We’ve talked before about the ways in which the Hoaxtead mob and their followers create a climate of fear via their threats and intimidation, and we’ve noted that it only takes one unhinged troofer to potentially cause a tragedy:
Just one vigilante, one person who believes in the tripe that’s been spread about the men, women, and children of Hampstead. Just one person who thinks they’ll be ‘doing the world a favour’ by taking the law into their own hands.
We’ve seen it happen already: bloggers like ‘Jacqui Farmer’/Charlotte Alton Ward and Bronwyn Llewellyn have urged their followers to “take action” against innocent families, teachers, and clergy in Hampstead. Various video-makers and bloggers have tried to “name and shame” these same people, based on nothing but gossip and hearsay.
We’ve seen it with Rupert Quaintance’s threats that he was outside Christ Church Primary School and carrying a “biscuit” knife in his pocket; with Code 2222’s terrorising a woman and her child in the cottage attached to the church; with the gunman who invaded a pizza restaurant in Washington, DC, in search of an imaginary child-trafficking network.
These incidents, seemingly unrelated, share something important in common: in each case, the vigilante’s actions were inspired and enabled by the belief that those they were attacking were somehow less than human, and therefore deserving of whatever they got.
First, dehumanise the opposition
Inspiring cruelty is not particularly difficult.
It starts with instilling disgust.
While it’s hard for most people to inflict pain on others, even if those others are strangers, it becomes a whole lot easier if they have been systematically taught to think of those “others” as vermin, disgusting creatures which deserve to be exterminated. This process is called dehumanisation, and it’s the first step in any effective programme of terror.
During the Holocaust and its lead-up, Nazis consistently referred to Jewish people as “rats”. During the Rwandan genocide, Hutus called the Tutsi people “cockroaches”.
Belinda McKenzie is something of an expert in the field: in her dispatches to her followers, notice how often she refers to those who disagree with her as “Shadow People”or “types”. She has explained on a few occasions that she calls them “types” because, well, you can’t really call them “human”, can you?
And then there’s the inevitable slur: “paedophile” or “paedophile protector”. Who could fail to despise someone who’s been accused of violating the most helpless and innocent in our society, our children?
People can be made immune to feelings of compassion which might stop them from inflicting pain on others, if they believe those “others” are predatory or evil. In fact, judging from the number of horrific death threats which we’ve received at this blog, and which we’ve seen on YouTube, Twitter, or Facebook, some people feel downright virtuous when they believe they’ve hurt someone they believe is not really human.
In an article titled “‘Less Than Human’: The Psychology of Cruelty”, author David Livingstone Smith explains the human tendency to organise things hierarchically:
Human beings have long conceived of the universe as a hierarchy of value, says Smith, with God at the top and inert matter at the bottom, and everything else in between. That model of the universe “doesn’t make scientific sense,” says Smith, but “nonetheless, for some reason, we continue to conceive of the universe in that fashion, and we relegate nonhuman creatures to a lower position” on the scale.
Then, within the human category, there has historically been a hierarchy. In the 18th century, white Europeans — the architects of the theory — “modestly placed themselves at the very pinnacle.” The lower edges of the category merged with the apes, according to their thinking.
So “sub-Saharan Africans and Native Americans were denizens of the bottom of the human category,” when they were even granted human status. Mostly, they were seen as “soulless animals.” And that dramatic dehumanization made it possible for great atrocities to take place.
We’ve all seen Hoaxtead mobsters engage in this sort of thinking: they place themselves at the pinnacle of moral development, claiming to be “campaigners against child abuse”, meaning that anyone who disagrees with them is obviously a “campaigner for child abuse”—an allegation which is patently untrue, but which serves to separate the unbelievers from the herd, making them fair game for threats, harassment, and potentially, violence.
It can work both ways
It would be dishonest to claim that dehumanisation never works in the opposite direction.
How many times have we caught ourselves thinking (or saying) that those who believe that we run a child-raping, baby-murdering, cannibalistic cult are mentally deficient or simply evil?
We could argue that we weren’t the first to throw stones, and that the mockery we aim at the Hoaxtead supporters is less potentially harmful than the overt hatred and dehumanisation they have consistently used to depict us as subhuman and worthy of the worst possible treatment.
That is all true. No one who reads or writes this blog has committed any of the crimes of which we’ve all been accused. We’re innocent, and for most of us, the accusations were at first mystifying, then painful, and finally infuriating.
It’s natural to strike back against people who would like to see us dead.
Is it okay to use humour and mockery as a defence against those who dehumanise us? We happen to believe it is (or we wouldn’t be running this blog in the first place). We don’t subscribe to the “turn the other cheek” philosophy in this instance, though we maintain certain rules of fair play (no threats against the opposition, for example).
But it’s still worth considering the ways in which we think about those on the other side of the fence. If we attempt to reduce them to subhuman status, are we just as bad as they are? How do we maintain our fundamental decency while also fighting against beliefs we find repugnant?
If we allow ourselves to give in and start to believe that those we oppose are subhuman in any way, we run the risk of becoming the very thing we are fighting against. For all that we despise what those on the other side do, how do we ensure that we don’t attack their humanity…even if they feel no compunction about attacking ours?
Each of us will have our own thoughts about this, and we know there’s no single answer which will work for everyone. But we do think it’s worth a ponder.