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Man's Inhumanity to Man

I recently wrote a commentary about the use of violence in fighting hate groups such as White Supremacists and neo-Nazis. The reasons against using violence were very practical. Now I want to address a more basic issue, related both to violence and to hate.

Most of us are horrified by the actions of the Nazis and the holocaust they created, or by ISIS with its beheadings, enslavement, mass killings and bombings. We can’t understand how human beings can act that way toward other human beings. How can a person regard another person as less than human, regard their life as meaningless? It happens a lot. In Rwanda, Hutus killed 500,000-1,000,000 Tutsis, their neighbors, in a deliberate genocide, with an estimated 200,000 Hutus participating in carrying out the killings. Radio messages urged,  “You have to kill the Tutsis, they’re cockroaches.” In Russia, Chechen rebels took 1,000 school children hostage and 330 of them were killed. In Iraq and Syria, countless people have died in bombings aimed at those who practice a different from of Islam. In America, Native Americans were almost exterminated and were rounded up and confined to “reservations” in order to make room for European settlers. The slave trade and slavery itself killed at least 17 million Africans and perhaps four times that many. Lynching of Black people in the United States after the Civil War resulted in at least 3,500 Black people being hanged. I’m leaving out countless racial, ethnic or nationalistic horrors committed during modern history. And I’m leaving out most of the wars that we often consider noble, but result in as many or more deaths as the transgressions mentioned above.

How can people treat their fellow human beings in this way? Given the myriad racial, ethnic, national, and religious reasons behind such wanton hate and killing, we must conclude that all humans are capable of such behavior. Most of us don’t feel as if we are, but we must be wrong. What we know is that regarding one’s fellow human being as not deserving to live—or on a lesser plane, not deserving to live as well as we live—is a sentiment that can be encouraged by persuasion, by indoctrination, and by propaganda.

What I often wonder is whether the behavior that is abhorrent, which I see around me and in our history, isn’t dependent upon one major factor, which is giving ourselves permission and even encouragement for expressing hate. Hate is based on anger, or at least it gets its motivation through anger, and anger is a natural human emotion. We are all going to hate some things and some people at some times in our lives. But when hate is encouraged as the proper reaction to someone, particularly if that person is someone we don't know personally, but is hated because of the group to which he or she belongs, then it threatens to spill over into systematic violence. It does so because we no longer see the other person as an individual who is probably more like us than he or she is different from us (because most people are similar to each other in most basic human characteristics).

We all have people we hate because of the groups to which they belong. Many people regard this as appropriate because the groups themselves are evil. I wonder, though, if, once we give ourselves permission to hate enough that we want to destroy the other, if such hatred really is appropriate. It can become our accepted way of reacting to those we consider our enemies.

I’d like to figure out if there is a way to undermine the (perhaps normal) reaction of hating those we oppose and denigrating their humanity to the point that we want to harm them. According to Christian sources, Jesus urged people to do this, but even Christians don’t seem to take his advice seriously. I’m an atheist, so I can’t even fall back on a religious reason for trying to see the humanity in my enemies as, for instance, Gandhi did. But I’d like to explore if this is possible, because the amount of hatred I see around me is frightening and discouraging.



Reader Comments (1)

You omitted Stalin, Pol Pot, who managed to kill millions of their own people in the nane of their failed ideologies. Mao is reputed to have killed tens of millions Chinese in his genocidal Great Leap. History of Muslim conquests killing and enslaving millions might also make the dismal list, not to forget other religious wars. To bring goodwill and peace to humanity seems a Sisyphian task. But we must soldier on.

August 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterHumancafe

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