Let's Debate, Not Dehumanize

On July 27, Jim D. Adkisson walked into a Unitarian Universalist Church, opened a guitar case, brought out a 12-gauge semiautomatic shotgun, and began shooting. Two people are dead, numerous others are wounded, and we may be thankful that a man carrying 76 rounds of ammunition did not deliver more carnage upon peaceful people, peaceably assembled.

Initial reports were that Adkisson had "problems with Christians." Later reports suggested he also had "problems" with "the liberal movement" and with gays. Predictably, people on both the right and left immediately staked out claims of victimhood and identified each other as the true culprits upon whom both blame and condemnation must rain down. "They" inspired Adkisson to kill those worshipers, no, to kill those progressives, no, to kill those ... those ...

Those human beings.

If you're wondering who "they" is, "they" is us, losing a little more of our shared humanity every day, as we increasingly insulate ourselves away from the "others" who do not hold the same worldview as we do. We label ourselves as belonging to some respectable group of believers, or agnostics, or liberals, or conservatives, and we live, work, socialize, and blog -- as much as life will allow -- amongst our "respectable" peers, in our "respectable" echo chambers. We label the "others" as disrespectable and then commence disrespecting.

It begins with name-calling, which seems so innocuous, so sandbox. Well, name-calling is infantile behavior, but it is hardly innocuous. As marijuana is to heroin, name-calling is to diminished humanity -- the gateway. It begins the whole process of dehumanization. Call someone a name and they immediately become "less human" to you, and the less human they seem, the easier they are to hate and to destroy. A "fetus," after all, is easier to destroy than a "baby."

Thus, George W. Bush is "Chimpy McHitler." Hillary Clinton is "a pig in a pantsuit." Barack Obama is "O-Bambi." Cindy McCain, who has exhibited some courage and laudable compassion in her life, is reduced to a "pill-popping beer-frau," and so forth. From there it is smooth sailing down an ever-descending river of hatred, until we are incapable of seeing anything good in the "other," both because we have willfully hardened our hearts, and because our hate -- especially when it is supported by a group of like minds -- feels safe and inviolable.

Recently I asked rabid Bush-haters if they could manage to say "one good thing" about the president. Predictably, they could not.

They are capable of sarcasm: "One good thing is he will die someday." "One good thing is that he can't serve three terms." Once, when pressed, someone sneered: "He managed to marry a librarian who could read and explain books to him."