Dehumanisation – the perception of other people as less than human – is a psychological process that has accompanied some of the worst atrocities in human history. A growing body of scientific knowledge is uncovering and revealing the psychological processes and brain mechanisms that shape violent human behavior. In the near future, this knowledge will allow us to develop tools and frameworks to mitigate and prevent mass atrocities, address systemic discrimination, and reduce violent conflict.
We do not have to look far to see dehumanisation occur. We see it expressed in the statements of political leaders, reflected in public discourse, and embedded within certain ideologies and views.
The most common explanation of the relationship between dehumanisation and group-targeted harm is that dehumanisation promotes moral disengagement, removing an individual or group from the realm of moral concern. Moral disengagement is presumed to then enable perpetrators to justify the harm they inflict upon other humans by removing the moral concern that would normally inhibit harmful behaviors like killing, discriminating, or torturing others based on their group identity.
The focus here is on ordinary perpetrators, and the underlying brutal question is this: how can ordinary people do such horrible things?
Other research has also indicated that dehumanization is particularly associated with instrumental violence – violence that is morally objectionable but desirable for instrumental reasons.
There are two other important explanations of the relationship between dehumanisation and group-targeted harm that warrant attention. The first has to do with elite threat perception – the conscious or unconscious estimation of political, military, or economic decision-makers that a group is dangerous. The literature on mass atrocities demonstrates that elite threat perception, which is shaped by the worldview and ideology of political, military, economic, and media elites – is a strong predictor of mass atrocities.
Elite conceptions of threat are often imbued with dehumanising ideas, like worldviews that prioritize notions of group purity, which can lead to violence through explicit policies or implicit directives.
Some observers argue that political elites do not necessarily believe dehumanizing ideologies, but rather are rational, strategic actors who make use of dehumanisng propaganda to legitimise atrocities or discriminatory acts in order to preserve their power or advance their interests.
In other words, dehumanisation, in the form of dangerous speech, is a tool at the hands of strategic manipulators, and is used to mobilize groups of people against another group of people by describing them as threatening, often in dehumanizing ways, in ways that serve cynical self-interest. Either way, the mechanism and result are the same – elites use dehumanizing rhetoric to describe threatening outgroups in order to mobilize their communities.
The second potential pathway between dehumanisation and group-targeted harm has to do with the persistence of dehumanisng stereotypes and associations in the absence of mass violence. Dehumanisation may be embedded within the institutions of society. In other words, dehumani(ing ideas and rhetoric do not have to be active and acute to be harmful. Rather, many societies exhibit chronic forms of dehumanisation, by which certain groups are subjected to permanent less than human status.
For instance, the Roma in various European countries are discriminated against in nearly all sectors of society. The levels of dehumanisation are persistent and pervasive across Europe, despite massive resources invested in Roma integration. As dehumanising ideas become embedded within the institutions and structures of a society, group-targeted harm can become pervasive. This has to do with the power of institutions to shape the mindsets of individuals, even after particular institutions fade away.
The prototypical example is the lingering effects of the United States’ constitution’s three-fifths compromise, which characterided African-American slaves as less than fully human. To this day, a history of slavery and lynching in certain US counties in the South predicts voting behavior better than most other factors.
Research has also shown how the implicit residue of the historical representation of African-Americans as ape-like is still associated with racist outcomes in the present day.
Now my next few lines are not for the faint hearted and it’s not meant to be politically correct. This is research driven, and facts pushed. I am saying a big thank you to the guys at Beyond Conflict, my colleague and friend Michael Sodipo PhD, and the fantastic team that are pushing for an understanding of why we are the way we are, and pioneering possible solutions.
These days it is hard to be shocked. One has become so inured to most sorts of dehumanizing behaviour. Yes, you say as you shrug your head, this is what happens. Such cynicism erodes the obligation of people to demand that their fellow citizens, leaders or institutions live up to their own values. If you are not angry – regardless of your political orientation – about our lack of collective drive towards nationhood these, then the culture of democracy is further depleted. You will get sucked into the crooked smile of powerful people who are protected by the disengagement of the masses.
There’s no pan Nigerian spirit, debate all you want, the little that exists is negligible. The Igbos of Nigeria, rightly or wrongly believe they are like the Roma of Nigeria, while other ethnic group detest their competitive push spirit; again rightfully or wrongly.
Are you Igbo, have you been dehumanized, called a cheat, money loving and worshiping? Stereotypes but which group doesn’t have the three threats in good quantity.
Yorubas, self-centered, not to be trusted, cowards and ooooh if you watch most of their movies—it’s voodoo every scene. At what point did we become self-conscious of the ‘fact’ that ‘they hate Igbos’ —a feeling that’s mutual. And when did they forget the same Hausas they refer to as Sule, Adamu, in derogatory manner.
So the Hausas hate Igbos too, in recent times the media and narratives have created the Hausa-Fulani, a misnomer like the South/South but both with political and faith based linings. So who has held power, the Hausas, Fulanis or Hausa-Fulani; why not Fulani-Hausa. Cumulative figure in the, “we versus they”, see them as guards, beggars, uneducated population who’s buy-in to Nigeria is just power munching.
On intent, I am leaving out the scores of hundreds in this project who are not Ibo, Yoruba nor Hausa.
Flipping the conversation, Fulani herdsmen, how about Fulani pastors, doctors, there are even Fulani intellects, I know Fulanis married to Igbos, why are they not Igbo-Fulanis or the reverse. We have an academia that have refused blatantly or address the dehumanizing history of recent and come up with solutions.
Let me drive home a few facts, the Fulanis are a minority ethnic group, these days the resources to keep cattle is dwindling. I leave the politics of this business as rustling for another day. The trajectory of narratives across thematic fears of Islamization and conquest is one that carries elite emotional drive than factual notions. The Fulanis have been dehumanized and are victims in this cycle in the same manner we all are.
Ever imagine how we all suddenly understand fulfulde when kidnapped and the hush when other ethnic groups are the culprits.
Stop for a moment and just listen. What do you hear? Maybe the neighbor’s lawnmower…the barking dogs a few houses down…a clock ticking…the cars on the street. Just listen to the noise inside. What is keeping your heart from being quiet and at peace? Most likely, it’s many things, because although we long for peace, real life intrudes.
A call from the doctor, or a note from the teacher about a child’s behavior. Maybe a lost job and a pile of bills. Real life does not foster internal peace!
You are thinking—How did a small group of bandits suddenly know the terrain of forestry in the southwest and east; daring everyone and getting away with it. The president is Fulani, they are Fulanis, did you hear what they said, the Igbos will leave this ‘zoo country’, and it’s the Yorubas that collided with Fulanis to put us here. When we think and feel each other’s pulse from the negative energy currently growing there’s no light anywhere near the end of the tunnel, Infact there’s no tunnel end anywhere and anytime soon; for how long—only time will tell.