The Dehumanization of Humankind
We are in the throes of a pandemic — a pandemic of global dehumanization. A snapshot of what is happening — and how to re-humanize ourselves.
The Modern World: Endless Dehumanization
In our world, we are often encouraged — and sometimes, forced — to awkwardly and painfully contort ourselves into an unnatural, uncomfortable position for the duration of our lives — to succeed, fit in, or, sadly, just to survive.
The world has, perhaps, never been so utterly dehumanizing and disconnected, as we become more separated from one another and increasingly dependent on technology and authorities, and allow them more control over our lives and our choices.
We might even defend their level of control — and start policing or shaming others who do not obey. While we might not be killing one another in the streets, the violence caused by dehumanization is no less rampant and no less destructive.
It might even be more so because it’s so insidious we have a difficult time perceiving it. And what cannot be acknowledged cannot be changed.
We might ask ourselves who these systems were created for, and ultimately, whether they value human life at all. Looking at many of the large bureaucracies that run our world — big business, big government, big tech, big media, big pharma, one would be extremely naive to think that any of these systems ultimately values human life over capital.
Anyone who has been on the bad side of any of these systems knows how terrifyingly dehumanizing these institutions are. Anyone living in so-called developing countries sees another side of this coin, entirely. A side many of us living in wealthier places would shudder to perceive.
Many platforms, such as social media, cater to our lowest common denominator — a dopamine hit when someone likes your post — creating an addictive spiral that makes us easier to control.
Addicts are some of the best repeat customers, and if you can inspire addiction in someone, you might have a client for life. Addiction and competition motivate much of human behavior nowadays, particularly in the commercial sphere.
Mental Illness as a Result of Widespread Dehumanization
The devaluation of human life has created a situation where mental illness is rampant, where life has become increasingly Sisyphean for the average person, and where we are trapped in an ugly cycle — that at the same time, we hegemonically buy into. Worse, we blame ourselves for the challenges in our lives, without seeing the larger picture and the different pieces at play.
Although there are certainly many things we are responsible for, the widespread valuation of money over human life affects us all deeply, and it’s a factor over which we have limited control.
Ultimately, when we blame ourselves, it’s a huge boon for those pulling the strings — it means their motives are hidden in plain sight, and that they can abdicate any responsibility for creating the most merciless scam in history.
Dehumanization may have started at the top, within large bureaucracies and systems, but it has “trickled down” to impacting how we experience, and treat, one another.
For example, ultimately there aren’t significant differences between individuals of different political parties — we all basically have the same human needs and desires — but it becomes very easy to dehumanize someone when their ideological differences are vastly removed from our own.
And often we forget that people who work for us are human, treating our mechanics, our bank tellers, and our grocery cashiers like another cog in the machine as if they exist only to serve us.
Because so many of us have been living within these confines for the duration of our lives, and because there is a somewhat illusory notion of progress being sold to us — we might not see the forest for the trees.
We have all been indoctrinated — through school, social conditioning, advertising — to believe that these big, bad guys, the Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos of the world — are the good guys.
We might believe that the level of control and dehumanization is “for our own good” and even — that it’s progressive.
We might start to question our own sovereignty, and believe we don’t know what’s best for ourselves. Mistrust of our own lived-in truth, and replacing it with what someone else — an authority — is telling us, might just be the pinnacle of our subjugation.
Fighting this tide of dehumanization doesn’t work, because in fighting anything, we only add to its power. But there are ways we can — and we must — re-humanize ourselves and rebuild a world that ultimately values human life over making a profit.
If not, we face dire consequences: further disconnection from ourselves, increased mental illness and suicide, increased nationalism and authoritarianism regimes worldwide, lack of intimacy and close relationships, increased suspicion, mistrust, and surveillance.
In short, we will become more and more disconnected from the most valuable things in life. That’s not a world I want to live in. Do you?
How We Can Re-humanize Ourselves
- Recognize Your Own Humanity:
You are not a worker — you are a work of art. You are not a machine — you are living, breathing poetry. In a capitalist society, it might be easy to see ourselves as valuable only if we are productive members of society. We might define our worth only on subjective measures of success, on “how far we have come”, or how much we have.
We deny our own humanity when we see ourselves only through the eyes of what we can produce, achieve, and buy. We make ourselves into slaves and consumers — when what we are is so much more than that, and our lives are worth so much more than what we can produce or consume.
Remember your own value, extant regardless of your accomplishments or lack thereof. The belief we have to accomplish or be something to be valuable is ultimately dehumanizing — and based on a capitalistic notion of profit at all costs.
You are valuable just because you exist. Whatever you choose to accomplish beyond that is up to you — and it doesn’t reflect your intrinsic value. Take back your humanity, and your self-worth. Cherish it. It’s never belonged to anyone else, anyways.
2. Bring Awareness to the Pandemic of Dehumanization:
Both internally and externally, we need to become aware of what is happening. We need to speak up when large systems are dehumanizing us or others — and we need to become aware of it in ourselves — when we treat ourselves or others like machines when we accept the valuation of money or power over human life as “just the way things are.”
Things like systemic racism allow dehumanization and human rights atrocities on a grand scale. Much of what the world’s large bureaucracies are doing is not well hidden, because most people do not question them or their efficacy. It’s not difficult to see what is happening, once you let go of your own denial.
Start doing your own research. Look at, for example, all of the companies that are profiting off of the COVID pandemic, and how many small businesses are going bankrupt.
These are all measures to dehumanize and control us — so a few at the top can profit. There is simply no way to sugar-coat this. Become aware of these factors — and realize these systems are not there to help us.
The pandemic of dehumanization is not just causing people to feel disconnected — it’s causing a widespread loss of human life worldwide. The apathy we might feel about this fact is also a result of our dehumanization. And we need to recognize this — and change it and speak out as much as possible. It’s time for true progress.
3. Cultivate Spirituality:
What makes us human? While that is a difficult question to answer, I would say that at our core, humans are spiritual beings. We hunger for truth, beauty, and meaning. We are driven, ultimately, by love and connection. All of these are spiritual, not material, values.
Cultivate spirituality — which I would define as a connection to something greater than yourself, where you find a deeper meaning and purpose — whether it’s a relationship with another human being or an animal, a connection with nature, or in a church or meditation group.
Through that type of connection, we expand and deepen. We become more human. We can find meaning and purpose and sanity in our spirituality — that we will not find in the competition and superficiality of the mundane, capitalistic world.
4. Find Value in ALL People — Not Just Friends and Family:
To re-humanize ourselves, we need to get beyond tribalist notions that the only people who matter are those close to us, with whom we share emotional bonds. When we can value the humanity in the President as much as we can the laborer who picks our lettuce — we start to truly see the common bond that connects us all.
If we only empathize with those who have the same skin color we do, those who follow the same politicians that we do, those who make a similar amount of money as we do — we are contributing to the problem. We don’t have to agree with everyone or condone their actions — but seeing their humanity and their vulnerability goes a long way in creating connections instead of disconnection.
Make an effort to talk to people who work in jobs where the dehumanization factor is high — bank tellers, cashiers, delivery drivers, maids, bussers. Make eye contact, and try to create a connection that goes beyond the mechanized aspects of the interaction. I have done this and had cashiers thank me, profusely, for being so nice to them — which was a bit unnerving because I really wasn’t going out of my way much.
It just shows how hungry we all are for simple acts of kindness and authenticity. These kinds of small social interactions go a long way — particularly in these times of COVID and quarantine.
5. Put People First As Much As Possible
Because we have all been so indoctrinated by a system that causes us to devalue both our own and other’s humanity, we might be in the habit of not considering other people as we go about our lives.
Capitalism, technology, and the survivalist mentality many of us are in much of the time might automatically mean that we make decisions to put money or power before human life — the crux, as I see it, of much of this problem.
If you’re a landlord, think about how you can make life better for your tenants — instead of just seeing them as a paycheck.
If you are a tenant, think about the personal investment that your landlord made in your home and respect the space accordingly. See your boss as a human being, doing the best she or he can. If you have employees, how can you treat them like humans, instead of merely as workers?
When we come from a place of empathy, the illness of dehumanization can no longer spread. Perhaps, these suggestions seem obvious or simple. But maybe we need the extra prompt to stop and consider our fellow men.
During these times of COVID, we might have subtly started seeing other people as threats, or as vectors of disease. We might cringe when another person gets too close to us, when they aren’t wearing a mask, or when we see them sneeze.
We need to remember that although we might have to take precautions, we don’t need to live our lives in fear or suspicion of everyone around us. In fact, going out of our way to connect with others is exactly what EVERYONE needs right now.
5. Create New Systems that Empower Humanity:
All of the current systems in the world are there, in part, because we have created them, or at least allowed them to exist. If you could create a new system, what would it look like? How would people be treated? What would you value? We’ve all probably been told that this type of thinking is too idealistic, naive, or simply not possible — I know I have. Maybe we’ve all been convinced that many things are not realistic because we “need to be practical and value money” — which is ridiculous because money has no value other than the value we give it. In other words, we are creators, living in a created world — not victims.
When we believe that we can’t change the world — we know for certain that nothing will ever change. Every corrupt system in this world exists because somebody created it — and they are no more powerful than you or I. They simply had a vision and the means to create it.
We can create new systems that value human life, uplift us, and connect us. It’s essential for the future of humanity that we do so. And it might even be — dare I say — fun!
The widespread pandemic of dehumanization is threatening our sanity, our relationships, and even our lives. But when we reclaim our own sovereignty, we can realize the truth that has always been deeply embedded in the human experience: nothing can ultimately take beauty, poetry, meaning, or love away from us. We are — at our core — beings full of joy, full of life, full of poetry, promise, spirituality, sovereignty, emotion, connection, and meaning.
We were never meant to be machines, automatons, or addicts, ruled by corrupt structures and power-hungry zealots who claim to be helping us.
Let’s wake up, together, and create a world that supports our shared humanity —that truly supports all of us — for ourselves and the next generations. We might not know where to begin, or how to do it, and that’s ok.
Perhaps now we can just allow for the possibility of a different world taking shape, for a letting go of the old paradigm.
But in my heart of hearts, I believe that so much beauty is possible, and now is only the beginning.