Penetrative research on the brutal dehumanization of societies and why it's been happening for centuries.
Smith (Philosophy and Evolutionary Psychology/Univ. of New England; The Most Dangerous Animal: Human Nature and the Origins of War, 2007) admits his surprise that the issues surrounding how humans denigrate their own species hasn't garnered more importance within our culture. The author informatively deconstructs the nature of dehumanization by discussing its historical relevancy, biological components and resultant destructiveness. Though focused on the grim, historically influential events like the Holocaust, the slavery of sub-Saharan Africans and the ambush of Native American civilizations, Smith also recognizes the plights of women, the handicapped, immigrants and sexual minorities as subgroups who feel routinely stripped of their humanity. A structured combination of "biology, culture, and the architecture of the human mind," the author believes this toxic bias, observed in chimpanzees and ants, is rooted in base differences, prejudicial behavior and the psychological "conflicting motives" of a civilization. Woven into Smith's dense, circuitous analysis are references from psychologist, cognitive scientists, philosophers, alchemists and the research of anthropologists Jane Goodall and Lawrence Hirschfeld, who contribute conjecture on the dangerous and complex nature of racism, genocide and same-species killing. By analyzing the nature and the characteristics that make us intrinsically "human," Smith hopes to reach a better understanding of why we hate and kill each other. An optimistic conclusion offers several possible solutions, all bolstered by the general public's need for education and a thorough understanding of the basic mechanisms of this behavioral phenomenon.
An overstuffed yet scholarly and informative book on a regrettable aspect of humanity.
“Smith reasonably argues that dehumanization is rooted in human nature…. He offers a rigorous philosophical theory... informed by his discipline's precision, and by certain well-founded suppositions about the mind...an interesting and unusually lucid book about an under-studied subject.” New York Times Sunday Book Review
“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' as it has been deployed against Jews, African-Americans, and other 'Others' as an accompaniment to exploitation or extermination.” 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 workranging widely and with impressive interdisciplinary scope over different epochs and cultures while remaining compellingly readableDavid 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
“Smith is a philosopher with a strong interest in cognitive science and evolutionary psychology. His book offers a gripping history of the horrific ways in which human beings have turned other humans into "sub-humans" and "beasts in human form," from American rhetoric rationalizing African slavery, to the Nazi persecution of the Jews, to the justifications offered for the genocide in Rwanda. He identifies a key thematic in all these campaigns of dehumanization: namely, convincing the persecutors that, when it comes to the persecuted, there is a difference between being essentially human and merely appearing human. He then speculates...that the propensity to draw an essence/appearance distinction is a legacy of natural selection itself. One need not find the evolutionary speculation convincing to nonetheless find his synthesis of the ways in which the essence/appearance distinction figures in the rhetoric of hatred and genocide throughout history insightful and memorable.” Brian Leiter, Karl N. Llewellyn Professor of Jurisprudence, University of Chicago Law School
“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.