Surgeons, pathologists, embalmers and even the corner butcher know about the little click, in the brain, that lets them look dispassionately at a living or once-living being and see, instead, just flesh, a thing, or meat. Without this shift in the moral vision, we could not heal the sick, bury the dead or eat a steak. And yet a closely related power of objectification is also the root of cruelty. To see a human being only as an object -- an enemy, an occupier or an animal -- unlocks the possibility for war, revolution and genocide.
Yesterday, footage of an attack on vehicles occupied by civilian contractors in Fallujah hit the Web sites and television screens of the wider world. An Associated Press cameraman happened upon the scene: First plumes of smoke seen at a distance through a grungy windshield; then shots of an SUV engulfed in orange flames surrounded by a crowd; then charred bodies. A man was beating one corpse with a pole, bending into his labor with his whole body, raising from a crouch until the weapon was high above his head, then slamming it down again. Later, in sharp contrast to the SUV, a compact car with no hubcaps dragged a body behind it. And then something out of Oliver Cromwell's England, bodies dangling from the girders of a truss bridge.
To watch these images dispassionately required that click, that willingness to say, not he or she but it. It's just a body. It's dead. It doesn't feel anything anymore. And yet the vast majority of Americans have no experience, and want no familiarity, with this turn of the mind's moral grammar. Squeamishness keeps us from reveling in cruelty, yet it also banishes the hard realities of cruelty from sight. It is our armor and our cop-out. - Philip Kennicott, The Washington Post
Yesterday saw an unprecedented display across the pages of our newspapers and the screens of our computers and televisions. A nation that only a couple of weeks ago balked at a few milliseconds of partially exposed female breast, has spent much of the last 48 hours with video and still images of mutilated, charred corpses being defiled on the streets of a foreign land.
Before we add one more notch to our collective de-sensitivity belts, it would be a good idea to take a look at a wonderfully insightful and poignant article by The Washington Post's Philip Kennicott. He says things about the nature of hatred and violence we should all keep foremost in our minds as we struggle to make sense of this increasingly nonsensical world.