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C09P45 – Shame

C09P45 – Shame published on 10 Comments on C09P45 – Shame

Humanizing and dehumanizing may be two of the most powerful capabilities of the human mind. If we humanize a stranger, we will almost always want the best for them. This doesn’t even have to be a real stranger. What else would you call a character in a book, but an imaginary stranger that you get to know? On the other hand, if we dehumanize someone, even someone we know well, we become capable of causing them a great deal of harm. In a sense, we make them “not real” anymore, and unless we have a strong personal code that is relative to the manner our actions rather than the consequences of those actions, many of us don’t consciously identify our behavior as immoral.

I’m not saying a person is bad for doing this. It’s a survival mechanism. In a world where there is a finite amount of resources, whether material, emotional, or chronological, we have to limit where we expend those resources. If we cared about every person we ever met as much as we care for a best friend, we’d expend all of our resources on everyone else and have nothing left to keep ourselves healthy. So this isn’t a judgement on the tendency to dehumanize. Just an observation of its power, and as such its danger. It’s something that I think everyone would benefit from being conscious of.

A lot of people rail about how the internet is destroying our society because the relationships people form on it are “not real.” Except that many of the closest relationships I now have are with people I see mostly online, so I know that can’t be true. I think instead the actual source of the symptoms people fear are that it is easy to dehumanize someone online. Whether to make them a villain or a hero. Both strip people of their humanity. Of their imperfections, vulnerabilities, and short-comings. It is much easier to look at a few lines of text and see what you need to online. To see a perfect being to worship, or a horrible parable of a person to tear apart. But the reality is that we’re just looking for an ideal to aspire to, or an aggressor to oppress us. We’re looking for what we need or want. And we make paper cut-outs of humans and put them in the place of real people. Much easier to do, when we don’t have to see the impacts of what we do or say first-hand. And we don’t have to deal with the little quirks and mistakes and mannerisms on a regular basis that make them unique personalities.

The internet is amazing because it allows us to humanize people we’d otherwise never know. And it’s terrifying because it lets us dehumanize people with a remarkable amount of ease.

How do we combat the dehumanizing capabilities of this new system? How can we embrace the humanizing potential? And does doing either threaten our survival mechanisms?

10 Comments

Children visit this site. Moderate your language accordingly.

Koruval is interesting. I’m assuming that Zhiro is the one who taught him to respect Timu, yet usually what happens when people meet a member of an outgroup they respect is that they simply create a subgroup for that outgroup instead of changing their views about the outgroup as a whole. Then again, Koruval seems like the kind of guy who would spot the logical fallacy there.

We talked about your questions in a class I just finished. What happens a lot on the internet is that people get into echo chambers–racist and sexist people find those who share their views and don’t move out of those channels. However, the internet allows people to meet those of another group without the signifiers, especially on websites where you don’t have an avatar, and that’s an excellent way to learn about people of different cultures and ethnicities. Nothing is all good or all bad.

I think the secret is that we have to seek out and promote the communities that foster tolerance and understanding and continue working to make the rest of the internet a safe space. If we can make it clear that dehumanization and prejudice are unacceptable in the spaces we occupy, people will change.

One thing I’ve noticed about people attempting to create safe spaces is they tend to build them as “safe FROM THEM.” Meaning that they only support their specific group, while attacking and demonizing outsiders. Tolerance is a two-way street. It means holding mutual respect above all else. Educating, rather than attacking. Accepting differences in opinions, provided that a mutual respect can be achieved.

I see a lot of groups on places like Tumblr give themselves special standards for their behavior and when they cause harm, typically to a majority group, their response is “You’re just too sensitive” and “It was just a harmless joke.” I look at that, and it’s the same excuses that were made to justify the sexist environments I worked in. When a cause begins to use the words of “the enemy” to justify their actions, it makes me wonder who the enemy really is anymore.

Then again, maybe that’s what they need? Maybe the members of those groups have been made to feel so small and marginalized, that in order to feel big they need to marginalize someone else in turn. Perhaps they need that to get the energy to build and grow and have a presence.

Except I’ve been down that road in my own way, and while it feels good at the time, righteous and powerful, it does not lead to becoming bigger. It’s a trap. A part of the cycle that is defined by the Victim-Rescuer-Aggressor triangle. And until a person steps outside of it, they’re only going to go around and around. They will always find themselves victimized, rescuing, and attacking. Even when it’s towards people that could be helpful.

It scares me. The habits these echo chambers let us get into. People seem so threatened by even questions. There should always be a question, but nobody seems interested in asking anymore.

…I’ve clearly been thinking about this topic a lot lately. Sorry to comment-novel you. -_-;

A Naval officer once made the comment:

“We have met the enemy and they are ours”

As turned into a universal truth spoken by Walt Kelly through Pogo that we all must take to heart.

“We have met the enemy and he is us”

Humans are their own worst enemy, and as they progressively consolidate into opinionated knots this reality intensifies.

And humor and satire often are our only defense in poking holes into the inflated egos and self-centered opinions that confer this “enemyhood”. A good example of this is Mark Twain’s “The War Prayer”

I was thinking of that exact quote when I wrote this particular quote. Too often we forget that “the enemy” is as human as we are. One of the things I’m often trying to highlight in my work. Sometimes with more success than others. I wish I was better with humor and satire. Often I think those are better tools to tackle difficult topics than drama.

A very profound author’s note today. I would say I have to agree with your assessment of the matter. Humanizing and dehumanizing are hundreds of times easier on the internet than in person – there are no faces or emotions or vocal inflections to give weight to the words being typed on the screen.

One of the grandest fights I’ve ever had with my other half happened over an EMAIL while we were thousands of miles apart – because there was no weight to the words on the screen and he and I used our imagination to fill in the gaps on what we THOUGHT Was being said/implied.

Even a phone conversation is better for getting true meaning out of a conversation than printed words.

I really like how he is standing up for his belief in this – how his epiphany has put him so far on the other side of his society – and how he is not ashamed of his choice.

Another religious leader in need of a good topping. Death either swiftly or slowly removes bad ideas. One of the reasons for the temper tantrum over Texas and California joining as slave or non-slave states was due to the fact that the land had become so depleted under slave plantations that the only way of maintaining the wealth was to breed and export humans to these new states.

Sometimes the only way for an obstacle to be overcome is in its removal. I like to think that there are other paths where reform can take place, but that is a much slower struggle. And humans rarely have the perspective or the patience for it. If that kind of change happens, it’s usually over generations of a few people trying to make small, conscious efforts to improve, and slowly impacting the culture around them.

I’ve been reading this story for almost half a year now, and I’ve got to say how much I appreciate the weaving of modern day issues into the plotline.

The contrast of Koruval and his friend is just another one of those moments, especially since they have such opposite views of slavery. Seeing Zhiro grow up forced the High Sage to change his standing, whereas the priest probably has friends or families who suffered from the abolishment of slavery, which reinforced his feelings.

Exactly. And in that guess for Otti, you’ve touched on a major backstory element for both him and one of the assassin group, Dr. Milan. After the declaration to end slavery, there was significant upheaval in slave-based provinces. Riots claimed a lot of innocent lives in addition to the not-so-innocent ones. While the Itsuri nation did not have a civil war, there were many isolated uprisings that were put down by Koruval’s forces. Furthermore, many of the wealthiest families fell to financial ruin, and they fell far. These are the experiences that shaped Otti.

Whereas Koruval had an unacknowledged son that challenged all this preconceptions, and made him regret a lot of things. At heart, Koruval has long held beliefs in conflict with his culture. He’s a pacifist in a nation dedicated to religious and forceful purification. And he became an abolitionist in direct conflict with a doctrine that demands subjugation of the “impure” – a category that applied to both the Timu he freed and the Pwama woman he married. His struggle has always been feeling an obligation to uphold the traditions of his family and church, and following his heart. A sentiment that Tama could understand, even thought Koruval’s never had the courage to speak of it. The High Sage feels he’s a failure in his position, and was hoping to raise a son that would correct the “mistakes” he didn’t have the heart to. We can all see how well that worked out.

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