What do history's most notorious despots have in common with many of the flag-waving, patriotic politicians of our day? Both groups rise to power through the exploitation of fear, which has become a societal plague. There have been widespread casualties. We need an antidote. Feardom offers its readers a much-needed immunization.
Perhaps society’s greatest failure is in denying the humanity of the individual. Throughout history, entire races, genders, cultures, religious groups, professions, and other classes and combinations have been collectively consolidated into generalized groups and pejoratively painted with broad brushes.
Rather than seeing another individual as a person like them—another child of God with talents, trials, qualities, and curiosities—far too many people dehumanize others, objectifying them for their pleasure or scorn. It therefore becomes easy to take advantage of another, after first deeming them of subhuman value—for if the person had human value, we might treat them as we ourselves would prefer to be treated by them.
The most striking example is pornography, where a person is reduced to mere body parts—a factory of flesh to be served up for those who wish to satiate their sexual gratification. Now that I’m a father, I find myself pondering what kind of life must lead a person to be photographed or filmed for the express purpose of another’s sexual self-indulgence—a dark and hidden act that takes into account nothing more than the size, shape, or sensuality of the model’s body. What kind of family did this person grow up in? How warped must his or her emotional development be to take pride in such work, and to be known for nothing more than how stimulating he or she is to others? If this person’s parents are unaware or supportive of such a line of work, then thought should still be given to what his or her heavenly parents would think of such behavior.
The degree to which this objectification has skewed the actions of so many can be demonstrated, I think, with a simple question: What father with a predilection towards pornography would want his daughter to be somebody else’s fleeting fetish?
Growing up in southern California, I often observed immigrants laboring in others’ yards—toiling in the hot sun for hours on end, performing tasks that few others would do with such dedication and quality. And yet, they were from a different culture and class; their employers and passersby did not interact with them, with rare exception. They were a means to an end—a cheap way to check off a few chores from the list.
Working now in public policy, I see the same objectification on a grander scale: immigrants are invaders, hell-bent on taking American jobs; Muslims are all terrorists, or terrorist sympathizers and supporters, hoping to kill infidels to earn virgins in the afterlife; children are ignoramuses that need the wisdom and conformity that Common Core and other top-down curriculum mandates provide; voters are usually ignorant individually, but in the aggregate their decisions are worthy of our subservience; soldiers are heroes; police are protectors; politicians are public servants; and on and on.
God does not judge us based on our affiliation with a successful sports team, how muscular we are, or if we’ve earned a military credential or professional recognition. “Man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.” We are individuals—full of imperfections, interests, competing loyalties, funny stories, and endearing qualities. Our characteristics may categorize us, but they don’t define us.
It is easier to exploit others when we do not think of them as somebody’s child, or sibling, or parent. It’s why innocent bystanders of war’s carnage are blithely dismissed as “collateral damage,” or why we’re comfortable cutting off or raging at fellow drivers on the freeway. It’s also how supposedly progressive (though I might say regressive) “pro-choicers” have become cheerleaders for the mass slaughter of unborn babies and the subsequent harvesting and sale of their body parts.
Imagine if instead of seeing a “porn star” we could see a single mother of two kids with a drug addiction who is on the edge of eviction, or a person who experienced sexual abuse as a young child. Perhaps we’d feel sorry for these people, rather than perpetuating the problem for personal pleasure.
What if instead of seeing immigrants as threats, we pondered the reasons for which they want to abandon their home? Maybe we would have compassion for their circumstances, and be motivated to help them find the better life they seek.
Maybe we would be a kinder driver if we gave the benefit of the doubt to the guy in front of us, who might be rushing to the hospital. It might help us recognize our own hypocrisy, recalling instances where our actions—clearly justified in our own mind—may have led a nearby driver to get upset with us.
Might we reserve our adulation for veterans if we considered the alarmingly prevalent sexual abuse rate within the ranks, and the harm some of them cause to innocent people in their path? Doing so might help us to reconsider what heroism is, and reserve it for praiseworthy instances, rather than anybody wearing a uniform.
There are plenty of examples, of course, but the point is this: you and I are not the sum of our parts—we are more than that. Of course, we know this; we know full well what our positive attributes are, the ambition of our goals, the service we’ve rendered, the trials we have, and the knowledge we’ve gained. Let’s not fall into the trap of failing to see in others what is obvious through introspection: that humanity is intricate and has worth. In short, let’s take the Golden Rule from theory to practice.