When we hear about monstrous acts, about atrocities like genocide, we’re apt to paint the perpetrators as monsters, as less than human. The psychological reality is more complex because the perpetrators rationalize their monstrous acts through this very same process of dehumanization, painting their victims as less than human, calling them ‘cockroaches’, ‘rats’ , fully believing in the righteousness of their cause, in the need for ‘extermination’.
Only through the rationalization of dehumanization can most perpetrators commit their monstrous acts. These same people surely have moments of tenderness within their own families and cultural groups, they have known kindness, generosity, mercy. They don’t consider their evil acts to be evil because they don’t consider their victims to be human.
Actually at the center of humanistic thought is the insight that there is nothing in you that couldn’t also be in me. This goes for our best and our worst qualities, for all that is noble and all that is dastardly within us. With this insight comes understanding. We don’t condone monstrous acts but we do see a fuller picture, gaining awareness about how people are able to commit these acts, realizing that the majority of ‘monsters’ don’t consider themselves to be monsters at all. By viewing these people as less than human we fall into the same psychological trap that they fell into to commit their evil acts in the first place.