Virtual Event: David Livingstone Smith


On Inhumanity:
Dehumanization and How to Resist It

in conversation with JOHN KAAG


June 18, 2020
7:00 PM ET


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Free - $5 contribution suggested at registration

Harvard Book Store's virtual event series welcomes DAVID LIVINGSTONE SMITH—Professor of Philosophy at the University of New England and author of Less Than Human: Why We Demean, Enslave and Exterminate Others—for a discussion of his latest book, On Inhumanity: Dehumanization and How to Resist It. He will be joined in conversation by JOHN KAAG, author of Sick Souls, Healthy Minds: How William James Can Save Your Life—available for purchase here.

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About On Inhumanity

The Rwandan genocide, the Holocaust, the lynching of African Americans, the colonial slave trade: these are horrific episodes of mass violence spawned from racism and hatred. We like to think that we could never see such evils again—that we would stand up and fight. But something deep in the human psyche—deeper than prejudice itself—leads people to persecute the other: dehumanization, or the human propensity to think of others as less than human.

An award-winning author and philosopher, Smith takes an unflinching look at the mechanisms of the mind that encourage us to see someone as less than human. There is something peculiar and horrifying in human psychology that makes us vulnerable to thinking of whole groups of people as subhuman creatures. When governments or other groups stand to gain by exploiting this innate propensity, and know just how to manipulate words and images to trigger it, there is no limit to the violence and hatred that can result.

Drawing on numerous historical and contemporary cases and recent psychological research, On Inhumanity is the first accessible guide to the phenomenon of dehumanization. Smith walks readers through the psychology of dehumanization, revealing its underlying role in both notorious and lesser-known episodes of violence from history and current events. In particular, he considers the uncomfortable kinship between racism and dehumanization, where beliefs involving race are so often precursors to dehumanization and the horrors that flow from it.

On Inhumanity is bracing and vital reading in a world lurching towards authoritarian political regimes, resurgent white nationalism, refugee crises that breed nativist hostility, and fast-spreading racist rhetoric. The book will open your eyes to the pervasive dangers of dehumanization and the prejudices that can too easily take root within us, and resist them before they spread into the wider world.

Praise for On Inhumanity

"This book is firm but gentle, wise but accessible. Its reflections on our worst habits of politics are phrased in such a way that they allow us to see what better habits might be." —Timothy Snyder, Yale University, author of On Tyranny

"This brilliant and powerful book is a philosophically sophisticated and prophetically courageous treatment of dehumanization, especially in regard to race. It is timely and needful in our monstrous times! Don't miss it!" —Cornel West, Professor of the Practice of Public Philosophy, Harvard University

"On Inhumanity is a powerful exploration of the processes and consequences of dehumanization. Concerning himself with violence and the processes that motivate the extermination of 'lesser beings,' Smith pens a much-needed treatment of the constantly reemerging brutality that is seemingly endemic to the human condition . . . Simply put, On Inhumanity is a most appropriate confrontation with the illusions and political powers that produce sub-humanity in the 21st century." —Tommy J. Curry, University of Edinburgh, author of The Man-Not

David Livingstone Smith
David Livingstone Smith

David Livingstone Smith

David Livingstone Smith is Professor of Philosophy at the University of New England. His book Less Than Human: Why We Demean, Enslave and Exterminate Others (St. Martin's Press, 2011) won the 2012 Anisfield-Wolf award for nonfiction, an award reserved for books that made important contributions to our understanding of racism and human diversity. His work has been featured in prime-time television documentaries, is often interviewed and cited in the national and international media, and was a guest presenter at the 2012 G20 economic summit, where he spoke about dehumanization and mass violence.

Photo Credit: Holly Haywood

John Kaag
John Kaag

John Kaag

John Kaag is a professor of philosophy at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. He is the author of American Philosophy: A Love Story and Hiking with Nietzsche, both of which were named best books of the year by NPR. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Harper’s Magazine, The Christian Science Monitor, and many other publications. He lives outside Boston with his wife and children.

Photo Credit: Douglas Merriam

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