Dehumanization

posted in: Observations | 4

Colosseum

Back in November, as we were making our way around the Colosseum in Rome, I couldn’t help but think about the thousands of people who died in this arena. At the time, this was considered “entertainment”, and was used as a way to sate the mob of Rome. I began to think about our modern day culture and what was different about the way things were then. Sure, things were more barbaric in general, but this wasn’t a war, or a fight for limited resources. This was something altogether different.

This was real live people being murdered, or forced to murder others, for the simple purpose of entertainment. How depraved must the Romans have been to allow this to happen? Of course, I quickly realized that this could also be easily explained by one of the things I learned long ago in the professional world. When you do not see someone as a real person, it’s easier and easier to treat them in a less than humane way.

In the professional world, I used the phrase “People don’t yell at tech support when the person on the other end of the phone is the same person they were just talking to about their kids Little League game. They yell at nameless, faceless, tech support people.”

Looking back at the Romans, the gladiators, slaves, Jews, Christians, and others who were killed in the arenas simply weren’t real people. They might as well have been television characters for all the typical Roman citizen knew about them or interacted with them. So, since these weren’t “people” in the same sense that the people I work with, live with, and interact with, it was easy to start to explain away treating them as less than human.

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Unfortunately, that same lesson continues to go unlearned. Whether it be someone who disagrees with us politically, someone guilty of poor taste, someone guilty of something more than poor taste, etc. Once the righteous online mob has a target, there’s no limit to what that target “deserves”, even if we would, in the same breathe, proclaim our undying support for victims of the same exact crime.

When our anger and indignation is up, it’s all too easy to forget that the target of that anger is also a person, not someone who deserves to be raped, shot, hung, and every other horrible thing you can think of. Yes, there are plenty of people who say vile, stupid things. Some of them thought they were being funny, and some of them just happen to believe stupid things. That’s no reason to wish these things on them, or somehow rationalize that they deserve them to happen.

Bottom line, if no rape or abuse victim is ever to blame, then you can’t also argue that someone deserves to be raped. That goes for public figures who make horribly racist, sexist and even rape jokes, men in prison, no matter their crime, members of the KKK, or anyone else who we don’t like. They may not be people I want to be friends with, or be around at all, but they are people and they have rights as well, including the right not to be raped or murdered.

If we can’t wrap our heads around that, we will continue down the path of the Romans. Where people who aren’t like me aren’t really people. That’s no way for a society to work. Eventually, the mob will find something about you that’s different too.

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