New Zealand Tragedy

In light of the recent tragedy in New Zealand, New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, announced a national ban on all military-style semi automatic weapons, all high capacity ammunition magazines, and all parts used to turn guns into semi automatic weapons; in less than 24 hours of the event. Earlier this month, a gunman opened fire at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, killing 50 people. People around the world have mourned the death of the victims and even one tragedy was enough for New Zealand to take action. The United States has also had major gun issues in the past. The Sandy Hook shooting (26 dead), the Parkland shooting (17 dead), the Las Vegas Massacre (58 dead), the Sutherland Springs shooting (25 and an unborn child dead), and many more that have taken countless lives. All these tragedies were followed by some sort of call to action, especially the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting in Parkland, Florida. The Parkland shooting sparked a national conversation about gun control and sparked a the Never Again movement. Unfortunately, the US has failed to take any action to restrict firearms after the tragedies. 

The massacres and shootings happening across the world are a form of dehumanization, and the American government prioritizing guns over human lives is another form of dehumanization. Dehumanization is a tough topic to understand, and it’s even harder to define. Professor of psychology at Sewanee University, Sherry Hamby, defines dehumanization as whenever people use language that compares real people to animals. For instance, if a politician were to call a group of people “vermin” or something similar, it would be considered dehumanization. Comparing real human beings to nonhuman things is morally wrong, so why do people, especially people in power, do it so much? Current US president, Donald Trump, uses this kind of language quite often. In August of 2018, Trump referred to his former staff member, Omarosa Manigault-Newman, as a “dog” via twitter. Trump tweeted “When you give a crazed, crying lowlife a break, and give her a job at the White House, I guess it just didn’t work out. Good work by General Kelly for quickly firing that dog!” after Manigault-Newman was fired from her job as a political aide for Trump. This isn’t Trump’s only instance of using disturbing language. Trump often refers to immigrants as “aliens” and “infestations”. In June of 2018 Trump tweeted “Democrats are the problem. They don’t care about crime and want illegal immigrants, no matter how bad they may be, to pour into and infest our Country, like MS-13. They can’t win on their terrible policies, so they view them as potential voters!” 

Dehumanization isn’t always a literal act, however. Professor of philosophy at Emmanuel College, Michelle Maiese, defines dehumanization as the psychological process of demonizing the enemy, making them seem less than human and hence not worthy of humane treatment. This can lead to increased violence, human rights violations, war crimes, and genocide. When people see the enemy as something less than human, it is a psychological form of dehumanization. Perceiving the enemy as a nonhuman thing justifies the acts they are committing which makes the violent acts easier to cope with in the long run. If a soldier were to see the opponent as a just a target to hit, the soldier wouldn’t feel as bad about taking the opponent's life. This is still very harmful, though, because if people use dehumanization in this way frequently, it can lead to much bigger problems like war crimes and genocide. 

Politics has a major role in dehumanization. Many US laws don’t include things that are outright dehumanizing, but that doesn’t mean these laws don’t dehumanize others. Immigration is a major issue in the US, so many laws and government agencies have been put into place in order to control this issue. Up until recently, ICE hasn’t gotten a lot of attention, but when immigration started becoming a real issue that needed immediate solving, maybe spraying children with tear gas wasn’t the best option. On January 1st, 2019, border patrol threw Triple-Chaser tear gas grenades against a crowd of a few hundred largely peaceful men, women, and children. Officials claim the migrants began throwing rocks at border patrol agents, but only four projectiles were thrown. And while tear gas has been outlawed as a method of warfare on the battlefield by almost every country in the world, that prohibition does not apply to domestic law enforcement officers using tear gas on their own citizens. For context, these immigrants were seeking asylum in the US after fleeing violence and poverty in Central America and planned to cross Mexican-American border near Tijuana. All these immigrants are doing is trying to get somewhere safe. So when there is violence in their home country, and they are being met with violence when seeking help, how is that humane?

Professor Ronald E Riggio at Claremont McKenna College defines dehumanization as depriving an individual of basic human qualities. Qualities such as shelter, food, and respect from other people. One factor that inadvertently dehumanizes people is poverty. Poverty affects one in eight Americans, and one third of Americans affected by poverty are children. Though many organizations fight to end poverty, such as Feeding America, Save The Children, Heartland Alliance, and many more, the US government has not done much in recent years to help end poverty. 

One of the main issues with poverty is a lack of food, a basic human quality. American Lawyer Matt Breunig predicts that raising every American below the poverty line above it would cost approximately $175.3 billion, or roughly 2% of America’s GDP in 2012. The previously mentioned organizations striving to end poverty and hunger are raising money and donating food in hopes of a better future for many Americans. However, food isn’t the only issue. Many Americans are left homeless and neglected without any money to support themselves. The homeless population in New York City alone is 63,839 and every day these people living on the streets are passed by people without a second thought. This behavior of ignoring the less fortunate is dehumanizing, whether it be on a national level or walking pass somebody without offering help.

The famous “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs” places physiological needs (food, water, warmth, and rest) as the base of the pyramid, symbolizing basic human needs. Water is the most important thing humans need to survive, so why are people donating $600 million to fix a Parisian cathedral instead of fixing a five year water crisis in a populous American city? The Flint water crisis started in 2014, after the drinking water source for the city of Flint, Michigan was changed from Lake Huron and the Detroit River to a less costly source of the Flint River. It became contaminated with lead and there have been 12 reported deaths due to the crisis. The water is undrinkable and the citizens of Flint have not had access to clean water in five years. Water, food, and shelter are all basic things all humans need to survive, so we as a society need to help and support one another to ensure that we can thrive as a population. Dehumanization is whenever a person makes another person feel less human. This can be something as extreme as mass genocide or something as small as comparing someone to something non-human. This includes depriving individuals of the essentials of survival. If we can spend our money fixing the issues that make life extremely challenging for people in poverty, we can then focus on bigger issues as a unified society.  

Society’s response to dehumanization is pretty mixed because it is a tough topic to understand. Some people dehumanize others unknowingly and do not think much when they use dehumanizing language. There is not much we as a society can do to combat these small acts except think before we speak. But, on a much larger scale, activism for stopping dehumanization is growing. Dehumanization itself is a very broad concept, so no one organization or activism group can cover all of it, which is why there are several smaller organizations working on fixing the separate effects of dehumanization. Activist groups are trying to aid many people that have been affected by dehumanization such as people in poverty, people with disabilities, minorities that have been affected by racial discrimination, and many more. However, when people think about these activist groups and their causes, people don’t necessarily think of dehumanization. As previously mentioned, dehumanization is tough to grasp, and people don’t want to talk about such an unsettling topic. So when these activist groups speak out, they don’t talk about dehumanization even though what they are fighting to prevent is a form of it. 

So, all this begs the question: what can we do to stop dehumanization? It’s simple, think about others before you think about yourself. Put yourself into other people’s shoes and try to look at things from different perspectives. Whether this be something as small as thinking before you speak or something broad like deciding which political ideals to vote for. In 2005, the UN made a declaration to declare “food” as a human right and the United States was the only country to vote “no”. We need to think about all human beings and how they could be affected when making big decisions, especially from a political standpoint. If we as a society can just treat everyone on this earth with the same respect as people we know personally, we can make great strides in stopping dehumanization.