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Dehumanization is the process by which members of a group of people assert the "inferiority" of another group through subtle or overt acts or statements. Dehumanization may be directed by an organization (such as a state) or may be the composite of individual sentiments and actions, as with some types of de facto racism. State-organized dehumanization has been directed against perceived racial or ethnic groups, nationalities (or "foreigners" in general), religious groups, genders, minorities of various sexual orientations (e.g., homosexuals), disabled people as a class, economic [e.g., the homeless] and social classes, and many other groups. Some names are used such as sewer rat, spick, jap, and gook.
Nations and governments
Sociologists and historians often view dehumanization as central to some or all types of wars. Governments sometimes present "enemy" civilians or soldiers as less than human so that voters will be more likely to support a war they may otherwise consider mass murder. Dictatorships use the same process to prevent opposition by citizens. Such efforts often depend on preexisting racist, sectarian or otherwise biased beliefs, which governments play upon through various types of media, presenting "enemies" as barbaric, undeserving of rights, and a threat to the nation. Alternately, states sometimes present the enemy government or way of life as barbaric and its citizens as childlike and incapable of managing their own affairs. Such arguments have been used as a pretext for colonialism.
The Holocaust of World War II and the Rwandan Genocide have both been cited as atrocities predicated upon government-organized campaigns of dehumanization, while crimes like lynching (especially in the United States) are often thought of as the result of popular bigotry and government apathy. The main cause behind the American mutilation of Japanese war dead has been stated to be dehumanization.
Anthropologists Ashley Montagu and Floyd Matson famously wrote that dehumanization might well be considered "the fifth horseman of the apocalypse" because of the inestimable damage it has dealt to society. When people become things, the logic follows, they become dispensable - and any atrocity can be justified.
Dehumanization can be seen outside of overtly violent conflicts, as in political debates where opponents are presented as collectively stupid or inherently evil. Such "good-versus-evil" claims help end substantive debate. (See also thought-terminating cliché).
Themes: scapegoating, ethnic stereotypes and racism
A common theme is that of scapegoating, where dehumanizing the target provides a release from guilt for the person that scapegoats them, who typically begins to see themselves as a victim of the dehumanized person, rather than as a potential oppressor.
In war, the enemy is generally demonized, with ethnic slurs being used to dehumanize them to the point where killing them becomes morally acceptable. The U.S. Army for example has a long history of dehumanizing names for its enemies. For example the Vietnamese were referred to as gook, Somalis as "skinnys", and now Arabs as "hajis".
Furthermore, sub-minorities of the Caucasian population can be the subjects of dehumanization by the "accepted" majority. One such sub-minority are people with red hair and fair skin which have been the subject of dehumanization in both public and private arenas. A recent music video by MIA depicts the rounding up of red-headed young men by commandos who were later shot and forced to run through a mine field. The graphic nature of the music video has sparked public controversy and the detail of violence on red-heads alone within the film may justify public suspicions that red-heads already represent an additional minority-target of public dehuminization.
The empirically-supported propaganda model of Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky shows how corporate media are able to carry out large-scale, successful dehumanization campaigns when that promotes the goals (profit-making) that the corporations are contractually obliged to maximise. State media, in either democracies or dictatorships, are also capable of carrying out dehumanization campaigns, to the extent with which the population is unable to counteract the dehumanizing memes. [How to reference and link to summary or text]
- Ethnic stereotype
- Life unworthy of life
- Second-class citizen
- Social defeat