The Voices of War

David Livingstone Smith - On Dehumanisation

August 9, 2021

My guest today is David Livingstone Smith, who is a Professor of Philosophy at the University of New England.

He has authored nine books with his more recent titles focusing on dehumanisation, race, and propaganda. His 2011 ‘Less Than Human: Why We Demean, Enslave and Exterminate Others’ won the 2012 Anisfield-Wolf award for nonfiction. David’s most recent book ‘On Inhumanity: Dehumanization and How to Resist It’ was published by Oxford University Press in 2020, and his tenth book, ‘Making Monsters: The Uncanny Power of Dehumanization’ will be published by Harvard University Press later this year.

David is an interdisciplinary scholar, whose publications are cited not only by other philosophers, but also by historians, legal scholars, psychologists, and anthropologists. He has been featured in prime-time television documentaries, is often interviewed and cited in the national and international media and was a guest at the G20 economic summit in 2012.

As many listeners will know, David is a leading thinker in this field, and has influenced much of our understanding of dehumanisation. We had a wide-ranging discussion and covered topics such as:

  • David’s motivation behind his research focus
  • Race as a cultural construct
  • The view one is ‘marinated’ in, is what one perceives as ‘real’
  • Different races vs. human variation
  • Race vs. Ethnicity
  • Assigning values to lives and the psychological cost of it
  • Overcoming the resistance to killing in war
  • Racilising and Dehumanisation as a protective mechanism in war
  • The cost of desensitisation to killing
  • Definition of dehumanisation
  • Psychological, political and social dimensions of dehumanisation
  • Why we’re all vulnerable to the process of dehumanisation
  • Dehumanisation is not a choice, but something that happens to us
  • The power of the environment and social forces
  • The need to assist soldiers ‘cleanse’ after killing on battlefields
  • The need to understand why atrocities in war occur
  • The ‘Essence’ of being human
  • ‘Making Monsters’
  • The need to face our ‘past’ to understand our ‘today’

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