What does it mean to be “made in God’s image” as the Good Book says? It’s clearly a metaphor, meaning that we have the potential to rise above our bestial natures, and get in touch with our higher selves, the most human, most humane facet of our natures that we possess: compassion, sympathy, kindness. To dehumanize means to gravitate toward the animalistic qualities we possess: greed, selfishness, cruelty, unbridled lust, which can mean power over women (if you’re a male) or power for its own sake. Those are the vices associated with dehumanization, but it can take other forms as well.
So when I hear from nurses for example about how much the profession has changed in the last decades, with less and less contact with the patient and more and more contact with the machines monitoring the patient—that’s dehumanization. Once upon a time nurses were trained to give backrubs to make their patients feel better. That doesn’t happen much anymore. They’re too busy with bureaucratic chores, inputting data into computers.
Or when I hear from teachers that the focus has shifted so much from meaningful contact with their students to monitoring their test scores and turning on computers in the classroom that will do the teaching, that’s dehumanization. Will any of these students be bringing their teachers an apple like in the good old days? Or even remembering them fondly as they get older, as someone who cared about them personally, and knew them, and helped them get ahead in life? We can only hope.
Or when I hear that trading on Wall Street is now done by computers and algorithms at speeds so great, and in quantities and volumes so tremendous that no person on earth seems to know what exactly is going on or how to stop it if it spins out of control as it occasionally has, that is dehumanization too. Is our financial system safe? You have to wonder.
And when the Supreme Court decided that corporations were people, and had as much right to free speech as an individual, and therefore there could be no limits on what a corporation could spend on candidates for political office, because by God that’s what the Founding Fathers intended, that also is dehumanization in a different way. It dehumanizes us because it “humanizes” a corporation. By making us equal in the eyes of the law, we lose our humanity. Since the financial might of a corporation will always be hard to beat, even by a broad coalition of individuals, corporations are electing our lawmakers. We are no longer government of the people, or by the people, and certainly not for the people. Our government is for corporations and run by them—but wait, I forgot—corporations ARE people according to the Supreme Court. I believe I’m right in saying that Lincoln meant “government of Homo sapiens, by Homo sapiens, and for Homo sapiens.” Corporations are not known for compassion despite the charitable work they may occasionally do. I don’t know if many companies have a higher self but I’m pretty sure they could not give a backrub.
In the last decade the buzz in Washington was all about “the pledge”: legislators had to pledge not to vote to raise taxes in order to stay on the good side of certain power czars. We need a new kind of pledge now, a bipartisan one that works to rein in the power of the moneyed class over our body politic. Professor Larry Lessig of Harvard is one of the leaders of this charge. Let’s all support him any way we can by voting for those who are committed to real people.