The dark psychology of dehumanization, explained


Vox has the article The dark psychology of dehumanization, explained.

Dehumanizing policies can kick-start a cycle of retribution and hostility

During the Republican presidential primary, Kteily and Bruneau surveyed 200 Muslims in the US, and asked them to respond to statements such as, “Donald Trump sees people from Muslim backgrounds as sub-human,” and, “Donald Trump thinks of people from Muslim background as animal-like.”

On average, the Muslims in the sample “felt strongly disliked and dehumanized by both Trump and non-Muslim Americans more broadly.” On a scale of 1 to 7, with 1 indicating that Muslims did not feel dehumanized at all and 7 meaning they felt it intensely, the group average was 5.66, well beyond the halfway mark. (Similar results were found in a concurrent study of Latino Americans.)

This survey wasn’t designed to be nationally representative of all the Muslims living in America. Instead, it was designed to figure out what happens inside the mind of someone who feels dehumanized.

“And the consequences were big,” Bruneau explains. The more Muslims felt dehumanized by Trump, the more they dehumanized Trump. The more they felt dehumanized, the less likely they were to say they’d report suspicious activities in their communities.

The research predicts a vicious cycle. Trump’s policy and rhetoric gin up fear and dehumanize Muslim Americans. That provokes a more violent response from certain individuals in the Muslim community. Trump responds. And suddenly the whole country is a more hostile, less safe place for everyone, the researchers conclude in a paper that was recently published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

“We want to be careful to say that any backlash that we might expect isn’t unique to minority groups. In fact, some of our earlier work showed that Americans, too, who think they are dehumanized by Muslims are more likely to dehumanize Muslims,” Kteily says. “We think of this working both ways.”

This is a great explanation of the phenomenon that I have observed many times throughout my life. In Army training I experienced in 1967, I saw this dehumanization process used to take the civilization out of soldiers in training so that they could learn to be killers of other humans. I see this dynamic working in both directions the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. I see it in the India/Pakistan conflict. This process was used throughout the Cold War that I lived through.

The article explains what has helped me to stand back and see this as it is.

Overall, the experts I spoke to all said that the No. 1 way to combat dehumanization is also, frustratingly, one of the hardest to accomplish: simply getting to know people who are different from us.

In my life, I have had many opportunities to get to know people of different cultures and from different parts of the world. It is hard to dehumanize people you know who are quite obviously just as human as anyone else.

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