Rambling about “dehumanization”

Why aren’t there any good ways to talk about it? You can use big academic words like the above, like “dehumanization” and “denying agency” and (I think this belongs here?) “abject identity”, that place it in an abstract kind of understanding rather than a personal one. Or you can use everyday words that totally fall short of expressing how serious it is.

Sci-fi/fantasy roots make me reluctant to go along with what happens connotatively, which is that “being human”/”humanity” is what connotes to people the sense of being recognized as a real person, with agency, deserving of respect. We have this lovely word, “person”. Which ought to mean that without technically meaning something genetic. But it only gets used in totally ordinary ways, it doesn’t have that connotative weight. The only people who use it for that oomph of “recognize and respect” are pro-lifers talking about “fetal personhood”, because in that context the denotative meaning of “human” would make it sound tautological.

And when I go at it from the angle of trying to describe the actual thing that happens– like I did in my explanation up there– I hit the same problem. The words that ought to technically mean what I’m talking about, like “respect”, have been used so much as buzzwords that they don’t really leave an impression. They go in one ear and out the other and make you think of your grandfather or your gym teacher, going on about something that may have just amounted to “follow the rules”.

I haven’t been able to come up with anything that conveys… the serious definition of “respect”, I guess? without resorting to religious language, like recognizing God in other people, or everyone having equally precious and immortal souls.

 

And the opposite is equally hard to describe. In my last post (and in a lot of others) I ended up settling on “wrong” for when someone’s personhood/humanity/etc gets dismissed, because it’s simple and I think it has some of that connotative weight. “That’s just wrong” is something you can imagine people saying with the right kind of emphasis.

 

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