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Katrina Paulson

Katrina Paulson

Katrina Paulson

Katrina Paulson

1 month ago

Dehumanization Against Anthropomorphization

We've fought for humanity's sake. We need equilibrium.

Photo by Bekah Russom on Unsplash

We live in a world of opposites (black/white, up/down, love/hate), thus life is a game of achieving equilibrium. We have a universe of paradoxes within ourselves, not just in physics.

Individually, you balance your intellect and heart, but as a species, we're full of polarities. They might be gentle and compassionate, then ruthless and unsympathetic.

We desire for connection so much that we personify non-human beings and objects while turning to violence and hatred toward others. These contrasts baffle me. Will we find balance?

Anthropomorphization

Assigning human-like features or bonding with objects is common throughout childhood. Cartoons often give non-humans human traits. Adults still anthropomorphize this trait. Researchers agree we start doing it as infants and continue throughout life.

Humans of all ages are good at humanizing stuff. We build emotional attachments to weather events, inanimate objects, animals, plants, and locales. Gods, goddesses, and fictitious figures are anthropomorphized.

Cast Away, starring Tom Hanks, features anthropization. Hanks is left on an island, where he builds an emotional bond with a volleyball he calls Wilson.

We became emotionally invested in Wilson, including myself.

Why do we do it, though?

Our instincts and traits helped us survive and thrive. Our brain is alert to other people's thoughts, feelings, and intentions to assist us to determine who is safe or hazardous. We can think about others and our own mental states, or about thinking. This is the Theory of Mind.

Neurologically, specialists believe the Theory of Mind has to do with our mirror neurons, which exhibit the same activity while executing or witnessing an action.

Mirror neurons may contribute to anthropization, but they're not the only ones. In 2021, Harvard Medical School researchers at MGH and MIT colleagues published a study on the brain's notion of mind.

“Our study provides evidence to support theory of mind by individual neurons. Until now, it wasn’t clear whether or how neurons were able to perform these social cognitive computations.”

Neurons have particular functions, researchers found. Others encode information that differentiates one person's beliefs from another's. Some neurons reflect tale pieces, whereas others aren't directly involved in social reasoning but may multitask contributing factors.

Combining neuronal data gives a precise portrait of another's beliefs and comprehension. The theory of mind describes how we judge and understand each other in our species, and it likely led to anthropomorphism. Neuroscience indicates identical brain regions react to human or non-human behavior, like mirror neurons.

Some academics believe we're wired for connection, which explains why we anthropomorphize. When we're alone, we may anthropomorphize non-humans.

Humanizing non-human entities may make them deserving of moral care, according to another theory. Animamorphizing something makes it responsible for its actions and deserves punishments or rewards. This mental shift is typically apparent in our connections with pets and leads to deanthropomorphization.

Dehumanization

Dehumanizing involves denying someone or anything ethical regard, the opposite of anthropomorphizing.

Dehumanization occurs throughout history. We do it to everything in nature, including ourselves. We experiment on and torture animals. We enslave, hate, and harm other groups of people.

Race, immigrant status, dress choices, sexual orientation, social class, religion, gender, politics, need I go on? Our degrading behavior is promoting fascism and division everywhere.

Dehumanizing someone or anything reduces their agency and value. Many assume they're immune to this feature, but tests disagree.

It's inevitable. Humans are wired to have knee-jerk reactions to differences. We are programmed to dehumanize others, and it's easier than we'd like to admit.

Why do we do it, though?

Dehumanizing others is simpler than humanizing things for several reasons. First, we consider everything unusual as harmful, which has helped our species survive for hundreds of millions of years. Our propensity to be distrustful of others, like our fear of the unknown, promotes an us-vs.-them mentality.

Since WWII, various studies have been done to explain how or why the holocaust happened. How did so many individuals become radicalized to commit such awful actions and feel morally justified? Researchers quickly showed how easily the mind can turn gloomy.

Stanley Milgram's 1960s electroshock experiment highlighted how quickly people bow to authority to injure others. Philip Zimbardo's 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment revealed how power may be abused.

The us-versus-them attitude is natural and even young toddlers act on it. Without a relationship, empathy is more difficult.

It's terrifying how quickly dehumanizing behavior becomes commonplace. The current pandemic is an example. Most countries no longer count deaths. Long Covid is a major issue, with predictions of a handicapped tsunami in the future years. Mostly, we shrug.

In 2020, we panicked. Remember everyone's caution? Now Long Covid is ruining more lives, threatening to disable an insane amount of our population for months or their entire lives.

There's little research. Experts can't even classify or cure it. The people should be outraged, but most have ceased caring. They're over covid.

We're encouraged to find a method to live with a terrible pandemic that will cause years of damage. People aren't worried about infection anymore. They shrug and say, "We'll all get it eventually," then hope they're not one of the 30% who develops Long Covid.

We can correct course before further damage. Because we can recognize our urges and biases, we're not captives to them. We can think critically about our thoughts and behaviors, then attempt to improve. We can recognize our deficiencies and work to attain balance.

Changing perspectives

We're currently attempting to find equilibrium between opposites. It's superficial to defend extremes by stating we're only human or wired this way because both imply we have no control.

Being human involves having self-awareness, and by being careful of our thoughts and acts, we can find balance and recognize opposites' purpose.

Extreme anthropomorphizing and dehumanizing isolate and imperil us. We anthropomorphize because we desire connection and dehumanize because we're terrified, frequently of the connection we crave. Will we find balance?

Katrina Paulson ponders humanity, unanswered questions, and discoveries. Please check out her newsletters, Curious Adventure and Curious Life.