Not Quite Human – a plea from all us dogs

I’m a dog.  I’m not more than a dog, and I’m not less than a dog.

And by the fact that you’re reading this, I’m going to assume that you’re a human.  Not more than a human and not less than a human.

Simple, isn’t it?

Yet there’s a very particular activity that has dominated most of human history, in which you, and every other person who’s ever lived, can be considered less than a human.  Can you imagine what that activity is?

If you guessed War, you’re right. 

Almost all human beings are born with an ingrained sense of empathy, the ability to relate on a deep level to the feelings of others.  Really to resonate with them, the way a musical note will make strings set for that note vibrate just from its sound contacting them.

And people also have a strong sense of morality.  Maybe you’ve stolen something from someone, but I’ll bet you knew you were doing something “wrong” (even if you thought you deserved it!).  Or if you’ve hurt someone, even if you had to (say by breaking up with them when you saw the relationship wasn’t working), you felt bad for their pain.  Yes, even if you covered that bad feeling up. So you see, people tend to be pretty great overall.

Because of this, military leaders learned many centuries ago that the only way to get an army to fight another army to the death is to train their soldiers to think of the opposing soldiers as something less than themselves.  As less than human.  And thereby unworthy of empathy or morality, at least when it comes to taking their lives.

Now I’ve said here many times that all dogs hate war.  We hate the mass killing, we hate the noise and destruction, and we hate the miserable feelings war brings out in the humans involved. And of course we hate what usually comes along with war – famine, pestilence, poverty…

And dehumanization.

Why should we care?  We’re not human. It’s not our problem, right?

Well, first of all, we tend to adore humans, so seeing those we think so highly of put down bugs us.  But beyond that, we realize that if a person can regard another person as less than, it’s not long before they’ll regard us that way too. 

There was a horrific video that got sent around during the US-Iraq war, of an American soldier laughingly throwing a puppy off a cliff. Was this man a psychopath? Probably not.  Most likely, he had just taken his lessons too deeply and too far. I hope he’s gotten the help he needs; the puppy is in a better place but I imagine will never forget its final terror.

I will always support anyone protecting their land and their people, however hard that means they have to fight. After all, that’s just what we dogs do every day. But once dehumanization creeps in, that’s when things go bad.

A great example of mass dehumanization occurred recently in the awful horror taking place in Israel.  Even after millennia of conflicts there, the killings that started with the Hamas attacks last October have shocked the world.  (I’m not here to pick sides; I hate all attacks on the innocent, always).  But after Israel retaliated by attacking the Gaza Strip, to a point of over 30,000 deaths, they did a bombing that killed some international aid workers who were there bringing food to the starving people.

Of course it’s awful that those people were killed.  But the international outcry for those few deaths was greater than it had been for the 30,000 Palestinians.  Even the Israeli leaders had to admit this was too much.

Are you seeing it?  People regarded those heroic aid workers as HUMAN, and the other 30,000 as NOT QUITE.  It’s as if someone sprayed poison to kill a bunch of fleas, but it accidentally killed some beautiful dogs too.

Again, I’m not taking sides here.  If the Hamas fighters had seen Israelis as fully human, they could never have perpetrated those awful attacks in October.  The war mentality infects everyone, every time.

And everywhere. Any war that’s ever occurred starts, and then continues, with this attitude, this belief.

And when the war is over, and peace has been declared, do both sides suddenly forget that mindset, and consider their former enemy fully human again?  No.  They might opt to work together, but that prejudice can’t be erased, any more than I can see a squirrel as my equal, or they see me as a bushy-tailed acorn-eater.

Of course dehumanization doesn’t only exist in war.  We see it in racism everywhere, in caste systems (whether openly acknowledged or more hidden), in sexism, you name it.  And it STINKS wherever it rears its ugly head.  But those don’t usually (I emphasize “USUALLY”) result in dehumanizing to the degree of mass killing.

I’m a dreamer. I hope every war in the world ends soon. I hope people everywhere start to heal from their pain and their trauma. I hope every injured person is fixed up, every hostage is released, and every exploded home is rebuilt.

But more than this, I hope – with all my heart but not much faith – that humans learn to move past the idiocy of dehumanization, and to shun the leaders who urge it.  If you guys can rise to that noble a level of humility, and admit that each of you is worthy, just imagine how great the world could be.

Imagine everyone living without fear of attacks.

Imagine the improvement in the climate when constant bombings and shootings stop.

Imagine the good that could be done with all the money now spent on killing and destruction.

A famous songwriter and his wife, known for the word “Imagine” said it simply: War is Over, If You Want It. 

Want it more than you want to think you’re more human than someone else.  It won’t solve everything, but it’s certainly a start.

We dogs – and the rest of the animals on the planet – are waiting for you guys to get it.


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