I have felt a sense of what I always called “dehumanization” for most of my adult life. As I use it here, dehumanization refers to a sense of ‘not being human’ or ‘not allowed to be human’ or ‘being in a condition of artificiality’. It’s been a big problem. But, I found, its not as easy a subject as it may seem. A particular aspect of dehumanization has often mystified me. Basically, its the fact that people who are dehumanized generally don’t know it. As a result, these people don’t complain about it, even though they are feeling the effects of it. Often, they will be very accepting of it and don’t even question it. Because of this quality, it has made it difficult to determine and ‘diagnose’ the symptoms and problems of dehumanization. It’s hard to say “this is a sign of an ailment” when people don’t seem to be too bothered by it.
To me, this has given the question and defining of dehumanization a difficult issue. There were times, even, when I questioned if dehumanization existed, and that it may be a ‘modern myth’, that it was something some of us created in our own minds. My conclusion, over the years, is that this is not true. But, because of the situation I described above, it shows that the question of dehumanization is a question of perspective, of point of view. This means that, with whatever you say about it, someone is able to refute your claim or even proove you wrong. I sometimes speak of this as the ‘dehumanization quandary’. This means that, with the question of dehumanization, we must accept that there are going to be different viewpoints and ‘school of thoughts’. That’s the nature of the beast.
I, myself, believe that dehumanization exists, that it is a major force nowadays, and that it is a problem that, frankly, has reached crisis proportions. I should also point out that my involvement, and defining, of dehumanizition is based on experience. I “discovered” dehumanization because I had to defend myself against its effects. I didn’t sit in my armchair and dream it up. It became clear to me, by my twenties, that I had to defend myself against something that was threatening my ‘humaness’ and self. Everytime I turned around I seemed I felt that my self was being ‘whittled down’ in some way, that I was becoming less human. My inquiry into this problem, naturally, led me to dehumanization.
What’s interesting is that one of the primary ways I defended myself against dehumanization is to remove myself from society. This shows, in my opinion, that dehumanization is a ‘social disease’, reflecting social problems and the social situation. This reveals that dehumanization is not a ‘personal disease’ originating from the person themselves (like a neuroses). It shows that dehumanization is a reaction that a person makes toward a situation that he is placed in. In other words, its reactionary. In some respects we get infected with the “disease” of the situation we’re in, so to speak. This makes dehumanization a situational problem, reflecting the situation of the times. It seems, to me, that when a person is taken away from the dehumanizing situation they generally cease being dehumanized.
What’s weird is that the people who ‘notice’ dehumanization are generally the people who are actually moving away from it or who have some form of a ‘personal integrity’ which allows them to stand up against it. That is to say, they tend to not be dehumanized. A part of themselves remains ‘human’. They are in a situation of ‘one foot in, one foot out’, so to speak. It’s because of this that they can see it and feel it. In many ways, it creates a tug-of-war within them causing conflict and pain. This shows the ‘dehumanization irony’. This basically says that the people who suffer from dehumanization don’t seem to be bothered by it and, as a result, are never aware of it. The people who don’t suffer from dehumanization are bothered by it to the point that they are aware of it or, at least, that something is wrong. This means that being dehumanized can be a good thing and can spare a person from conflict, as you are never aware of it. It’s almost like its justifying the saying: “ignorance is bliss”. As a result of this, a sign of dehumanization is not necessarily misery or problems, as one would naturally expect. This all a part of the irony of dehumanization.
This, though, is not surprising as dehumanization is a ‘taking away’. That is to say, it does not put something into peoples lives . . . it takes something away. An infection, for example, puts bacteria into ones body causing a reaction, which becomes the symptoms of an illness. This sort of situation can, perhaps, be called a ‘positive symptom’, a symptom caused by a reaction to something that is “there”. The nature of dehumanization is completely opposite. It takes something from ourselves leaving, in a way, a void or hole. Since a hole or a void is not a ‘something’ it may not create a reaction making it almost symptomless. Because of this the hole or void is often perceived as a ‘sense of something wrong’ or a ‘sense of something missing’, which requires and intuitive sense. In other words, an intuition creates the awareness, not a reaction, showing that the perception of dehumanization often requires a strong intuitive sense. Because of this, the symptoms appear in a roundabout way, not directly. This situation can be called a ‘negative symptom’.
Once one has the intuitive sense it naturally leads to a sense that ‘something is wrong’. Its this intuitive sense, and the awareness that it causes, that starts the misery people feel as a result of dehumanization. This shows, and reveals, that knowing has with it a burden. There is great weight in being aware and knowing the situation. Dehumanization seems to bring this out. But it also shows that the burden of knowing is ‘human’ and is part of human life. Living in ‘ignorance’, despite the ‘bliss’ it seems to create, is unhuman. This type of way of life creates a ‘blind living’ and this, in many ways, is one of the qualities of the ‘dehumanized life’. More importantly, it shows that a ‘human life’ is one where there is a ‘burden of knowing’ . . . of life, of fears, of horrors, of possibilities, of the inevitable (death), etc. This supports the Bible’s statement: “in wisdom is great suffering”. In other words, the ‘human life’ naturally entails burden and suffering as part of its natural manifestations. This is why things like a ‘personal crisis’ can literally “wake a person up” to life. It also shows that a trait of ‘human life’ is to develop proper attitudes toward burden and suffering, not in their avoidance. Much of the ‘dehumanized life’ seems to entail an avoidance of these things to the point that it becomes a way of life.
In fact, I tend to feel that the great emphasis on knowledge, that is seen in most societies, actually originates from the qualities described above, which are basically:
- Developing an intuition about oneself and life.
- Being aware of ones condition, which includes fears, horrors and such.
- Experiencing the burden and suffering of this awareness.
- Developing the proper attitudes toward the burden and suffering it causes.
In many ways, this is “knowledge”. More importantly, in finding this “knowledge” one becomes “human”. A lot of this aspect of “knowledge” has been lost through the years. Nowadays, “knowledge” has been degraded into just ‘knowing things’.
But there are also some people who do not feel any effects of dehumanization. In fact, there are characters of people that seem to thrive in its condition. These are people who can adapt to it and find a connection with it. In some cases, it seems to reflect them in some way. This shows, really, that there is a ‘naturally appearing dehumanized character’ of person. These people tend to be shallow in character, non-spiritual, extroverted, and materialistic it seems.
All this seems to show that there are three conditions of dehumanization:
- People who are dehumanized and it doesn’t seem to cause problems – the ‘naturally appearing dehumanized character’.
- People who are dehumanized and don’t know it and in which it generally causes ‘symptoms’.
- People who are not dehumanized or are moving away from dehumanization and, as a result, feel suffering.
This shows something like a spectrum in the reaction to dehumanization, that there is no one single reaction. This spectrum seems to also show gradations in the human character from shallow-like people (the ‘naturally appearing dehumanized character’) to more deep minded people (the ones who suffer). Because of this, how one interprets dehumanization, and if it exists at all, is dependent on which condition you are in which is probably determined by ones character.