Humanity and Inhumanity

For the last 26 weeks, I have been working my way through the alphabet one letter at a time. It was not until I went to sit down and write again this week that I realized there are no letters after Z. Blogging my way through the alphabet had been challenging in some ways, especially towards the end of the alphabet, however, since being done I realized I had become conditioned to focusing on words associated with letters. This week, I moved back to the thoughts that have been floating around in my brain.

As I was working on my piece on humanity for this month’s newsletter, I found myself frustrated because I wanted to talk about some of that which has contributed to the inhumanity in the world. Over the next few weeks, I am going to continue to reflect on humanity and inhumanity and ask we each reflect on how we can be more humane in our lives with regard to the issues raised. Capitalism appears to be one of those factors. As Johnson pointed out:

The dynamics of capitalism produce not only enormous amounts of wealth, but high-and increasing-levels of inequality, both within societies and globally. The richest 10 percent of the U.S. population holds more then two-thirds of all the wealth, more than 90 percent of business assets, and almost all the stocks and bonds. In 1998, the richest top 20 percent of all households received almost half of all the income, and the richest 40 percent received almost three-quarters, leaving just a quarter of all income to be divided among the remaining 60 percent of all households.[1]

Inadvertently, those who are part of the 60% find themselves pitted against each other for control of 25% of the remaining income in the world. It is out of this sense of desperation that people find themselves falling into patterns of behavior that contribute to the inhumanity of others. One can see how this comes to be in daily life, by watching the ways that people’s behaviors change when playing the game Monopoly. 

Capitalism and class differentials are not the only factors that contribute to inhumanity. The social categories that we are placed in also contribute to our inhumanity. Note, I have said placed in, for often how we identify differs from how others identify us. The categories we are placed in contribute to the extent to which our humanity is valued or devalued. For example, a female acquaintance of mine has a rather masculine physique, appearance, and behaviors. Because of this, people often perceive her as being a lesbian, despite the fact she identifies as heterosexual. The way they treat her is altered because of the social category they place her in.

Those social categories, which are viewed as of greater value in society, are granted privileges those who are not viewed as being members of those categories are denied. Thus, there is a paradoxical relationship between privilege and oppression. The privileges granted to the members of one category come at the cost of the oppression of others. However, all too often, those who are in positions of privilege do not even realize that their perception of reality is not the same for everyone else. The insidious thing about privilege is that all too often those who have it do not even realize that they are privileged. A colleague of mine, Dr. Michael Kimmel, tells the story of being at a party in the 1980’s. One Euro-American woman was arguing that all women were equally oppressed. One African-American woman argued this was not true. She asked the Euro-American woman what she saw when she looked in the mirror in the morning. She replied that she saw a woman. The African American woman explained that was the difference, she saw a Black woman. The Euro-American women never had to think about her racial identity, the African American woman never had the privilege of not being able to think about it.

            How do we use our status in the world to create a more humane world? How do we, consciously or unconsciously, contribute to the inhumanity in the world? How do we try to avoid and deny responsibility for our place in creating a more humane world for all of humanity?  This is just something for us to think about and reflect on until next week, and perhaps beyond.

[1] Allan G. Johnson, Power, Privilege and Difference, 1st edition, 45