A letter I wrote for an assignment last year
My English teacher Mrs. Henly had us write a letter to a friend recommending (mostly just summarizing and analyzing) an article or book we had recently read. I chose to recommend an article titled, “The Dark Psychology of Dehumanization, Explained” by Brian Resnick. It’s interesting. You should read it.
But, anyway, I’m putting the letter in here (with some minor edits) because it’s applicable to genocide and genocidal thoughts.
I’m writing you about this article I just read. It’s called “The Dark Psychology of Dehumanization, Explained” written by Brian Resnick. It’s about how we, as humans, aren’t willing to admit prejudice against others but with dehumanization prejudice suddenly becomes more okay. Like, we don’t want to admit that we think some people are better than other people, but, if some people aren’t as “human” as others then it’s okay to think of the “inhuman” people as inferior.
Something that really stuck out to me in the article was this quote by Susan Fiske, who says that “people are willing to admit that they have relative scales of humanity in their heads” and honestly, that scares me. The whole article was in response to freakin’ Trump’s Muslim ban, which I know was a while ago and this article is old but I only just now got around to reading it.
I’ve been jumping around between the paragraphs of my letter so I think I’m going to give subsection titles.
I mean, you know my thoughts about politics and you know my political stance but politics aside, is it not terrifying that people are literally classifying “other” people as inhuman? It just makes me think about our future. Where are we going as a community that we can think of people that are different from us as less human than ourselves?
Like I said earlier, this article was in response to “freakin’ Trump’s” Muslim ban. Resnick (the author) wrote that there’s a direct correlation between dehumanization and support for policies like the Muslim Ban. Apparently, hate crimes against Muslims in the US is at an all-time-high since 2001. In the 70’s there was a prediction that dehumanization leads to increased aggression, and now that prediction is supported with these hate crimes and prejudices against the Muslim population. And back to my political stance, there’s another connection between people that have these prejudices and people that support Trump. Just sayin’.
There’s also a direct correlation between people that dehumanize and people that favor inequality and agree with statements like “Muslims are a potential cancer to this country” which I think is just insane. Who the hell thinks so highly of themselves that they deem it appropriate to call an entire religion a “cancer”?
I’m kind of writing this as I reread the article and I just got to the part about the cyclical nature of dehumanization. I think better in visuals so I drew it out:
[the pictures are not copying so I’ve done my best to render them with text]
Trump’s policy –> fear –> dehumanization –> more violent responses from Muslim individuals –> Trump responds –> more hostility, less safe
More Muslims feel dehumanized by President Trump –> More Muslim dehumanization AND Less likeliness of reporting suspicious activity in their neighborhoods
So, don’t you see? It’s this cycle of feeling dehumanized and dehumanization and hostility! In addition to my little diagrams, people who feel that they’re dehumanized by Muslims are more likely to dehumanize Muslims! It’s like that whole middle school thing where you don’t like someone because you don’t think she likes you and she doesn’t like you because she doesn’t think you like her, but really there’s no reason for either of you to dislike each other. And as a result of feeling dehumanized people are more likely to retreat into familiar circles, making more and more specific and exclusive groups of people.
Authority figures dehumanize –> “it must be okay for me to dehumanize” –> “others” are inferior and “less evolved” <–> “it’s okay for me to have prejudice because they’re sub-human”
US VS. THEM
There was also some kind of study with 5 year olds that basically concluded that even kids see the world as an us-vs.-them kind of situation. Isn’t that just so sad? Fiske said that when we dehumanize others, the regions of our brain associated with disgust turn on and the regions associated with empathy turn off.
Remember the movie Inside Out? I just remember that Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Joy (Amy Poehler) were two characters in the movie and I just imagine the girl in the movie seeing someone Muslim and then having Joy shut down and Disgust get riled up. I mean, maybe it’s a stretch but I’m truly concerned that that’s what our future generations are going to be like. Just constant discrimination and dehumanization and apathy.
Also, Nour Kteily, a psychologist at Northwestern University, grew up in Lebanon in the midst of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict where it’s apparently not uncommon for people to compare others to animals or “lower life forms”. Kteily thought that although Americans don’t like to talk about their tendencies to dehumanize, we’re just as susceptible to it as others. With his experiment he found that many Americans rated Muslims, Mexican immigrants, and Arabs as “less evolved” than fellow Americans. I’m concerned about this too because, as much as I try to not let media and common ideas and prejudices negatively affect me, I’m scared that I’ve been treating certain groups of people as inferior. And, if I haven’t been treating them as inferior, I’m scared that I’ve been thinking of them as inferior.
This statement is specific to Muslims, but “Kteily found that people who dehumanized were more likely to support the statement, ‘Muslims bombed Boston. We as a planet need to wipe them off this world. Every one of them.’” Resnick continues to say that it’s unlikely we’re on the verge of a mass genocide but that we also can’t afford to kid ourselves. Is this not exactly parallel to what we learned in history class about the ideology before the Holocaust?
I like to think of myself as somewhat culturally aware, but more than that I’d like to think that I treat everyone with respect. But after reading this… I don’t know.
BACK TO THE CYCLICAL NATURE
Like my first two charts (kind of) illustrated, there’s a cyclical nature to dehumanization between Muslims and Americans. When Americans feel that they’re dehumanized by Muslims, they’re more likely to dehumanize Muslims and vise versa. Kteily and one of his collaborators Emile Bruneau wrote a fake article about Dalia Mogahed’s (the director of research at a nonprofit that studies Islamophobia) research.
When Americans read that Muslims loved and admired the freedom of the US, Americans were less likely to dehumanize Muslims in general.
Now, you know how I hate inspirational quotes and everything, and I think that ending on an inspirational or “now go do good” note is cheesy and overdone, the last sentence of the article was this:
“Just as we have the mental capacity to dehumanize, we’re equipped with the mental programs that forge trust and understanding. It’s up to us to turn them on.”
I can accept this because it’s a reference back to the science-y mental programs mentioned at the beginning. Even though I basically just summarized the entire article I think you should read the whole thing. I left out some pretty cool statistics and information.
Anyway, read this article. Here’s the title again so you can look it up (and read it):
“The Dark Psychology of Dehumanization, Explained” by Brian Resnick on Vox
Lots of Love,
So, yeah. Good content. Sub-par diagrams but I worked with what I had.