I’ve been seeing an argument floating around lately that hasn’t made much sense to me. I mean, that’s not anything new, but whatever. I digress. The center of the argument is usually something like “You shouldn’t humanize that person” or “Humanizing Donald Trump is harmful.” This isn’t a political post, but I see this argument most often made when someone is talking about Donald Trump, so he shall be used as an exemplar.
More specifically, I’ll use this interview with Donald Trump and Jimmy Fallon. After messing with Donald Trump’s hair, Fallon received backlash. He later apologized, saying “I didn’t do it to humanize him.” This isn’t the first time I’ve seen the dehumanization of a human perceived as a good thing. In fact, I see it all over, particularly on the internet. It seems to be a side effect of the increasingly popular wish to categorize people as either entirely good or entirely evil.
In my opinion, it’s a line of thinking that is entirely ignorant of humanity and is incredibly dangerous. When we dehumanize a human being, we fail to understand what humanity is at all. In turn, we fail to understand ourselves. From this point, it would be miraculous if we understood anything at all.
It’s entirely acceptable to not like someone. It’s even acceptable to hate someone. I mean, some people really suck. But not matter what you think of someone, you can’t deny they’re a human being, and you can’t deny that you’re a human being. And whether you like it or not, you have that in common. If someone who is the same mold of species as you can become what you perceive as entirely evil, it means you can, too. I believe that to not come to terms with this is dangerous beyond belief.
If you perceive yourself as good and the opposition as evil, it allows you to act in an evil manner without even recognizing it. You get to believe that since you’re not like the person you perceive as evil, that makes you good; and no matter what you do, you’ll never be like them, so you can act however you wish, entirely oblivious to anything you’re actually doing or saying.
This line of thinking is only exaggerated on social media, where people are dehumanized by the very essence of the internet itself. On the internet, we talk to other people, but act like we’re talking to the internet. There’s a human being on the other end, but we aren’t interacting with them directly. There’s no face, no person in front of us, nothing that tells our brain we’re actually talking to another human being. There are only words, appearing on the internet.
These words usually come from somebody we don’t know. Someone whose family, whose background, whose character, and whose life is completely unknown to us. So, we act as if none of it exists. We act as if, usually due to a disagreement in opinion, that whatever is on the other side of those words is not a human, but a dissent. A dissent from whatever we are. And if we believe ourselves to be good, we fall into the trap of believing we’re interacting with evil.
When we fall into this trap, we distance ourselves from each other more and more, believing there to be more that separates us than their actually is. By failing to acknowledge somebody as human, we stop listening, and we stop interacting. We think we’re interacting, but we’re not. Finding someone’s words on the internet, telling them they’re stupid, and then obnoxiously rambling on about your own views is not interacting. The words are flying around, and none of them are connecting. They’re just getting launched back and forth, constantly flying over the other person’s head. There is no interaction, only directional flinging.
In order to have a legitimate interaction, we have to accept that we’re talking to another human. We have to accept that even if we disagree with everything someone says or believes in, they’re still a human. Just like me and just like you. Which means they are flawed, right, wrong, good, evil, confused, confident, and so on. It also means they can change. I’ve changed. You’ve changed. Hopefully. But in order to change, and in order to change someone’s mind, it’s essential that we treat them as our equal. Equally human, equally complicated, equally capable of both good and evil.
I read a story recently about Darryl Davis, an African-American blues musician who “has convinced over 200 KKK members to give up their robes.” How did he do it? How did a black man get over 200 KKK members to give up on their evil ideology? By connecting with them. He bonded with them over things like music and had real conversations with them. He listened and he acknowledged them as people, not as evil. And guess what? They ended up doing the same.