Reality intervenes, but we never challenge the thinking

Were I in the habit of stating general laws, one I might declare is that to deny humanity, to dehumanize, will somehow, some way, create an existential problem somewhere down the road.

In neoliberalism, we reduce humans to economic units of production. Our value is measured in how much profit we generate for privileged classes. It doesn’t matter how “good” I am. What matters is my “efficiency,” that is, how much profit I produce relative to how much expense I incur for the rich. Note that how we attribute that efficiency is arbitrary: A chief executive officer (CEO) rationalizes her or his compensation by claiming credit for a lion’s share of productivity even as workers do the actual work.

Hence the issue of “deservingness:” CEOs “deserve” their loot. The rest of us don’t.

In prisons, we reduce humans to “convicts” to be punished in an exercise of society’s vindictiveness. They are still human beings but are treated solely as objects of wrath: We confine them to cages, offer them notoriously awful food and health care, make them wear uniforms, and replace their names with numbers. Then we are surprised when, at the conclusion of their sentences, they come out meaner, more vengeful, than before, and more likely to re-offend.

Or, we treat them as incorrigible, as irredeemable, and deny them a chance to succeed when they do get out, so they have little choice but to re-offend—a self-fulfilling prophesy.

In the Roman Catholic priesthood, we reduce humans to what we call the “sacred,” denying what we label the “profane.” Both the sacred and the profane are social constructs. They are both part of what it is to be human. But in affirming only the one and in denying the other, we are surprised when perversion, including pedophilia, results.

These are only a few examples; the list of how we affirm some aspects of ourselves and deny others goes on. Neither the choice to affirm nor the choice to deny are particularly connected to the reality of who we are as humans. We rationalize these choices nonetheless in any number of ways while relegating the exploration of that reality of who we are as humans to individuals even as we are a social species. Again the affirmation and the denial: We affirm the individual and deny the social.

And in all this, we deny reality, affirming instead only arbitrarily idealized visions of who we are “supposed” to be. When that inadequately-explored reality intervenes, we label the humans “deviant.” When that doesn’t do any good, we invoke “original sin” and condemn the species as if that were any improvement at all on “deviance.” Then we continue as before, as if all this somehow constituted progress.

None of it works. But we never challenge the way of thinking, the social constructions of good/evil, productivity/sloth, sacred/profane, redemption/incorrigibility, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

Most insidiously, we use these constructions against ourselves, dividing ourselves into “us” and “them,” rationalizing both structural and physical violence against “them” in the name of defending “us.” To be human becomes at some points to be among “us,” and at some points among “them,” as we are rich or poor, one race or the other, one gender or the other, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

We “other” non-human animals and the environment, bringing ourselves to an existential crisis. And still, we never challenge the thinking.

That thinking is our undoing. We might now already be past a tipping point that means our annihilation. Reality intervenes, but we never challenge the thinking.

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