LESS THAN HUMAN by David Livingstone Smith


Solving the Puzzle of Dehumanization
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Penetrative research on the brutal dehumanization of societies and why it’s been happening for centuries.

Smith (Philosophy and Evolutionary Psychology/Univ. of New England; The Most Dangerous Animal: Human Nature and the Origins of War, 2007) admits his surprise that the issues surrounding how humans denigrate their own species hasn’t garnered more importance within our culture. The author informatively deconstructs the nature of dehumanization by discussing its historical relevancy, biological components and resultant destructiveness. Though focused on the grim, historically influential events like the Holocaust, the slavery of sub-Saharan Africans and the ambush of Native American civilizations, Smith also recognizes the plights of women, the handicapped, immigrants and sexual minorities as subgroups who feel routinely stripped of their humanity. A structured combination of “biology, culture, and the architecture of the human mind,” the author believes this toxic bias, observed in chimpanzees and ants, is rooted in base differences, prejudicial behavior and the psychological “conflicting motives” of a civilization. Woven into Smith’s dense, circuitous analysis are references from psychologist, cognitive scientists, philosophers, alchemists and the research of anthropologists Jane Goodall and Lawrence Hirschfeld, who contribute conjecture on the dangerous and complex nature of racism, genocide and same-species killing. By analyzing the nature and the characteristics that make us intrinsically “human,” Smith hopes to reach a better understanding of why we hate and kill each other. An optimistic conclusion offers several possible solutions, all bolstered by the general public’s need for education and a thorough understanding of the basic mechanisms of this behavioral phenomenon.

An overstuffed yet scholarly and informative book on a regrettable aspect of humanity.

Pub Date: March 1st, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-312-53272-7
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 2011


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