Wednesday, March 08, 2017

The Right/GOP's Psychology of Dehumanization

Throughout history one of the key elements of setting the stage for genocide has been the dehumanization of others.  Once the opponent becomes less than fully human, killing men, women and children becomes far easier on one's conscience - assuming you have one.  We have seen this taken to a high art in Nazi Germany where a campaign of making Jews less than fully human was pressed by the Nazi regime with horrific results.  Often religion has fostered a similar dehumanization and hatred of non-believers or those of differing faiths.  The Crusades are but one example.  The conflict in Northern Ireland where Catholics and Protestants dehumanized each other that costs so many lives is yet another.  But genocide and mass murder are not always the only example.  The Christofascists have sought to dehumanize gays for many decades and have pursued a campaign to depict gays not only as a threat to society and children, but as promiscuous, sex obsessed alcoholics/drug users.  More recently, we saw the Trump/Pence campaign use the dehumanization of others and racism to win the votes of white voters.  That dehumanization effort continues with the efforts to depict Muslims and brown skinned immigrants as a threat and "other."  The recent proposal to separate illegal immigrant mothers from their children is symptomatic.  As a commentator on radio asked, how many white Americans would approve such treatment for themselves and their children.  The answer, of course is none.  But it's just fine for those deemed other and not fully human.  A piece in Vox looks at this dangerous phenomenon that the Trump regime, much to the praise and applauding of most Republicans, is pursuing.  Here are excerpts:
You can think of human psychology as a series of overlapping mental programs. One program identifies faces as individuals we recognize. Another is working memory, which allows us to make quick calculations in our heads. These programs were coded by evolution and help us survive every day; they are the sources of our ingenuity and our compassion. They are everything we are.
These mental programs — etched in all of us — are also the sources of horror and pain.
Nour Kteily is a psychologist at Northwestern University whose research is about understanding one of the darkest, most ancient, and most disturbing mental programs encoded into our minds: dehumanization, the ability to see fellow men and women as less than human.
[T]he prevailing wisdom has been that most people are not willing to admit to having prejudice against others.
Kteily suspected otherwise. And so he and his colleagues created a new way to measure people’s levels of blatant dehumanization of other groups. It’s not subtle.
In Kteily’s studies, participants — typically groups of mostly white Americans — are shown this (scientifically inaccurate) image of a human ancestor slowly learning how to stand on two legs and become fully human. And then they are told to rate members of different groups — such as Muslims, Americans, and Swedes — on how evolved they are on a scale of 0 to 100.
Many people in these studies give members of other groups a perfect score, 100, fully human. But many others give others scores putting them closer to animals.
“We have this incredible capacity for cooperation; it’s what makes us human in many ways,” Kteily says. “And yet we have this capacity for othering.”
And that conclusion is opening a Pandora’s box of revelations about the new wave of intolerance toward Muslims and immigrants in America under President Donald Trump — and what it could bring about.
“Dehumanization doesn’t only occur in wartime,” says Nick Haslam, a psychologist who is the world’s current leading expert on the topic. “It’s happening right here, right now. And every day, good people who don’t see themselves as being prejudiced bigots are nevertheless falling prey to it.”
Often “people’s spontaneous, knee-jerk reactions to other people who are dramatically different from them is negative,” says Susan Fiske, a psychologist at Princeton University and a leading expert on prejudice. This is especially true when we have quick, minimal exposure to them — as we do today via the media. These thin slices activate the us-versus-them conflict encoded in our minds since the dawn of humanity.
Look back at some of the most tragic episodes in human history and you will find words and images that stripped people of their basic human traits. In the Nazi era, the film The Eternal Jew depicted Jews as rats. During the Rwandan genocide, Hutu officials called Tutsis “cockroaches” that needed to be cleared out.
At Stanford, Albert Bandura, showed that when participants overhear an experimenter call another study subject “an animal,” they’re more likely to give that subject a painful shock. If you think of murder and torture as universally taboo, then dehumanization of the “other” is a psychological loophole that can justify them.
From these experiments, and those that followed, it became clear that “it’s extremely easy to turn down someone’s ability to see someone else in their full humanity,” says Adam Waytz, a psychologist at Northwestern University who studies how people think about minds and collaborates with Kteily. Even children as young as 5 years old see the world in terms of us versus them.
What’s shocking about Kteily’s results from the “Ascent of Man” experiment, she says, is that “people are willing to admit that they have relative scales of humanity in their heads.” . . . . With the “Ascent of Man” tool, Kteily and collaborators Emile Bruneau, Adam Waytz, and Sarah Cotterill found that on average, Americans rate other Americans as being highly evolved, with an average score in the 90s. But disturbingly, many also rated Muslims, Mexican immigrants, and Arabs as less evolved.
“We typically see scores that average 75, 76,” for Muslims, Kteily says. “Which I think is a lot on a scale that’s so extreme.” And about a quarter of study participants will rate Muslims on a score of 60 or below.
In the months since Donald Trump was elected president, it’s become shockingly commonplace for Americans to blatantly dehumanize Muslims and Mexican immigrants — and then use violence against them. Hate crimes against Muslims in the US are at their highest levels since 2001. In the 1970s, Bandura predicted that dehumanization leads to increased aggression. Today, Kteily and colleagues find something similar: Willingness to dehumanize on the “Ascent of Man” scale predicts aggressive attitudes toward the Muslim world.
[B]latant dehumanization of Muslims and Mexican immigrants was strongly correlated with Trump support — even when compared with support for other Republican candidates. The data is “consistent with the idea that support for some of the Republican candidates (and Trump in particular) comes not despite their dehumanizing rhetoric but in part because of it,” Kteily and Bruneau conclude in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.
“What we have in this era that’s unique is the legitimizing of those perspectives with laws, with people in [positions] of authority,” she says. “It’s given license and legitimacy to these perspective. they’re not perspectives that people have to hide or sugar coat, or qualify in any way.”
It’s hard to draw a direct line from Trump to these incidents. But it’s plausible that he is emboldening people with these feelings, and helping to change norms around talking about members of other racial and ethnic groups.

Something very ugly and dangerous is happening that must be opposed and stopped.  For now, Muslims and Mexicans are the targets, but Der Trumpenführer will find other targets down the road.  If the First Amendment Defense Act passes, LGBT citizens will be legally lesser under the law and subject to unrestricted discrimination, a first big step in the dehumanization process.  Be very afraid of what Trump and the GOP are unleashing. , 

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