This topic brought to you by LYL.
What makes me angry?
The thing that makes me most angry is willfully erasing stories. Accidentally erasing stories is pretty bad, too, as is ignoring stories, intentionally or otherwise, but those are things everyone does every day to some degree. We have to, or living in the world as it is right now would be crippling. That could change, and we have to hope that it will.
Regarding humanity, erasing stories is more commonly known as dehumanization, but erasing of stories also happens to things that need humanity to be their voice, including animals, valuable art, and the planet itself. I’d argue that erasing stories is the cause of many if not most of the world’s great problems.
It’s forgetting that individual humans have stories that is the most dramatically egregious example of dehumanization. The worst actions of individuals and society evolve from erasing human stories. Every person is a person. Every person is born a child. Every person has a family or is impacted by its loss. Every person encounters love in one way or another and finds either great joy or great pain in it.
These are facts without exception. Why are they so easily ignored?
The most common argument for willfully erasing stories is that the subject of those stories does not deserve recognition, but that is never the case. Ever. And not just because ignored history is doomed to repetition.
The worst criminals, the most violent, horrible, cruel people, are all people. It’s not disputable. They aren’t monsters. They aren’t garbage. They aren’t devils or demons. They are people.
This is the real reason why capital punishment doesn’t work. Ignoring the part where the cost of killing criminals is often more than imprisoning them for life and the part where the effect on reducing crime is arguably negligible, it’s clear to me that when society chooses to kill people, society harms itself.
By reducing the value of each individual life. By erasing people’s stories and telling everyone that’s an okay thing to do. By rendering any human subsequently inhuman. By making murder an acceptable response to harm. To paraphrase a Cracked article about terrorism, enacting the death penalty doesn’t result in a score of Murderer 1, Society 1, it results in a score of Murder 2, Society 0.
Yes, there are people who need to be incarcerated for the safety of those around them. That is a fact. But there is nobody who, under incarceration, deserves to be treated like anything less than a human being, a person who was once a child. There certainly isn’t anyone who deserves to die. Every life is valuable and every life is temporary enough.
Take Hitler, for example. Pretty much everyone agrees he was a horrible human being, maybe even a monster. Because so many people are willing to see him as a monster, learning that he studied art or seeing pictures of him with children and family are shocking. But why should those things be a shock? Hitler was once a child. Hitler encountered love in his life.
You know what made Hitler a horrible person? It wasn’t his lack of humanity. It was the way he erased people’s stories. He erased more stories than anyone else has ever done. He erased whole nations and races and groups of stories. He erased them so completely that, to him and those who easily engaged with his dehumanization, snuffing out millions of lives became the easiest thing. Every time we think of somebody, anybody, as less than a person, we edge ourselves closer to Hitler’s legacy.
Every time I see someone willfully reducing another person to an idea or a concept, willfully labelling another person as a monster or as garbage rather than a person, I see echoes of horror rebounding from the past and leaping into the future. It’s not acceptable. It’s infuriating.
The most enraging part of erasing stories is when people do it in the name of helping others. Take for example, residential schools or boot camps or clinics that claim to permanently remove some quality of a person without their consent. The most horrible things can be done to people with the best of intentions.
How often are people with illnesses or disorders reduced to their illness or their disorder, rather than being seen as people? How often are women who suffer from addiction or mental illness separated from their children? Then they are expected to somehow become healthy while being deprived of what means most to them? Why aren’t we helping them within their families, rather than tearing them away from love? Doesn’t anybody realize that the opposite of addiction is connection? Why are so many people being hurt in the name of help?
Social media and the internet have made deliberate dehumanization easier than it has ever been. Everyone either shares our views or is worthy of mockery or worse. The ease with which anyone can strip someone else of their essential humanity, of their stories, has led to abuses we couldn’t have even imagined thirty years ago. What will it take to remind us that the other side is just another side with a different story that sees through different eyes, not somehow less human or less valuable?
The reason dehumanization makes me as angry as it does is the solution is so simple. Recognition of the problem is the problem’s solution. It’s so easy to do, but the number of people who simply refuse to even consider it is vast. If every person making decisions about refugees, or criminals, or outcasts remembers that every refugee and every criminal and every outcast has a story — was born, had a family, encountered love — then the results of every decision made that affect refugees, and criminals, and outcasts necessarily become better for everyone.
If every person making decisions about how best to research health issues remembered that every person that may benefit from this research has a story of their own, a story with intricacies that go beyond magic bullets and financial gains, then every dollar and every minute spent on that research would provide greater dividends for the world at large.
If every person making decisions that might harm the environment remembers that this planet has a story, has a life of its own, has forests that breathe as its lungs and oceans that circulate as its blood, if every decision maker remembers that if we are to live in this world, our existence must be beneficial to the planet and not harmful to it, every small decision would have endless rippling echoes that help all of us.
And yet, it is so much easier just to erase the planet’s story, the patient’s story, the child’s story, that so many people do exactly that and somehow find it acceptable. And that makes me very, very angry.