Becoming a non-person

It’s well known that if you want to destroy a person, or a minority group, it’s best to start by dehumanising them. This makes it easier for your people to feel comfortable about the destruction process, and it also makes the victim more passive and easier to destroy. In fact, do a good enough job of the dehumanising and the victim will sometimes destroy themselves and spare you the effort. What further complicates this already nasty issue, is that most of us assume (until it happens to us) that we could resist. We think we’re clever enough to see through the propaganda, smart enough to get out of the violent relationship, capable of resisting government led denigration. The people who don’t, are therefore stupid and probably deserve it, we imagine. This actually makes us easier to take down too, because we refuse to see what’s happening. We don’t want to believe we’re falling, we want to beleive we’re clever enough that it couldn’t be hppening to us. Once someone is starting to go under, it gets easier to push them all the way down.

There are a number of ways to turn someone into a non-person, and you can start small. Constant criticism of lifestyle choices, personal appearance, preferences and so forth undermines confidence. We judge by economic contribution (our elderly suffer as a consequence.) Ridiculing of opinion – which we see all the time online and in the media. “Only a stupid person could think the way you do.” Doing things and then lying and saying they never happened (as is so often the way with workplace bullying). Minimising damage. We only pushed him, it wasn’t really a thump. It was only a joke, we didn’t mean for her to kill herself… Blaming the victim – we aren’t doing this to them, it’s happening because they are weak, stupid, lazy and irresponsible. Labelling them – note the way in which the word ‘benefits’ is so regularly publically linked to the word ‘fraud’ so that when you hear the first the second is more likely to show up in your head. (Illegal) Immigrants, Muslim (terrorists) Unemployed (scroungers) … there are many more, but you get the idea. We build the associations.

Becoming a non-person isn’t an event. It isn’t about a single occasion of someone being a bit mean (really, you’re a man, you can take it). It isn’t weakness (thin skinned, melodramatic, making a fuss). Note how we can further denigrate people for becoming victims. No, this is a process, and it can happen so slowly and over such a long time that you don’t even notice your personhood being stripped away. Or your participation in doing it to someone else. You slowly become an object, an expense, a nuisance, a scrounger. You stop being Bob who can tell a good joke and likes the footy, and you become that useless man. You stop being beautiful Esme who is a great mum, and become that lump of meat he shoves round the kitchen of a Friday night before using for sex. And somewhere, maybe you stop looking at yourself in the mirror because you can’t bear the eyes of the person looking back at you. Somewhere in the process you start to believe, as you are being told, that this all makes perfect sense: it’s happening because you deserve it. If everything around you reinforces your status as a non-person, are you going to hold out against that?

Disbelieving everything you are told starts, after a while, to feel a bit crazy. So you try harder, do more, work longer hours, try to humour the boss, accept the benefit cut, accept the brutal sex, and the labels, and you let yourself believe it is all your fault this is happening, and you lose a bit more self.

I’m watching my government undertaking this process aided by the gutter press, and every day the news items, and the shit in the media makes me sick. The language of denigration, the deliberate, relentless dehumanising. Right now, the victims of preference are the poor. We’re hounding the poor into ghettos. We’re doing it by forcing people on housing benefit out of more affluent places, especially London. We’re well under way with forcing them to work unpaid for the state, with the welfare to work scheme. We haven’t moved them into camps for that yet, but maybe we don’t need to. Does this sound familiar to anyone yet?

Are we going to wake up one morning and find that the Tories have come up with a bold, final solution to poverty? And by then, will we have dehumanised the poor so thoroughly that, as the Germans did with their vulnerable people in the 1940s, we let the state kill them? That’s where you ultimately go with this kind of logic.

When they came for the disabled, I did not speak out, because I was not disabled. When they came for the single mums, I did not speak out, because I was not a single mum…

The bottom third of the UK population is now experiencing poverty, from what statistics I’ve seen. We have to start speaking out and we have to actively resist all attempts to dehumanise the vulnerable. No more labels, no more blame culture, no more robbing people of their basic dignity. You don’t need gas to kill people. You can freeze them to death with homelessness, or inflated energy prices. You can starve them to death. You can drive them to suicide. You don’t have to be as obvious as a death camp. You can make your whole country a death camp for the ones you don’t want along.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

3 responses to “Becoming a non-person

  • caraemoore

    It is so true. I worked with homeless people in London and most had had responsible jobs, yet some now didn’t have the confidence anymore “to cook an egg”. Many were unable to take off their coat because it offered them symbolic as well as physical protection. They felt they had to keep moving and even when rehoused could have left at a moment’s notice.

  • thewysewoman

    I most whole heartedly agree with this summing up of what is happening our our society today. With reference to the media, with only a few exceptions they are toeing the Tory line on (alleged) scroungers and the (alleged) benefit mentality. They forget that businesses have been paying such low wages that people who are working are obliged to take benefits to survive! The following link is an on line petition to ask Ian Duncan Smith to put his money where his mouth is and live on £53.00 a week all in! https://www.change.org/ids53quid
    That apart most people given the choice would prefer a decent working wage rather than having to jump through hoops for a grudgingly given pittance. But it is working, this dehumanising of the poor. where has the so called sense of fair play so beloved of the English gone? Even the churches are beginning to say that enough is enough!

  • silverbear

    This is such a brilliant post on so many levels. It is exactly what I have been in an argument with a friend over.

    I have come to believe based on observation and experience that there are those in power who want us to draw lines between one group of people and another because it keep us from recognizing that no matter what the social issue is, Poverty, sexual preference, race, etc., we are all in this together. The influence of class and wealth will only act as a buffer between the grim realities we will be facing in the next 20 years due to natural resource depletion and economic stagnation. I often wonder how many people want to point to one class or another as the progenitor of all their ills when the fact is that these are things we all must deal with equally and with compassion. The more we allow them to point out the lines that exist between us, which is to say that the more we allow ourselves to believe those lines exist, the less functional our culture becomes and the less we are able to effect social change and justice. It’s not just England my dear friend, it’s everywhere.

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