I was watching a Bill Moyers interview with Vietnam veteran Karl Marlantes. Marlantes was describing the killing that went on during the war. He talked about how they dehumanized the enemy, which made it much easier to put a bullet in their head.
The word Marlantes used to describe the dehumanization was pseudospeciation. Pseudospeciation is when cultural differences cause us to separate into different social groups, whether by skin color, language…etc. Taken to the extreme, pseudospeciation leads to the dehumanization of other cultural groups.
A fancy term, but this dehumanization is what we learn to do to one another. I remember in my teens, I was taught that homosexuality was evil and was a sin. That it should be wiped off the face of the earth. I was telling this, self-righteously, to the first gay person I ever, knowingly, had a conversation with. His response, paraphrased below, has always stuck with me.
He said, very gently,
Ted, what would happen if everyone thought like you? If they were filled with contempt and hatred for something they couldn’t understand? (My response was likely a shrug). It might look like Nazi Germany all over again. Don’t let that happen, Ted. Don’t contribute to that.
Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I was being taught an extremely valuable lesson about upholding the value of human life. Compassion, kindness, love, understanding, respect, are so much more powerful tools to equip oneself with.
Marlantes went on to describe how some of the soldiers under his command cut the ears off the enemies they had killed. They then stuck the ears in their helmets as souvenirs. Upon seeing this, he ordered his men to bury the enemy soldiers. This was a highly irregular order in itself, plus they were still under fire. As the soldiers were digging the graves they started crying. Marlantes goes on to say how this snapped the soldiers back into reality of being human – something that is easily lost in war – and, I would add, in the human heart.
Jesus pointed out this dehumanization in a term called raca. It’s the sound one makes in the back of the throat when one is about to spit. It’s when we go beyond anger to contempt. Our minds hop on a very slippery slope. Perhaps it’s with “innocent” words and thoughts such as idiot or loser. Ultimately, we begin to see people as inferior. Then, perhaps, even as animals. As Marlantes noted, it’s much easier to kill an animal than a human being.
Thanks for reading,
~ Ted Olson