re-discovering the human

18 09 2012

We know what it is to dehumanise. When we remove that essential characteristic we can never quite define that makes us… human. Conscience. Love. Altruism. Lateral thinking. Sudoku. Jeremy Kyle.

We know baddies do it to their victims to make their crimes easier to commit. The lynch mob also do it to their victims to make them easier to attack. The media do it to anyone ‘other’, especially Muslims, young people, the unemployed or worse of all: a young, unemployed Muslim. We all do it to any group we look down on or despise and call ‘them’ rather than ‘us’. 

It happens increasingly in politics. In Mitt Romney‘s secretly filmed talk he describes 47% of the country he wants to represent as

[they] are dependent upon government, [they] believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it… And so my job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.

That’s an extreme (and American) example, but I don’t think Cameron and the Coalition think much differently about the UK. Young people are called NEETs, everybody has to ‘get back to work’, whether or not they are ill or disabled. The government support ‘hard-working families’, so presumably not those who are not in families, or don’t particularly want to work hard. Those who don’t work (or can’t work) are demonised and stigmatised, and it is a desperate situation when 40% of appeals against an ATOS declaration of being ‘fit to work’ are upheld. Nearly half! These are people’s lives we are messing with, not just numbers we need off the welfare books. We need to do better than basically flip a coin when deciding someone’s fitness to work.    

The God of the Age who must be appeased at all costs is called Economy, who feeds on markets (except when they go wrong); when in reality there is no such thing as an economy as a distinct entity, only humans relating to other by relational transactions. Humans! People! 

In politics and economics and media and religion and in fact everywhere we need to rediscover the human. We need to rediscover the wonder that is the individual, and the unpredictability that is community, which cannot be prescribed by formulas or dictated by markets because actually we think for ourselves. 

We are all humans who are in this together and it is so easy to set ourselves above another group, which is the beginning of dehumanising. Carl Medearis set a great challenge in the Huffington Post this week when talking about ways we can genuinely make a difference to global politics especially with regard to the fear of ‘other’, the dehumanising of opposing groups:

Make a commitment to yourself, your family, your closest work colleagues and friends NOT to pass on emails, videos, blogs and films that make you afraid or angry. If you watch or read something and you have one of those emotions (fear or anger) simply delete it. Surprisingly, this may be the most difficult thing for you to commit to. It’s fun to spread fear, anger, suspicion and lies. It’s the age-old art of gossip and it’s enjoyable. But don’t. Commit to not doing that even if you think it might be true. All truth isn’t helpful all the time — and now is the time to be wise in what we say, watch and read.

Could we do that? Could we be different even on our own tiny levels as we relate to friends, family, on Facebook and Twitter and anywhere else? If we want it on a large scale we must do it on a small scale. 

It’s all about rediscovering the human in the world, re-humanising what so easily becomes dehumanised, whether it’s Muslims or paedophiles or Chelsea fans or Eton old-boys in the cabinet.

If only we had a story in which God did that. 

Photograph: Philip Kirk/Demotix/Corbis


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