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Less Than Human: Why We Demean, Enslave and Exterminate Others Hardcover – March 1, 2011
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“Smith's compelling study and his argument that the study of dehumanization be made a global priority to prevent future Rwandas or Hiroshimas is well-made and important.” ―Publishers Weekly
“Smith offers an impressively thorough survey of 'dehumanization'.” ―Barbara Ehrenreich, Los Angeles Review of Books
“Books like Smith's should be required reading for all with a social conscience, and his ideas ought to find their way into every school curriculum.” ―Valerie Curtis, Ph.D., Journal of Evolutionary Psychology
“In this powerful and original work―ranging widely and with impressive interdisciplinary scope over different epochs and cultures while remaining compellingly readable―David Livingstone Smith demonstrates that our practice of representing our fellow-humans as subhuman is both inhuman and all too human. He forces us to recognize that monstrous atrocities are routinely carried out not by monsters but, alas, by ourselves.” ―Charles W. Mills, Ph.D. author of The Racial Contract, John Evans Professor of Moral and Intellectual Philosophy
“David Livingstone Smith produces a clear and illuminating vision of why human beings are the way we are and how we got this way. The scholarship is broad, the insight is deep and the prose is compelling. Less Than Human will change the way you think about things that matter profoundly. This is dazzling stuff.” ―Steven E. Landsburg, Ph.D., author of The Big Questions
“Warning: This book will challenge you! Not that it's hard to understand -- in fact, it's wonderfully accessible -- but it raises some terrible realities. For this reason, it is all the more important that you read Less that Human. It is brilliantly written, carefully researched, and a wonderful and much-needed opportunity for us to explore what it might mean to be ‘truly human'.” ―David P. Barash, author of Payback: Why We Retaliate, Seek Revenge and Redirect Our Aggression
“This is a beautiful book on an ugly topic. David Livingstone Smith uses the newest research in cognitive science to address the problems of racism, genocide, and atrocity, presenting a provocative theory as to why we come to see others as less than human. There are deep and important ideas here, and this engaging book should be read by anyone interested in the worst aspects of human nature -- and how we can come to transcend them.” ―Paul Bloom, author of How Pleasure Works: The New Science of Why We Like What We Like and professor of psychology, Yale University
“One part detective story, one part horror story, one part evolutionary philosophy, Less Than Human is actually a book about what it means to be human. As such, there are few of us who can afford to miss it.” ―Peter Swirski,Ph.D., author of American Utopia and Social Engineering in Literature, Social Thought, and Political History, Professor of American literature and culture at the Department of English, University of Missouri, and Research Fellow at the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies
“Dehumanization is a thoroughly human behavior. It is a tool we have used for millennia to bolster our self-esteem, to justify slavery and exploitation, to get ourselves to kill and exterminate. Yet, despite its terrible significance, surprisingly little scholarly attention has been trained on the phenomenon -- on its origins, how it works, and how we might avoid its dreadful toll. Bringing enviably acute skills as a philosopher to bear on the subject, David Livingstone Smith draws on an impressive range of sources to argue that dehumanization emerges from the very core of our humanity, our ability to reflect upon our own thoughts. Writing in an engaging and accessible style, he uses an incisive logic to pare away the layers of his subject to reveal this troubling conclusion. This is an important book for anthropologists, who are interested in ethnocentrism, and for any human concerned about our capacity to harm one another.” ―Paul Roscoe, Ph.D., Professor of Anthropology, University of Maine.
Top Customer Reviews
Through 275 pages, divided into nine chapters, Smith examines such topics as the past thoughts of Aristotle, Augustine, Boethius, Pico, Paracelsus, Hume, and Kant; and modern thinkers such as Erik Erikson, Konrad Lorenz, E. O. Wilson, Jane Goodall, and Iranaus Eibl-Eibesfeldt. He also analyzes themes like `The Great Chain of Being,' Slavery, Nazi's, and Genocide; "In this book, I will argue that when we dehumanize people we think of them as counterfeit human beings - creatures that look like humans, but who are not endowed with a human essence - and that this is possible only because of our natural tendency to think that there are essence-based natural kinds. This way of thinking doesn't come from "outside." We neither absorb it from our culture, nor learn it from observation. Rather, it seems to reflect our cognitive architecture - the evolved design of the human psyche.Read more ›
But it seems to me to be based on a false premise. The author holds, or seems to hold, that people abusing other groups really dehumanize them and treat them like the most hated kinds of animals, and thus can torture, rape, enslave, and exterminate them with fairly guilt-free consciences. The only problem with this is that nobody treats real rats, pigs, cockroaches and snakes the way we treat enemy humans. We kill the rats and so on as quickly as possible, period. Nobody keeps a rat in prison and systematically tortures it for weeks. Moreover, as Roy Baumeister pointed out in his great book EVIL, it requires exquisite empathy and understanding of common humanity to work out the horrible tortures and abuses that people figure out for each other.
Conversely, it is very easy to see where people DO learn how to torment others: family and neighborhood violence. The countless horrible cases of torture, control, and abuse in Smith's book are indistinguishable from what goes on in lots of families. A nurse I know, helping a Vietnam vet suffering PTSD, heard him say of battle: "it was chaos and shouting, everything out of control...like when my old man got drunk and started beating on my mom."
So I think the dehumanizing labels that genociders and slavers use are more like the name-calling in a family or barroom or schoolyard brawl than like real animal labels. There is enormous pressure on genociders and slavers to make the "others" as far from them, psychologically, as possible--but common humanity does set a limit. We can't really think of them as rats and flies. If we did, we would at least kill them quickly and cleanly instead of devising ever more awful ways to drag the process out.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
"Less than Human" by David Livingstone Smith is a well referenced book about how we, as members of the human race, can demean, enslave, and exterminate other members of the... Read morePublished 9 months ago by E. Joseph Anna
Outstanding exploration of a topic much in need of discussion in today's environment were religious extremists not only justify, but relish, killing any not of their persuasion.Published 10 months ago by Itabirite
We need to dehumanize others in order to kill them. It is as simple as that. But why is this so? Seeking the answer to this question Smith takes us on a philosophical journey into... Read morePublished 10 months ago by George F. Simons
Good book but it's downright unsettling how sick the human race can be. The research is comprehensive. Read morePublished 11 months ago by E. Lyon
What a beautiful book. And on a subject so much spoken of but so little written. BTW the product arrived super fast and in great condition.Published 13 months ago by Ideomotion, Llc Charlie Gutierrez
The theme of this book is very important and Livingston Smith discusses it with breadth and depth, at a time (in this point no different from those that preceded us) in which we... Read morePublished 14 months ago by Zenon Lotufo Junior