While it is nice to dream about bicycle superhighways, smart growth economies and groovy architecture coming to our rescue we also have to confront the realities of human thinking and conduct regarding poverty. Introducing to the glossary a new word: infrahumanization. This is a process of belief in human relations, particularly group relations.
It’s an assumption that outgroups from your own experience life at lower levels of emotional complexity and nuance. To infrahumanize others is not the full on dehumanization found within the promotion of hatred and historical situations of invasion, repression and mass murder. Rather it is “above” those horrifying states which is what makes it so sticky and difficult. Infrahumanization represents the interplay of fear, sympathy and respect in one group for another in general society. It is usually seen as simply an acknowledgement of reality by one party to it and is a highly internalized phenomenon.
Particularly when the poor and the socially excluded, youth, social welfare recipients, criminal offenders and the disabled are seen this way it becomes a pernicious, divisive phenomenon expressed in widely held attitudes and thence official policy. Infrahumanization can be in effect up and down the social ladder as well as laterally. It tends not to involve violence and full on hatred but nourishes instead a lower key distance and loathing based on the assumption that the experience of the other group or individual is simply not as full or sophisticated as it can or should be for human beings and results in a corresponding reduction of that group’s status in the eyes of other groups and therefore society at large.
Infrahumanizing benefit claimants
image: Ishupragun via Wikimedia Commons