Humans are social animals. At times, some people believe others to be only animals. This path of thinking is known as dehumanization. Sadly, there are many examples of dehumanization that are spread throughout human history.
Dehumanization is a result of not just a consideration, but an actual belief of the oppressors that their victims are subhuman.
Higher cognitive abilities are one of the factors that set human beings apart from animals. We are supposed to treat each other in ways that are fair, equal, and just. On most occasions, we have treated each other the way we are supposed to. However, there also have been numerous instances crawling in our history that demonstrate otherwise.
The basic definition of dehumanization is to deny human treatment to someone, and give them subhuman treatment. Such treatment can be doled out to an individual or a group. The offender can be a single person or a group that victimizes fellow humans. The individuality of the victims is ignored, and so are the highly developed cognitive abilities mentioned earlier. Along with these, the victims are shown no compassion. They have to face violence and oppression, and are subjected to various cruelties and indignities.
One of the types of dehumanization is animalistic, where the victims are denied any association to unique human traits, and perceived as non-human animals. Mechanistic dehumanization is another type of dehumanization, wherein, the victims are completely denied any human attributes, and in doing so, compared with machines. In both types, the oppressed group is denied of any and all the moral standards that are applicable to humans. It takes away the freedom of the oppressed in an unfair and inhumane manner.
Prominent Dehumanization Examples
One of the prime examples of dehumanization from the past is slavery. It was a distant dream for the slaves to be considered humans, let alone being thought of as equals, by their masters. They had to slog, and that too in the harshest of living conditions. Most of the Europeans colonies stand testimony to this fact. The colonists often considered the Natives to be inferior to them, treating them as their slaves. It started with the Europeans taking the Native Africans as their slaves in their African territories, or shipping them back to Europe. This developed into a trend after the establishment of the colonies in various parts of the world.
The problem of slavery was also present in the United States after it gained independence from the British. Slavery in America was, again, based on ethnicity, where African-Americans were treated as slaves. This issue was a major reason that led the nation into a civil war.
The problem of slavery is not something of the past; the problem exists in today’s world too, with different forms such as bonded labor, sex slaves, child soldiers, and so on.
There are examples of dehumanization sprawling in the history of the Holocaust. Hitler had likened the Jews to vermin and rats, and the treatment that was dished out to them can be considered anything but human. The concentration camps at Auschwitz, Warsaw, and many other locations under German occupation had to witness the atrocities by the Nazi-Germans on the Jews.
The Jews living in Germany were, at first, deprived of the respectable means to earn a livelihood, after which they had to face a racist isolation and were shifted to ghettos. From these ghettos, they were moved to concentration camps, where they were subjected to forced labor, various medical experiments, and the infamous gas chambers, that had resulted in a mass genocide, the likes of which had never been seen before.
Prisoners of War
After the many wars that mankind had to go through, the prisoners of war, servicemen or civilians, were subjected to inhumane torture during and after each war. This feature was rampant even after each of the two World Wars. This was a major reason that the Geneva conventions were signed, which gave a set of guidelines with regards to the manner in which the prisoners of war were to be treated.
This, however, has not stopped many authorities from flouting the laid down guidelines, and many prisoners have had to bear barbaric treatment after their capture. A specimen of this can be the infamous and much publicized case of Daniel Pearl, who was kidnapped and eventually killed by militants in Pakistan. The same is the case with the many that are captured by ISIS militants. The detainees of the Abu Ghraib prison, or the GITMO, are some other examples of the same, where detainees were tortured and humiliated in various ways.
For Greater Good
One of the excuses that is often given for dehumanizing others is ‘for the greater good’. Consider the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, where African-American patients suffering from the disease were the subject of an experiment to study the effects of the disease. These patients were denied the cure that had developed during the course of the experiment, so that scientists could continue with their studies.
Desensitizing new recruits in the army forms an important part of their military training, and is central to war preparation of any country. This is achieved by treating the enemy as a non-human entity, by often comparing them with animals. This is deemed essential, as the combatants from either of the two warring sides have to kill each other without having to harbor the guilt of hurting fellow humans. During the time of a war, even the governments of the warring nations resort to this technique, by imbibing on the citizens of the respective nations that the people of the enemy nation have subhuman qualities, and paint them in evil colors to win over the support of their citizens in favor of waging the war.
Ethnicity and Racism
These two factors have also been a reason for many people to behave in a brutal and ghastly way with one another. Case in point would be the hate crimes that had increased in the United States after the attacks of 9/11. Similar is the case of the people of the Tutsi tribe of Rwanda in the African continent, who are compared to snakes and cockroaches by the people of the Hutu tribe.
Buying and selling of people that is present in the society of today’s world must be the pinnacle of dehumanizing others. It is a prime example of how some people can objectify others. Speaking of objectifying, rape is another such instance that forces someone to go through an inhumane experience.
Being distant from a particular group has led to people treating others in the ways that cannot be related to the word human at all. Being in the position of power is also a factor that has contributed to the same. Power and social alienation are two of the many more contributing factors for many people receiving ill treatment at the hands of a few people in position.