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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IUaUoJ2AuAQ
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.