Resisting dehumanization is no easy task because, in this field, human creativity is boundless. During the lecture, we asked ourselves the following: “Is inhumanity proper to humanity?”. We weren’t able to give ourselves an answer, which is certainly unsurprising if we take into account the variety of dehumanizing practices overclouding our research.

The variety of dehumanizing practices

The first to be addressed is the concept of “incomplete human”. Leaving aside the discussions and debates of the Renaissance humanists, such as Valladolid’s question “Indians: are they human beings?”, let us consider directly the 19th century and the allegedly scientific argument, later recalled by the Italian positivist school, according to which some human beings have fallen behind in the evolutionary process. Lombroso, for instance, grounds the atavism of certain forms of criminality on the continuity between animals and humans, thus anticipating the eugenics of the beginning of the 20th century and the figure of the “abnormal type”, i.e., a monster described as an incomplete man, a combination between human and non-human that legitimizes – according to him – the use of a series of drastic measures, such as coerced sterilization.

Dehumanization, however, is not limited to this. The 20th century is tragically marked by exclusionary policies implemented by authoritarian regimes. The latter have initially instrumentalized scientific works, to later get around them and, as is well known, to openly promote the exclusion of specific human groups, to the point of genocide. Such discriminatory practices were later qualified, starting with the judgments at the Nuremberg Trials, as “crimes against humanity”. This notion later progressively broadened, although it didn’t manage to prevent the insurgence, even in the 21st century, of new forms of dehumanization, such as those put in practice by the “Janus Bifrons”, two-faced State: one oriented towards security and the other towards liberalism, or even ultra-liberalism. Almost as if globalization replaced the myth of legal humanism with two more myths, which can indeed coexist: total security on the one hand and total market on the other.

In the name of a hypothetical zero risk, the securitarian myth allows to establish the police of suspicion and profiling, as well as predictive justice that replaces responsibility with dangerousness and punishment with neutralization; it arranges the traceability of populations at risk and promotes the concept of “de-radicalization”, a very reductive one indeed, to counter the attraction of jihadism.

Sacred furies and radicalization: The three areas of the brain
Recourse to law is often instrumentalized to justify government practices based on fear. Hence the need to renew the method, to include research on behavior (both individual and group behavior, including that of States) that we struggle to explain rationally, such as identity closure or thesecuritarian drifts. We call these “sacred furies”: “furies” because they arise from the archaic drives of fear and survival, “sacred” since these behaviors pertain to the forbidden areas linked to the deep self of every being. To be effective, this renewal must rely on great interdisciplinarity and include, in addition to the humanities (law, history, anthropology, sociology, economy…) also research on cognitive and social neurosciences, in particular the observations on the functional models measured through the magnetic resonance imaging of the human brain. In the face of the persistence of these “sacred furies”, we must revert to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which establishes that human beings are “endowed with reason and conscience”, and draw the necessary conclusions with respect to the latter expression (in terms of moral conscience), which was inserted at the time at the request of the Chinese delegate.
In the Anthropocene era, humankind as such should also be able to significantly affect its own future. Endowed with reason, and in order to understand its crises, it can set into synergic motion all the available knowledge, breaking down the barriers that separate disciplines. Endowed with conscience, it can improve not only its cognitive skills but also the understanding of its own drives – in particular when emotions cause automatic thinking – so as to set up processes of resistance to the temptation of absolutist identities.
We may have overestimated the importance of logical reasoning and underestimated, despite the persistence of the “sacred furies” and other behaviors that elude reason, the relevance of the old cerebral cortex: the characteristic of reptiles and the first mammals that all of us keep within. We have thus forgotten that the evolution of societies, as that of individuals, is neither continuous nor consistent. Indeed, the evolution of the cerebral cortex has brought to a second, more rational system – called “algorithmic”, since it relates to logical algorithms; yet, it has not erased the old cortex, which controls the first system, called “heuristic” – i.e., concerning drives and other automatic thinking and acting reflexes. Linked to the emotional context, both individual and social, this latter system is much quicker and, in its own way, more effective. Now, brain imaging shows that the two systems coexist, together with their potential conflicts, in all human beings; it also attests to the presence of a third system, called “executive”, critical though discontinuous and exercised by the prefrontal cortex. It is undoubtedly possible to improve this control system on a case-by-case basis, yet under the condition that citizens learn to resist automatisms which elude reason when burdened by emotions, and that political executives do not instrumentalize said automatisms, but contribute instead to educating citizens to critical thinking (Houndé 2014).

We are moving from a humanistic anthropology to “a warrior anthropology” characterized by a determinism that renounces free will and makes exclusion the guiding principle of every intervention. This applies to terrorists qualified as “unlawful enemy combatants”, therefore outside of the law, since they are neither criminals nor fighters, but it also applies to perpetrators of crimes whose recidivism is feared. We come to the dehumanization of this type of human being, labelled as “dangerous” and apt for elimination, like an aggressive animal. In such a context, the ultra-liberal myth of a self-regulating market may appear less disquieting. Even the latter, however, ends up assimilating human beings to commodities, and workers to resources: the safeguards of labour law appear then as an obstacle to investment – in this regard, suffice it to refer to the recommendations of the World Bank from a couple of years ago. The result is thus the “reification” of the human being.

With the reified human approach, the perspective changes. Some new technologies have been introducing the idea of “fabricated” humans. This is not a matter of destruction, as in the case of genocide, nor of suffering or humiliation, as in torture, but of only a seemingly positive type of fabrication of life. The French criminal code qualifies this as a “crime against the human species” if it is aimed at managing the selection of people and reproductive cloning – given that one day it will be possible – with the objective to deliver a child genetically identical to another person, either alive or deceased. In other words, the attempt is to protect the human species, yet this is done by separating it from humanity.

Continue at p. 2 – The irreducible human element