor concrete evidence that proves one opinion or the other, there have been social experiments conducted in the past that illustrates how “righteous and moral” people can commit evil acts when placed in certain environments.

Stanley Milgram, a psychologist at Yale University, conducted an experiment that focused on the obedience to authority, peer pressure and the threat of “isolation” to the group. The inspiration of his experiment stemmed from examining the justifications for acts of genocide by war criminals at the Nuremberg trials. During the trials, the criminals stated that they were simply following orders from their superiors.

The Milgram Experiment (Source: Simply Psychology)

The Milgram Experiment (Source: Simply Psychology)

The experiment consisted of three people, an experimenter, student, and teacher. The experimenter prompts the student to answer questions and the teacher is asked to administer a stronger electric shock to the student for each additional wrong answer. The level of electric shocks ranged from 15 volts (slight shock) to 450 (severe shock). At first glance, one would assume that most people would not hurt another human being for a simple experiment. A slight shock may be understandable, but one would have to be a psychopath or pathological to deliver a sever shock. However, 65% of the participants continued to the highest level of 450 volts and all the participants continued to at least 300 volts.

While this experiment seems nowhere near the severity of complying to acts of genocide, it demonstrates how people are subject to obeying authority, even to the extent of killing another person. While some of the subjects demonstrated disobedience and empathy towards the students, the majority followed the instructions of the experimenter until the end.

When studying acts of genocide, sensible people generally show disgust and question how the oppressors could commit actions so violent and inhumane. However, when studying the stages of genocide and the psychology behind it, it becomes clear how ordinary people can manifest the darkest parts of humanity. We are all capable of committing terrible crimes which makes it important to study the root of these evils and how they come into fruition.




The Fragile Nature of Humanity

As I read through a variety of articles describing the transformation of not only a group of people to oppressive perpetrators of genocide, but also the transformation of the average individual to a murderer, I find myself questioning the frailty of humanity. I keep trying to distinguish between the severity of guilt of those who carry out heinous crimes of genocide and those who order it to be done.

Is the guilt equal? Who determines? How do we condemn someone’s humanity?

By definition, a perpetrator is anyone who knowingly contributes in some tangible fashion to the deaths of others or to injuring others as part of an annihilationist program. This would include everyone from the individual who could have intervened but didn’t, to the individual signing off on the genocide policies, to the individual holding the murder weapon.

But who are these people that commit such heinous crimes? Are they madmen?

Based on a chapter called “Psychological Perspectives” from the book Genocide: a Comprehensive Introduction, perpetrators are not madmen! In fact, they are generally ordinary people, like your doctors and neighbors, who are motivated by one or several factors to participate in acts of genocide. Although conflict fueling genocide may me deeply rooted in many individuals, the transformation from an ordinary individual to a murderer is not overnight. It is those in positions of power who, over time, use propaganda, false information, diction that speaks down to the target group and scapegoating to create a paranoid and ultimately brainwashed population. In addition, there are those individuals who may not elect to participate in carrying out the genocide but do, because they risk the consequences of having the same fate as the target group.

With that said, can we condemn the humanity of the one who participates in a genocide out of fear for their own life the same way we would condemn the executive forces behind it?

I am most intrigued by the 8th stage of genocide, as stated by George H. Stanton: denial. We must consider what happens to the perpetrators when the genocide ends. By this, I mean what happens when the genocide is over and the perpetrators reclaim their individuality? Is their denial the result of remorse and humiliation for their actions? Or is it simply about not wanting to confront the world for consequences of their actions?

As a member of the human race, how do we cope with knowing that ordinary people, like you and me become perpetrators? How do we protect ourselves from being sucked into the dark depths of human nature?


Why Love…

“the idea that we are so capable of love but still chose to be toxic” – Rupi Kaur

When we hear the word love, a multitude of thoughts can come to mind. None of which i-believe-in-the-power-of-lovenormally include the word genocide. With a basic level of understanding about genocide, it’s hard to relate the word love to such a mortifying idea. The quotation above is a snippet from a small book of poetry.I find it to be a sobering phrase  as I began formulating my thoughts after reading and digesting the reasoning behind genocide. I have come to a standpoint that leads me to question the human behavior that coincides with this issue.

The idea that humans are knowledgeable about being able to love others is spectacular in a weird but empowering way, but what is more terrifying is that, knowing this, human behavior sometimes causes us to defy loving others by deconstructing the well being of others. This lack of love only negatively contributes to what builds the beginnings of genocide. When humans dismiss the ability to love others, there are many counterparts that contribute to these downfalls of humanity.

For example, language has the ability to dehumanize and demonize victims. Though the simplicity of language, humans have the ability to play a large role in the laying the foundations of genocide. These stages appeal to human emotion and affect the process of which genocide will stand, especially when there is a lack of love. It is so important to remember the power of our words and the power of love as our emotions affect those around us. As we question what causes people to defy love, we can only answer our questions through continually spreading love to our fellow humans.



The Temptation to Turn Away


“He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”

– Martin Luther King Jr.

On January 16th, every year we celebrate the life of one of the most influential social activists, Martin Luther King Jr. Throughout his journey to eradicate racial inequality and discrimination, MLK Jr. emphasized the dangers and implications of the actions of silent bystanders in instances of oppression. When someone “passively accepts evil”, they are essentially motivating and empowering perpetrators.

As a society, we tend to look the other way when faced with something that makes us uncomfortable. Whether it be on a smaller scale like looking down while walking when we see a homeless individual on the sidewalk, or pretending not to hear an abusive conversation ensuing. These actions come natural to us, as we are accustomed to a diffusion of responsibility when faced with speaking out against injustices.4d132-thinkstockphotos-527343105

On a larger scale, Ervin Staub analyzes the role of bystanders as a core concept of genocide. In society, bystanders serve to induce a change in perspectives of both the perpetrators and fellow bystanders based on critical moral and ethical reasoning. Because of this, bystanders have the potential to greatly influence the overarching attitudes surrounding the actions of groups and organizations. By reacting and acting early on in the process of oppression and destruction, this population has the ability to shift the course of the future.

So what?

As we celebrate MLK Jr. on this day, we must remember the value of our individual voices and the power we hold to influence others. Take an active role in society and advocate for those who are unable to have their voice heard. Be the one who sees something that makes them uncomfortable and interrogates, rather than turning away. Be inquisitive and challenge yourself to act courageously and sacrificially. Do all of these things because

“In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

– MLK Jr.

– KB

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Everyday in the news, we see, hear, and read countless headlines about refugees. It’s usually something about refugees migrating throughout Europe or sailing in the Mediterranean sea. We’ve seem to forgotten that these refugees are humans just like us.

They’re just like us- they have family,  they have friends, they fall in love, they have hobbies, they have hopes, and they have dreams…. just. like. us.  On paper, they sound like anyone in a typical American community…..except for one thing- they had to flee their native countries because of some reason that caused them to fear their lives.

Brandon Stanton, founder of Humans of New York, recently traveled to the middle east to document the experiences of Syrian refugees. Stanton uploaded numerous photos of Syrians along with captions explaining their stories of escaping Syria and their current living situations. Immediately, people all around the world became captivated by his series.

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There is something so powerful and intimate about seeing a real life image of another human being and hearing their story — even if they are half-way around the world and you have never met them before. Images have the power to really captivate us and cause us to feel some kind of attachment or bond. Brandon Stanton’s photos were an example of effective advocacy not only for Syrian refugees, but for refugees all around the world. So many of my friends who, previously, had no idea of the Syrian Refugee Crisis became so interested…all because of Humans of New York.

Not only was Brandon Stanton able to inform the world about the ongoing problems experienced by refugees because of genocide or political injustice, but he was also successful in starting a petition and raising over $750,000 dollars in just six days! The money raised will go directly to Syrian refugee families.

It is amazing what an impact a simple photograph can have on the world. A picture is really worth a thousand words and it’s so special to see how Brandon Stanton’s photos were able to bring the world community together.



Sorry is a Sorry Word

But forgiveness isn’t.

A wise man (shockingly not me) once said,

“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”


Perhaps that’s why it’s so difficult for some people to forgive. They haven’t built up the stamina, they haven’t toned their forgiveness muscles, they aren’t in the shape to handle something of that momentum.

In an article discussing Gandhi’s Top 10 Rules for Changing the World “Forgive and let go” makes the list. If one of the most influential people of all time believes that forgiveness is worth out while, maybe we should take notice.

I am the queen of forgiveness, sometimes to a fault. I hate confrontation, and tension makes makes me ill. So, I forgive. But do I let it go? Forgiving isn’t the hard part, for me. Accepting an apology doesn’t take years of my life. I can handle the awkward conversations that follow the “resolution” of a disagreement, argument, or betrayal. But do I actually actively take that bitterness I feel and check it at the door?

“An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.”

What a great place the world would be if we could truly forgive people for their mistakes (for being human) and actually mean it and then proceed to move on with our own lives.

I’ve read before that unforgiveness is like drinking poison yourself and expecting the other person to die.

In the light of my upcoming graduation, I’ve been trying to really live in every minute and to enjoy these last few weeks. The ability to live fully in the present involves being able to put the past in the past and move forward without resentment.

Because we can’t change the world when we are too busy holding on to something that does nothing but hold us back.

-Kelli Anne Louthan