Post No.: 0178
‘Dehumanisation’ is when someone/a group of people is/are intentionally (via propaganda, such as by using debasing labels for people from outgroups) or unintentionally (via unconscious implicit biases) presented as less than human (e.g. more like an object, another animal or an inhumane monster than a sister or mother to at least someone). When a person is deprived of his/her positive human qualities and when his/her individuality is undermined, it makes them easier to neglect, abuse or ultimately kill – it’s like it’s far easier to smash a coffee table into pieces than a human who’s considered human, or indeed for many people it’s easier to eat a chicken formed as a breaded nugget shape than one presented with its face or one that was personally named before slaughter. We feel less empathy with people who’ve been dehumanised, and conversely can feel raised empathy with objects we’ve humanised or personified (e.g. cute robots, cuddly toys or animated characters).
Dehumanising the opposition/enemy is a very common, probably intuitive, strategy that’s done during conflicts e.g. one side calling the other ‘insurgents’, ‘infidels’, ‘barbarians’ or ‘animals’ (well even the names given to other animals affects how the public perceives them e.g. killer whales versus orcas, or indeed cow meat versus beef). ‘Disgusting’ has invariably been a dehumanising adjective used to elicit hatred towards outgroups and to justify genocides. Love and disgust are arguably antonyms, and so love can conquer disgust.
It’s very difficult for a non-psychopath to kill someone who is considered a husband or brother to someone, but enough people can be made to behave essentially like psychopaths if they’re made to believe that whom they’re harming is more subhuman, just a number, an object or a mere bunch of pixels on a screen.
Sustained killing is also actually easier to do when one is not overly aroused and emotional but rather ‘cold-blooded’ – and through enough training – perceiving people as more like tin cans or bottles lined up along a wall, rather than as individuals with families, backgrounds and feelings, can facilitate this. But a risk of dehumanising adversaries to make them seem subhuman and thus easier to hurt is that one may start dehumanising everybody (e.g. when soldiers return home from service), and this presents a cost to their own families, communities, as well as to their own mental self in the long-term.
Another approach to justify the killing of other humans is simply by rationalising that it’s to protect one’s family, homeland or oneself (thus one is not considered to be a murderer but a ‘hero’ or ‘saviour’). But being self-righteous about killing for any reason presents dangerous attitudes towards foreign policies and ingroup superiority biases, and prevents or stalls the search for better or smarter solutions.
Calling other groups ‘evil’ works to stoke up ingroup support against an outgroup – but understand that these other groups will use the exact same language against your side too. Basically, calling other groups ‘evil’ is the language of hatred and war, and doesn’t solve the problem but instead inflames further hate and violence. It certainly won’t solve a problem of a difference of ideologies or terrorism, which cannot be defeated by military force (alone). We can call certain acts evil, but it doesn’t help to label certain people evil because then we’ve already considered them as irredeemable. It also implies that we’ve made up our minds already and pigeonholed our options to getting rid of them somehow rather than accepting any peaceful compromise or coexistence with them, which sounds like an evil act itself(!) So maybe those who call other people evil (away from maybe a regretted heat-of-the-moment outburst) are the ones to most watch out for when it comes to doing evil. Dehumanising fellow humans is a frequent precursor to large-scale atrocities.
‘Road rage’ is partly about dehumanising other road users too (seeing e.g. cars, buses or bicycles and not e.g. wives, cousins or sons). It’s also about feeling protected and powerful in a large metal machine (thus raising the false bravery that one can intimidate others more with fewer repercussions to oneself), naïve and biased expectations and perceptions (that other road users can mind-read us in expressionless cars, and naturally one person’s ‘ample gap’ is another person’s ‘narrow miss’, and of course many critics of other people’s road craft are blind to their own hypocrisies too), and fast-shifting and sudden invasions of one’s perceived private spaces (cars are fast and indeed dangerous, and danger raises emotions).
Most of all, road rage is more common amongst those who simply find driving stressful, scary or a situation where they feel they lack the control they’d like; resulting in them feeling on edge or threatened all the time when they drive. At the root of all aggression is after all fear. And once someone enters a ‘fight or flight’ state, they’ll not be in any mental frame to be reasonable or rational anymore until they calm down; but this may come too late and they’ll say or do something they’ll later regret, either inside or outside of their vehicle (some will even follow others to their destination in order to confront them).
Some drivers are already angry before they take to the wheel, possibly because of some stress elsewhere and they’re essentially itching to find anyone to displace their aggression onto. Self-reports of sources of blame include backseat drivers, disobedient children, passengers who talk too much, traffic jams, endless roadwork, parking issues, tailgaters and being overtaken. But it’s naïve to complain that other road users are in your way when you’re in a rush – you’re in the way of other road users too(!) And our perception of time distorts when we’re in a rush, or in a ‘fight-or-flight’ state, so it may seem like other road users are suddenly going too slow but they’re not. Well the pattern is that it’s always other people’s fault(!) It’s never because one is late because of leaving the house too late, or failing to plan the journey and getting lost, for instance.
The best drivers are calm drivers and also don’t feel the need to have an unnecessarily large vehicle to feel safe and in command of their space on the road. They can brush any minor moment or non-incident off without a fuss, and any commentary is constructive rather than aggressive and is directed at the right person. Also, a person who seems to attract a lot of incidents or near-incidents might be someone who simply uses the roads a lot – and/or is someone who fails to predict such incidents very well in order to avoid them i.e. if you’re someone who constantly complains about other road users, the frequently reoccurring link is statistically you, so maybe the problem is statistically likely to be you?!
Some commit road rage as a form of ‘altruistic punishment’. The chasing, recording on video, stress, putting oneself in greater danger or otherwise expending one’s own time and energy to punish an errant road user – despite a near but non-incident and there being rationally no material gain for oneself even if one wins the argument – is a behaviour they believe will benefit all road users in the community because it enforces standards. It’s altruistic because it’s at one’s own cost to the benefit of others. But they may be forgetting that there are already police to enforce such standards, and two wrongs don’t make a right.
So it still stands – a competent and confident person is manifestly calm and unfazed. It’s just like a capable chef wouldn’t stress about cooking a dinner for ten, whilst an unconfident novice might fret at the slightest thing that goes wrong or thinks will go wrong i.e. their reaction speaks about them more than where they direct their reactions or blames. Generally, the most judgementally quarrelsome drivers are the worst drivers themselves – they’re already aggressive and defensive. And passengers who flinch in expectation of an accident, just because a driver simply sets off, either have a fear of not being in control or they think they’re the best drivers in the world and everyone else is inadequate to drive for them i.e. unless an accident does happen, their imagined fears speak about themselves. Our imagined fears are often worse than the reality.
‘Online disinhibition’ is also related to the dehumanising nature of some technologies. This is when we say things online that we’d never say to someone face-to-face. It typically involves anonymity (which means that one’s identifiable social reputation isn’t at risk for one’s antisocial behaviours), a lack of empathy (i.e. dehumanising others when we don’t consider that behind the usernames and avatars are real humans with feelings), and not interacting with people in real-time (which means that we don’t receive immediate feedback from the other party for the things we say in order to use that information to regulate our behaviours). Emotions and empathy decrease the more people are presented in abstract and distant (dehumanising) ways. And that’s why it’s better for meaningful relationships to involve seeing people’s faces or at least hearing their voices in real-time. Woof.
So both road rage and Internet trolling occur partly because people find it far more difficult to empathise with other people if they cannot see their faces or even hear their voices. People sometimes even forget that there are humans with names and families in those other vehicles or behind those online profiles. The overwhelming majority of human evolution so far didn’t involve vehicles or remote communication but face-to-face interactions, and it shows. Also, when people feel anonymous and perceive being protected/invincible from any physical danger or negative repercussions to themselves behind a big metal machine or fake or hidden profile – that’s when people can be most rude or destructive, even directly towards other humans rather than their vehicles or profiles. Everyone’s a ‘tough guy’ when they’re wearing body armour, are protected inside a metal cage, are a thousand miles away from being physically hurt, or are within the safety of a crowd or mob! (Read Post No.: 0150 too, which talks about deindividuation and anonymity.)
Some of the worst verbal and mental abuse is expressed via trolling on social media. Perpetrators may try to rationalise their behaviours as ‘just banter’ or they ‘didn’t expect it to get noticed’ but they are precisely trying to get a reaction and they are just trying to put other people down because they cannot lift themselves up (like regular offline bullies). They feel that it’s a form of gaining power over their victims, but they do so in the most cowardly way possible because they know they cannot get immediately hit in the face for the things they post! (Not that I’ll ever condone that kind of response! The right response is to flag and report the abuse, to block the offender then to not entertain them anymore – you’ve got more important things to do in your life and more important people to reward and spend your time with, even if they want to spend their precious time on you; which you can somewhat take as a compliment!)
Maybe technologies need to embrace more ‘humanisation’ to counteract their natural dehumanising tendencies. For example, the idea has been considered by manufacturers before but maybe cars that express emotions like ‘sorry mate’ would dampen down a lot of road rage incidents where road users are genuinely remorseful but cannot easily express themselves to others? This is recommended for driverless cars in my opinion, although I guess driverless cars won’t suffer from road rage unless programmed to for some reason(!)
Whatever the case, it always helps to remember that behind every vehicle or username, in front of every scope or video camera, or whatever – there’s likely to be a real human individual, with a family, background and feelings. And this strongly arguably should apply to caring about other animals too even though they’re not human animals!