I once heard someone argue that words don’t matter, policy does.
It was on the topic of illegal immigration. I knew what he was getting at.
People are called “illegal immigrants” for a reason. They’ve broken the law.
Trying to gloss over that fact by changing the language is absurd.
True! I get his argument. It makes sense.
But in reality, words do matter. Words dictate policy.
This is especially true when we’re dealing with a super charged issue like illegal immigration.
Some Americans’ views of illegals are so warped, it scares me.
They define these people as rapists, criminals, and welfare bloodsuckers. They’re viewed as a pestilence.
For some, it’s so easy to ship them all away regardless of the families that are torn apart.
It almost seems like illegal immigrants have been painted in such a negative light that it’s easy to justify harsh policies against them.
It’s what happens when people dehumanize a specific group of people.
Yes, that’s right, we’ve dehumanized illegal immigrants to the point of justifying harsh policies.
When it comes to propaganda, words do matter. Because they can easily sway normal people into rationalizing bigotry and hatred.
This is dehumanization; where words can make the difference between coexistence and genocide…
Propaganda: the Ultimate Tool for Spreading Hatred
From Nazis, to Southern racists, to locking up Japanese across the country. Propaganda is an effective tool at making people do immoral acts that they otherwise wouldn’t participate in.
As Philip Zimbardo, from The Lucifer Effect describes dehumanization…
“Dehumanization is one of the central processes in the transformation of ordinary, normal people into indifferent or even wanton perpetrators of evil.”
One example of this tactic is in German school books.
How Dehumanization Propelled Hitler’s Genocidal Plans
Hitler knew he needed to shape the minds of the youth before he could work on removing the Jews once and for all.
Assigned reading was once way he did this. German children were required to read books that portrayed Jew in a negative light. In these books, Jews were portrayed as perverts, rich, and indifferent toward the poor.
At the end of these books, “reasonable” discriminatory actions were suggested. Some included removing Jews’ access to public parks and facilities, and kicking them out of the country (sound familiar to anyone?).
These books and suggested courses of action were meant to condition German minds to the idea that Jews were below them. Jews were immoral and scandalous. They didn’t care about the needs of the Germans. They were a blight on the Aryan race.
Jews were regularly depicted as ugly and fat, or as rats. Imagery meant to dehumanize them in the eyes of the German youth.
Once you’ve been convinced that a certain group of people are filthy, immoral, and all around sub-par compared to you, it’s easy to convince you that measures need to be taken to rid your land of this blight.
These people are sucking our national resources and jobs. They’re taking advantage of our public services, and our people. So why not take action against them? Why not remove their access to parks and medical facilities? Why not kick them out of the country?
Propaganda can convince you to be a bigot, and convince you to sell your son to the war effort…
How Dehumanization Justifies War
Just look at WWI and WWII US propaganda and you’ll see the dehumanization everywhere.
WWI propaganda depicted Germans as evil monsters and apes who raped and pillaged innocent people for pure joy.
You weren’t fighting against Germans. No, the propaganda made sure that you were fighting against something much more evil and inhuman.
Dehumanization makes it easy for soldiers to justify gunning down other young men. They’re fighting against “the enemy” who threatened their nation’s security (sound familiar, again?) and their livelihood.
“It requires a ‘hostile imagination,’ a psychological construction embedded deeply in their minds by propaganda that transforms those others into ‘The Enemy.’”
The enemy is evil. The enemy is an enemy of God and every innocent individual. The enemy doesn’t act like a regular person. They’re an animal, bent on total destruction of everything you hold dear.
Dehumanization makes it easy for you to kill other humans in the name of a greater cause…a cause that politicians espouse, and pundits champion…the great cause of national security and safety.
Edwin Starr hit the nail on the head when he wrote the famous lyrics, “War…what is it good for, absolutely nothing.” Though I guess you could say it’s good for political purposes.
How Republican Propaganda Dehumanizes the Illegal Immigrant
Have you taken a look at the comics that surround the plight of illegal immigrants?
I think you’d be surprised how much dehumanization is an integral part in the depiction of the average illegal immigrant.
Illegal immigrants are routinely depicted as rapists (I’m looking at you Trump), criminals, welfare leeches, job stealers, and ungrateful people taking advantage of American prosperity.
And guess what “reasonable” discriminatory actions have been proposed to combat this plague?
Prohibiting them from accessing public services, and kicking them out of the country.
Sound familiar? Yeah…I thought so.
Illegal immigrants are to the US, like the Jews were to Nazi Germany.
Try to justify it all you want…“But they’re not citizens, they shouldn’t have access to social services and welfare”…“They’re violating the law and getting rewarded because of it”… “Illegal immigrants are more likely to commit crimes.”
Blah, blah, blah. You’ve fallen to the propaganda.
You’ve believed all the pundits, experts, and nut jobs screaming that illegal immigrants are nothing but trash.
Oh! And you know what’s really amusing? Just like the Aryan Germans who feared for their racial and social hegemony, you too are fearing for your own social hegemony.
“They don’t speak English!”…“They don’t assimilate into our culture!”
We’ve dehumanized the illegal immigrants entering our country, just like the Germans dehumanized the Jews.
Propaganda’s Worst Enemy
Well, you’re either super pissed with me, or you’ve just been hit with a ton of bricks.
For the pissed off crowd, that’s your inner conscience burning you right now.
You’ve allowed yourself to dehumanize a group of people who are just trying to survive. You’ve bought into the propaganda. Congratulations!
“But I know I’m right! I haven’t bought into shit!”
I’m sure that’s what Americans said when they were locking up Japanese in internment camps.
If you’re recovering from the bricks that just hit you in the face, here’s a quick lesson in propaganda.
The ones who sidestep the psychological effects of dehumanization have a few aces up their sleeves.
First off, they’re open minded. Before making a decision or believing the “info,” they analyze it. How does this make me feel toward other people? Is this info helpful to crafting my views, or does it just instill hatred?
Secondly, they avoid propaganda whenever possible. News, reactionary commentary, and emotionally filled diatribes serve no importance to them.
They’re not easily caught up in the cultural rush.
Thirdly, they know people from different cultures, worldviews, and social standing. It isn’t easy for cultural views to affect their view of certain people groups.
Propaganda’s worst enemy is an open mind.
An open mind is devoid of the “hostile imagination” that pushes people away if they don’t look, talk, act, or believe like you do.
Stop the Propaganda
So how do we stop this harmful propaganda?
It all starts with you.
Before you can start attacking it elsewhere, you’ve got to attack it inside of you.
You do this by being aware of the propaganda around you, keeping an open mind, and avoiding hyped up news stories.
A few ways I do it is by refusing to listen to the radio, or watch the TV to get my news. Both avenues survive on reactionary hype. And it’s easy to get affected by the tone and attitude of news coverage or radio commentators.
Another thing I do is put myself in the shoes of the dehumanized group. How do they really feel? What do they really want? Is my portrayal of them accurate (most of the time it’s not)?
I’m also cynical toward any negative portrayal of specific people groups. Whether they’re Hispanic, black, Asian, rich, poor, or geeky.
The key to avoiding the dehumanization trap is to be very critical of everything in front of you.
Take care of your own inner problems. Then start spreading that it to others. Help them see the propaganda they’ve bought into. Show them examples like the Nazi Germany one I mentioned above (and get accused of Godwin’s Law).
Talk about it on social media, and call people out (civilly) on it.
But in the end, be careful what information you take in. Most of it is propagandized and will lead you down a slippery slope, just like it did the Nazis.