Less Than Human: Why We Demean, Enslave, and Exterminate Others

Less Than Human: Why We Demean, Enslave, and Exterminate Others

David Livingstone Smith

Language: English

Pages: 336

ISBN: 1250003830

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

Winner of the 2012 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Nonfiction

A revelatory look at why we dehumanize each other, with stunning examples from world history as well as today's headlines

"Brute." "Cockroach." "Lice." "Vermin." People often regard members of their own kind as less than human, and use terms like these for those whom they wish to harm, enslave, or exterminate. Dehumanization has made atrocities like the Holocaust, the genocide in Rwanda, and the slave trade possible. But it isn't just a relic of the past. We still find it in war, genocide, xenophobia, and racism. Smith shows that it is a dangerous mistake to think of dehumanization as the exclusive preserve of Nazis, communists, terrorists, Jews, Palestinians, or any other monster of the moment. We are all potential dehumanizers, just as we are all potential objects of dehumanization. The problem of dehumanization is everyone's problem.

Less Than Human is the first book to illuminate precisely how and why we sometimes think of others as subhuman creatures. It draws on a rich mix of history, evolutionary psychology, biology, anthropology, and philosophy to document the pervasiveness of dehumanization, describe its forms, and explain why we so often resort to it. Less Than Human is a powerful and highly original study of the roots of human violence and bigotry, and it as timely as it is relevant.



















contains a number of disparaging references to dogs. For example, Paul warns the Christian community in Philippi to “watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh.” Dehumanized people are often seen as dangerous, unclean animals: creatures like rats, worms, lice, maggots, dogs, and bacilli. They evoke a feeling of horror (disgust mixed with fear), and arouse the urge to exterminate the offending creature. This form of dehumanization is often specifically linked

flourish unfettered by moral inhibitions or restraints.7 A seventh-century poem by Semonides of Amorgos explicitly describes women as subhuman creatures. The poem presents a taxonomy of ten kinds of women, each of which is made from a different kind of animal. “In the beginning,” Semonides wrote, “the god made the female mind separately.” One he made from a long-bristled sow. In her house, everything lies in disorder, smeared with mud and rolls about the floor; and she herself unwashed, in

David—yellow to symbolize Judas Iscariot’s betrayal of Jesus for gold (oddly, in light of the fact that Judas was supposed to have betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver).42 After their invasion of Poland in 1939, the Nazis revived this practice, compelling Jews to sew a yellow Star of David inscribed with the word “Jude” (“Jew”) on their clothing. Hitler’s Germany provides an exceptionally clear illustration of the ritualistic paraphernalia of social exclusion. As Duke University historian

very Duskie and Brown.” Are they to be considered brutes rather than men?39 Godwyn drove his point home by arguing that the slaveholders’ own practices tacitly acknowledged the human stature of black people. He noted that some slaves were placed in positions of considerable responsibility (for instance, as overseers of other slaves), but “it would certainly be a pretty kind of Comical Frenzie to employ cattel about business, and to constitute them Lieutenants, Overseers, and Governours,” and

clothes, and he responded by threatening them with a knife. He was promptly transferred to the Howard Colored Orphan Asylum. Ota Benga declined Verner’s offer to return him to Africa because, despite his bad experiences in New York, they were nowhere near as bad as the horrors unfolding in his homeland. After a sexual scandal involving a teenage girl, he was transferred to Long Island, and eventually to Lynchburg, Virginia, where he attended Lynchburg Seminary and was employed in a tobacco

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