General Question

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

Should we attempt to humanize our opposition?

Asked by ANef_is_Enuf (25184points) February 5th, 2017

The internet, comment sections in particular, illustrates the social tendency to dehumanize those that we dislike or especially those that we think of as immoral. Words like: subhuman, animal, idiots, pure evil, deranged, monster… etc, are easy to find on any controversial news story.
Is this constructive?
How can we fight our own tendency to brush off those who are different from us less than average?
Is it important that we do so? Personally, I think it may be one of humanity’s most important responsibilities in using social media.

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26 Answers

ragingloli's avatar

I am going to keep calling nazis, nazis.

cazzie's avatar

Someone got up in my grill yesterday on Facebook. I stopped the argument by reading some stuff on his page and finding common ground. We then had a really nice chat about being a parent and he helped me with a plumbing issue. (He wasn’t a Nazi. I call those fuckers out.)

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

It’s not constructive at best and causes escalation at worst. It’s a lesson the left is reluctant to learn.

Coloma's avatar

@ARE_you_kidding_me Aaah but…you generalize, which is equally damaging. I am much more left than right though I do not associate with any party, but.. I don’t t name call or dehumanize the opposition. The real problem is assigning labels to others views under one, giant, sagging umbrella of insults.

cazzie's avatar

@ARE_you_kidding_me were you trying to be ironic or was that by accident?

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

@ARE_you_kidding_me did you mean that humanizing people is not constructive or failing to do so is? Sorry, I guess the way that I worded the question left room for confusion.

LostInParadise's avatar

There are plenty of descriptive words that do not suggest that our opponent is sub-human, like fascist, racist, liar, plutocrat, misogynist and narcissist, all of which I have applied to our president. Are those terms acceptable? I think they are highly accurate.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

@LostInParadise I think that observing narcissism is different from dehumanizing someone. Narcissism is a very human trait.
Using words like “racist, fascist, liar, etc…” may be accurate and may fit, but do we have any responsibility as a society to attempt to understand what drives people into mentalities like these and how we might bridge that gap? Or is it better to be right and throw our hands up and say “well, half the population is stupid.”

JLeslie's avatar

It’s important if you want to try to reach them. It’s important if you want to display the behavior that you want others to use.

I’m on the side of the liberals and I hate listening them speak with such venom and be so demeaning and crass.

Many conservatives I know have been a nervous wreck with Obama in charge and I hated when they were horrible in their tone and paranoia, I don’t want to be just like them.

Coloma's avatar

I agree with @LostInParadise Big difference between dehumanizing insults and factual labels.
Not alternative facts, obviously. lol

SQUEEKY2's avatar

I totally agree, but dehumanizing the people that don’t see eye to eye with you makes you feel better about your cause whatever it is.
to whatever
It’s a human trait is it right, of course not it’s just something humans do, can we grow above it I would like to think so but I highly doubt it.

CWOTUS's avatar

Lincoln had the best response to this idea:

Do I not destroy my enemy when I make him my friend?

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

Yes, that was completely intended to show what I was saying and a poke at the same time. Failing to humanize people is not constructive. People often have a tendency to hurl insults rather than see the other point of view in a respectful way. If we can’t do that then there is little hope in resolving differences.

Sneki95's avatar


Villains, or opponents (same thing, really) are the ones that have the brains and balls to criticize and oppose the hero, or us (same thing, really). Of course you don’t have to agree with your opponent, but at least listen up, he may as well have a point and tell you what is wrong with you. It may help you get better at whatever you do and clear your own view.

Of course, you, not me, I’m always right.

funkdaddy's avatar

I’ve been struggling with this too and I think online it comes down to a limitation of language, especially in the short bits we have the time to make and read. There just isn’t room for a lot of nuance and explanation, so we don’t expose ourselves. You can’t get to know someone in a paragraph.

We want people to know we’re serious (regardless of our position) so we hit hard and those words get overused and eventually fade into the background. Using “fascist” to describe someone on the right has the same effect as “libtard” has for the left. You’re not going to consider that person’s opinion after seeing something roughly overstated like that, but everyone who already agrees with you will cheer that you’ve had the guts to give it to someone unvarnished. So popular positions are extreme, the things we think it takes courage to say because they have the power to hurt the other side.

I don’t see a solution to that problem directly. Humanizing someone would mean understanding their opinion is valid even if you disagree. You have to believe their position has merit and that’s not how we do things right now.

I think getting someone to answer what they’re really worried about goes a long way. If someone supports tough immigration, how did they get there? Are they scared they’ll lose their job? Scared they’ll be involved in a terrorist attack? Scared social services won’t be around because they’re overloaded? All those might be the case, and are a lot easier to understand than not wanting another human being to enter an airport 2000 miles from you. They’re also easier to come to compromised solutions on. But if we frame it as hopeful immigrants vs invading illegals, there’s no middle ground.

So often damaging the other side is the goal rather than what we actually want. It’s just easier, especially online, to not care and not be hurt sometimes.

Soubresaut's avatar

Glynn Washington interviewed Daryl Davis for a Snap Judgment episode a few years back. It was the first time I had heard of Davis—probably not the first time many people here had heard of him, though. I was a bit young when his actions were first getting press coverage.

Can listen to it here—20 minutes long. Powerful example of humanizing opposition.

Mariah's avatar

I meant to respond to this a few days ago, I forgot. I’m struggling with this. I generally believe that empathy can never be a bad thing. What harm could ever come from acknowledging the reality of other humans’ lives, that everybody has a journey, that nobody became what they are in a vacuum?

But…. I recently read an argument that made me wonder whether I’m off-base there. Basically, it said that the current breed of nazis is trying to make their ideas something that is “up for debate.” Something that is OK to talk about in polite company, something that we have to treat as though it’s worthy of consideration. And affording them any benefit of the doubt is just getting them closer to that goal. The poster argued that we need to keep writing such people off as monsters and not giving them the time of day so that we don’t slip into a place where we’re seriously saying “wait a second guys let’s hear them out” about ideas like literal genocide.

That makes sense to me. But I also don’t want to become a crueler person in my quest to oppose cruelty.

I’m not sure what’s right, right now.

funkdaddy's avatar

@Mariah – I think the key is recognizing who’s a true believer and who just thinks something makes sense from what they’ve heard so far.

True believers have thought it through and put their own twist on it, they have some identity involved with their cause and there’s not much that’s going to sway them short of a life changing event. It’s pointless to argue unless you’re really closely involved with them. I’d say these are the people you work to shut down if their ideas are that repugnant to you. Hearing them out does no good.

But that’s not most people on most issues…

Most people don’t have any identity locked up in issues that far out. They heard something that made sense, and maybe backed up the thoughts they had as well, and just kind of went with it. They aren’t monsters, they just don’t understand the other side. For us in the US, with fairly comfortable lives, I think most issues fall in this category. (not just the US, that’s just what I know best)

Genocide is pretty far from our reality, and I don’t think we should entertain that discussion here, but just to show there are people in the second category for any issue, think of those young teenage soldiers you see involved in some of the genocide in Africa. Those are monstrous acts performed by people that are not monsters. What they’ve been told makes sense so far. There is no way for them to learn the other side of that argument. Humanizing those people and their opposition is the only way to stop that, short of killing everyone.

Back in high school I had a friend who asked our Biology teacher about the extra tendon he had heard African descendants had. Our school was ~80% black, so she shut him down hard and embarrassed him. I’m sure it caught her off guard.

Later our group of friends had a big discussion about whether or not the “theory” made any sense and ended up lining people up so we could look at their legs with no good conclusion. This was like 1994, so we couldn’t google it yet. The guy who had been embarrassed was convinced it was true because of the teacher’s reaction, why would she care if it wasn’t true?

If you heard him talking about the whole thing at a party, you’d probably think he was a racist and maybe shut him down as well. If she’d just explained what she knew and taken it as a real question, we all would have been smarter and it wouldn’t have been an issue.

I think the majority of the internet nazis fall in that same camp. They just haven’t talked it through to the end. Someone listening and discussing those ideas so they see where they lead in the real world can probably at least help them move on to the next thing. The problem is those people tend to think they’re pretty smart, and invincible, so someone has to earn their respect first.

But if they’ll really listen, why not talk?

ETA: I’m just talking this through in the same way, not trying to explain or educate. I’m struggling with this in social and professional situations and just trying to work through how to deal with it too.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

@Soubresaut‘s link is an excellent example of one extreme meeting the other in the middle and how powerful that can be.
I think @funkdaddy pretty much nailed it.
If you go out and actively seek out opposing information that isn’t extreme (I’m not talking about liberals reading Fox News or conservatives diving into HuffPo), look for really moderate, middle ground stuff, you’ll find an interesting group of people. The majority of Americans probably (even unknowingly) fit into these categories, but aren’t even aware they exist. People that you disagree with on a lot of issues, but also agree with on a lot of issues. We have horrible tunnel vision right now, everyone, it looks like there are only 2 sides to this equation, but that is not true. We only hear the far right and the far left and we feel more and more driven to pick a side because the “other side” is crazy. We have repeatedtly ignored the fact that there is a vast and diverse middle and people like Trump have found a way in with them. Is it because they’re bad people or neo-nazis? Nope. But guess who is opening their arms and telling them that they aren’t bad people?

Mariah's avatar

One thing that helped me a lot at the time of Trump’s election was this Cracked article that humanized the opposition’s viewpoint and shows that there are reasons that people voted for Trump that have nothing to do with hate. That article, and the point of view of some of our more moderate conservative jellies, has helped me during the times when I’ve started to fall into a pit of anxiety thinking that 50% of the people around me are OK enough with casual racism/sexism/Islamophobia to vote for somebody who exhibited all those traits.

But I’m still struggling a lot right now with not developing an extremist mindset because of how personally threatened I feel by some of these issues. With the ACA debate, I am definitely developing a part of me that is saying that anybody who is OK with taking away people’s healthcare, resulting in deaths, because they value the health of the economy more, is a garbage human. And I realize there is a huge number of moderate economic conservatives that get categorized as garbage humans if I take that mindset, and that that’s not OK for me to do. I’m trying to keep myself in check. It’s just harder than it’s ever been before, right now.

JLeslie's avatar

@Mariah For me, the people I know who supported Trump, focused on jobs coming back, lower taxes, and capitalism. They ignored other negatives. Regarding the ACA, the little guy really believes it’s better to function in a capitalist system with competition driving down prices. I do think the politicians know better. Many of the “people” associate Christianity with capitalism, and they saw Obama as practically the antichrist, because they believed and were terrified that he was a socialist.

I don’t think we need to be understanding or listen to the people who chant “build a wall” or who are blatantly neo-Nazis. They are horrible. Getting through to them is almost impossible.

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snowberry's avatar

If you did, much of the drama and appeal would be gone for so many. Would Fluther survive?

funkdaddy's avatar

Good morning sunshine.

cazzie's avatar

This past week I was commenting on a fellow expats Facebook page. His ‘friends’ must have disagreed with me because he tagged me and my location with a picture of a handful of different sized bullets suggesting I be shot with the smaller ones first and build up to the bigger ones. There is no reasoning with that.

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