Virtuous Violence, Authors: Alan Fiske and Tage Rai.
Out of Character, Authors: David DeSteno and Piercarlo Valdesolo.
By Tage Rai, Piercarlo Valdesolo and Jesse Graham – Ever since Rohingya militants attacked Myanmar police outposts, resulting in a dozen deaths in August 2017, Myanmar security forces have begun a campaign of ethnic cleansing.
This process of dehumanisation has been invoked to explain acts of violence ranging from the Holocaust and the prisoner abuses at Abu Ghraib to the ethnic violence against the Rohingya people. However, our recent research suggests that this explanation is mistaken.
To understand the active desire to cause pain and suffering in another person, we have to look to a counter-intuitive source: human morality.
We show in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2017, dehumanization allows us to commit instrumental violence, wherein people do not desire to harm victims, but knowingly harm them anyway in order to achieve some other objective. However, dehumanization does not cause us to commit moral violence, where people actively desire to harm victims who deserve it. We find that moral violence emerges only when perpetrators see victims as capable of thinking, experiencing sensations and having moral emotions. In other words, when perpetrators perceive their victims as human.
What we found was that dehumanizing victims predicts support for instrumental violence, but not for moral violence. For example, Americans who saw Iraqi civilians as less human were more likely to support drone strikes in Iraq. In this case, no one wants to kill innocent civilians, but if they die as collateral damage in the pursuit of killing ISIS terrorists, dehumanizing them eases our guilt. Dehumanization might not cause a white supremacist to kill, but it does enable the rest of us to stand aside and do nothing. more>