Empathy and Its Dual Nature: Exploring Anthropomorphization and Dehumanization

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As humans, we possess a remarkable ability to feel empathy not only for living beings but also for lifeless objects through the fascinating process of anthropomorphization. However, this ability contrasts starkly with another cognitive phenomenon - dehumanization - where we shut off our empathy towards fellow sentient beings, treating them as soulless entities. Examining these dual facets sheds light on the intricate interplay between empathy, dehumanization, and their implications within societal dynamics and historical atrocities.

Anthropomorphization: The Extension of Empathy to Objects:

Anthropomorphization, a remarkable aspect of human cognition, involves attributing human-like traits, emotions, or intentions to non-human entities. Through this process, we endow inanimate objects with personalities, emotions, and even life-like qualities. This enables us to form emotional connections and empathize with objects, nurturing feelings of care, attachment, and companionship.

Dehumanization: Turning Sentient Beings into Soulless Entities:

Conversely, dehumanization operates in the opposite direction, stripping fellow sentient beings of their humanity and reducing them to mere objects devoid of emotions, dignity, or worth. This cognitive process paves the way for disregard, indifference, and even cruelty towards others, disregarding their inherent humanity and shared experiences.

Example: The Rwandan Genocide of 1994:

The tragic Rwandan Genocide stands as a harrowing example of the catastrophic consequences of dehumanization. In this brutal chapter of history, the Hutu majority dehumanized the Tutsi minority, portraying them as cockroaches and less than human, thus justifying their mass slaughter. This process of dehumanization preceded and facilitated the atrocities committed during the genocide.

Connection to Polarization and Social Identity Theory:

Dehumanization intertwines closely with the concept of polarization, as posited in Social Identity Theory. When societal groups become polarized, individuals tend to form strong in-group identities while devaluing and dehumanizing out-groups. This us-versus-them mentality reinforces group boundaries, amplifies prejudices, and enables the justification of discriminatory actions or violence against the dehumanized "others."

Implications, Consequences, and causes:

The phenomenon of dehumanization not only erodes empathy but also leads to devastating consequences. It serves as a precursor to various historical atrocities, genocides, and human rights violations, perpetuating cycles of violence and deepening societal divisions.

Is that it, then? Are we, as human beings, bound to this perpetual cycle of violence? What exactly sparks this social phenomenon we call dehumanization? What can possibly make us lose empathy to such a degree that genocide becomes possible?

For that, we will have to draw understanding from another domain. Namely, that of economics.

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