What is Big Think?  

We are Big Idea Hunters…

We live in a time of information abundance, which far too many of us see as information overload. With the sum total of human knowledge, past and present, at our fingertips, we’re faced with a crisis of attention: which ideas should we engage with, and why? Big Think is an evolving roadmap to the best thinking on the planet — the ideas that can help you think flexibly and act decisively in a multivariate world.

A word about Big Ideas and Themes — The architecture of Big Think

Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

Big Think Features:

12,000+ Expert Videos

1

Browse videos featuring experts across a wide range of disciplines, from personal health to business leadership to neuroscience.

Watch videos

World Renowned Bloggers

2

Big Think’s contributors offer expert analysis of the big ideas behind the news.

Go to blogs

Big Think Edge

3

Big Think’s Edge learning platform for career mentorship and professional development provides engaging and actionable courses delivered by the people who are shaping our future.

Find out more
Close

Why Torture Fails to Dehumanize

August 18, 2013, 7:00 AM
Ghosts-of-abu-ghraib-1024

I think that we’re used to hearing that people are dehumanized by acts of torture and of course that is right and I would never dispute that, but I think we don’t always know what we mean when we say that someone or some group of people have been dehumanized or someone or some other group of people have been humanized. 

Are these processes that exist on a kind of spectrum?  Are some people partially humanized and others fully?  Are some people gradually or partially dehumanized and others fully dehumanized and what does it mean that we still say that those people are dehumanized, that those humans are dehumanized?  Is there something left of the human that can’t be dehumanized and what is this power to humanize or to dehumanize?  

I think these are complex questions and we have to consider that the human is a category that has changed historically and that not everyone who we might want to consider human has always conformed to the norms that govern who a human is, so we certainly have seen that in the case of slavery.  We have certainly seen that in the case of indentured servitude.  We’ve certainly seen that in explicit cases where people are deprived of the right to vote on the basis of their ethnicity or religion or deprived of citizenship on the basis of some particular attribute that they carry, but it seems to me that we have to realize that although torture dehumanizes clearly it’s also a way of trying to lay claim to who will be the human in the sense and who will not. So we could say that the category of the human is being brokered in the sense of torture. 

The torturer wants a certain kind of power, even an absolute power, and if the tortured does not suffer the torturer is not going to be happy, is not going to be satisfied.  In other words, there has to be suffering, but if there is suffering that means that whoever is being tortured is displaying some kind of human emotion, some kind of human response, so in that way dehumanization fails to completely achieve its end if its end is to deprive the other of all human attributes since the dehumanization that torture affects also requires a certain kind of human response. 

So my point is simply that torture is a contradictory activity, that dehumanization does fail and even if torture kills the person we still have a person who has been killed and who can be openly mourned and if that person can be openly mourned there is a certain kind of quality of humanization that is attributed to that person.  They are still constituted as a human life that is lost, so humanization takes place ex-post facto, we might say. 

 

 

Why Torture Fails to Dehuma...

Newsletter: Share: