It strikes me that the things we think of as inhumane are, in fact, totally human. As history and prehistory have shown time and again. The holocaust. Slavery. Jack the Ripper. Ted Bundy. The Cultural Revolution in China. Stalin’s tens of millions killed. The Killing Fields of Cambodia. When the Crusaders took Jerusalem, they killed every man, woman and child in the city. That was pretty much Standard Operating Procedure for European war in the Middle Ages—throw in raping all the women, of course.
I read an account in Empire of the Summer Moon about the Commanche, who routinely raped, tortured and killed captives. They cut a guy’s arms and legs off, then threw him onto a bonfire, still alive, and watched his trunk wiggle in the fire and laughed at it. Then of course there’s the drawings and quarterings, if we stop back on by Middle Ages Europe. The Spanish Inquisition, with its rack, its Iron Maiden, its burnings at the stake. Vlad and all of his delightful impalings.
But these are just the obvious examples. There’s also the garden variety exploitation we tolerate that goes on all over the world. The human trafficking. The near slavery conditions under which most of our clothing and electronics are manufactured. Even refusing to renew unemployment benefits even though there are more unemployed than there are open jobs seems a touch inhumane if you ask me. The bullying that happens every day in countless schoolyards and countless offices across this great land of ours.
Look at the Stanford Prison Experiments, where everyday college students morphed into sadistic guards with no prompting other than arbitrary power and boredom. Look at the Stanley Milgram obedience experiments, where people were willing to shock total strangers to the point of screaming just ’cause some guy with a clipboard said so. Look at lynchings. Stonings. Clitorectomies. Honor killings. Videotaped beheadings. Back on the mass level: the Roman games of gladiatorial blood and death. It seems that wherever and whenever throughout history and, one imagines, prehistory, one group of humans is able to grab and maintain real power over another group–usually a small group over a larger one–the former will exploit the latter up to and including slavery, torture, ritual and/or mass killings. A bit o’ the ol’ apartheid, anyone? Maybe a little genocide while we’re at it? So many options along that smorgasbord spectrum from common gore to deluxe degradation.
If we’re honest with ourselves, is there really anything more human after all than man’s serial inhumanity to man, woman, child and all sentient beings great and small?