Have We Lost Our Humanity?

Or did we have any to begin with?

Street art in Washington, DC. Photo taken by author.

Let me start with this. Humanity has always been inhumane. Atrocities have been committed throughout history. And, while we aren’t experiencing Genghis Khan-level atrocities at the moment (though Ukrainians might disagree), the United States is certainly allowing smaller, more localized atrocities to continue unabated. The U.S. hasn’t exactly been the paragon of all that is good and right with the world, but this tacit acceptance of current violence is particularly noticeable given our place in modern society. Racism, classism, and misogyny have been problems for centuries. Aren’t we supposed to be progressing though? We’re supposed to evolve and learn and become better societies. It seems like somewhere along the way we’ve lost the plot, the thread…our humanity.

There was a mass shooting on May 6, 2023 in Allen, Texas that killed at least nine people, including some children. Last month, a man in Texas shot five people execution-style because they asked him to pause firing his AR-15 while their baby was napping. A former Marine strangled Jordan Neely, who was homeless, to death on the New York City subway because Mr. Neely was screaming about being tired, hungry, and thirsty. He held the man in a chokehold for approximately 15 minutes while others watched, most doing nothing. There was another mass shooting on May 3, 2023, in Atlanta, GA. The other day a meteorologist threatened a little girl after she rang his doorbell while searching for her missing kitten. He said he had his gun cocked and that he pulled her hair because we shouldn’t be ringing doorbells anymore. State legislatures are passing incredibly restrictive anti-abortion laws, anti-trans laws, anti-LGBTQ laws, anti-education laws, and book bans. They all have a few things in common: anger, fear, power, and an inability or unwillingness to recognize the human beings affected by this inhumanity.

When did we become so inured to horrors happening right in front of us? Are things worse, which is hard to imagine when the bar for accepted behavior is already on the ground, or are we just more exposed to it? When a man, clearly suffering from mental health issues and a system that penalizes the unhoused just for existing, is murdered in a subway car and folks just watch, it’s clear we’re devolving instead of evolving. When the governor of Texas, in response to the execution of five people, calls them illegal immigrants (which isn’t completely true) instead of flat-out condemning their murder, it’s clear we’re devolving. When our elected representatives gleefully pass laws that restrict people’s rights to bodily autonomy and privacy, it’s clear we’re devolving. When our so-called leaders do nothing while the entire country suffers under the scourge of gun violence, it’s clear we’re devolving.

It’s worth mentioning that politicians, at all levels, benefit from divisiveness. It’s advantageous to their careers to when the folks they represent see each other as enemies. They get talking points, money, and power from our anger. They get to stay in office.

Societies require human interaction. Interacting with other people allows us the space to see people as they actually are rather than as we are told they are or what we imagine. We can see that others aren’t the boogeyman hiding in the closet, but are just people; maybe a little different from us, but really more alike than not. The simplest interactions are more fraught and tense, and potentially dangerous. We invented modern conveniences, like grocery delivery, Amazon, online shopping to make our lives easier. They also fundamentally changed how we function as a society. They’ve made us see interaction as an irritation to suffer through instead of vital to humanity’s survival. And yes, I do mean humanity as both a noun and a verb.

The pandemic hasn’t exactly done any of a lot of good either. It drove us inside for an extended period of time and our isolation became physical. Our mistrust and our fears flourished while we all tried to live through a deadly pandemic. We turned on each other instead of choosing to help. We wanted out, but proceeded to act like monsters when in public. We now make jokes about limiting our human interaction because other people are awful.

I mentioned this on Twitter and a commenter said that the dangers of asking for help have driven introverts even further into themselves. I don’t think it’s about introvert versus extrovert. In my amateur experience, admittedly as an extrovert, introverts don’t shun human interaction altogether. What we’re experiencing today feels like isolationism on a very personal level. People cannot survive, as mentally or emotionally healthy, when completely isolated from others. It’s why solitary confinement is considered by many to be torture.

So how do we regain our humanity, or at least try to find it? We have to stop listening to the people who benefit from our “othering” people we don’t know. We have to practice empathy rather than apathy and callousness. White folks have to stand up and call out racism. Anyone with privilege needs to use their voice to advocate for more equitable systems. We have to give the majority of people the benefit of the doubt. Not everyone is operating with malicious intent. Mostly, people are out here trying to survive, be decent, and hoping to not be hated for some arbitrary reason. They just want to exist.

No one will escape unscathed if we don’t start seeing each other as people instead of inconveniences and irritations.


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