Monday, July 10, 2017

"Us" and "Them" Categories

[Please note that this version of this text has been recovered from an early draft due to a server crash. There may be a few typos and even mistakes in the following]

This section on the social construction of moral boundaries initially rests on Zygmunt Bauman’s powerful and important sociological insights (Bauman 1989; 1990; 1993).  For example, in Thinking Sociologically (1990), written as an introductory sociological text, Bauman explains in detail the societal prevalence and manufacture of ‘us’ and ‘them’ categories, along with the vital role of the on-going lifelong process of socialisation; the social importance of ‘belonging’; the significance of notions of ‘community’; and the construction of ‘in-groups’ and ‘out-groups’.  In sum, Bauman provides a convincing sociological account of social learning and boundary construction which he connects to the concept of the ‘non-universal universe of moral obligations’, based on the putative human need to draw boundary lines and become involved in guarding those boundaries. 

          As social animals Bauman notes that human beings ‘live in the company of other people’, in groups in which they interactively understand that they are greatly dependent on each other (1990: 9).  To say that to live is to live with others ‘is obvious to the point of banality’, Bauman notes (1993: 146), yet it is just this taken-for-granted, ‘we hardly need to think about it’, character of living with others which endows it with much of its sociological importance.  For living amongst others is to live in what Bauman calls ‘manifold webs of human interdependency’, which have important effects on human motivations and social behaviour (1990: 14).  One important ‘product’ of this interdependency is something sociology has a special relationship with: common sense.

          Apart from considering this special relationship between common sense and sociology, Bauman regards common sense knowledge and common sense understandings as powerful social mechanisms which can fundamentally shape attitudes about the world in which humans live.  The apparent ‘power’ of common sense emerges from its general immunity to being seriously questioned with obvious implications for social movement activists who seek social and political change.  It has an effective capacity for self-confirmation; its knowledge is based on precepts which are, by its own lights, largely self-evident.  Common sense understandings are maintained, argues Bauman, through repetition of the ‘routine’, and the enactment of the ‘monotonous nature of everyday life’.  This enactment of routine has two characteristics: it informs common sense while being informed by common sense.  Bauman adds:

As long as we go through the routine and habitualised motions which fill most of our daily business, we do not need much self-scrutiny and self-analysis. When repeated often enough, things tend to become familiar, and familiar things are self-explanatory; they present no problems and arouse no curiosity.  In a way, they remain invisible (ibid.: 15).

As social beings, humans live in groups which can exert an immense ‘hold’ on the individual.  Bauman says that the group ‘makes people’, and this means that resisting the important messages of the group can be a relatively hard thing to do.  He claims that changing the individual which the group has created requires the ‘utmost exertion’.  Abiding by - rather than challenging - the norms and values of your group is much the easiest and most unproblematic course to adopt:  ‘Change would require much more effort, self-sacrifice, determination and endurance than are normally needed for living placidly and obediently in conformity with the upbringing offered by the group into which one was born’ (ibid.: 24-5):

The contrast between the ease of swimming with the stream and the difficulty of changing sides is the secret of that hold which my natural group has over me; it is the secret of my dependence on my group. If I look closely and try to write down an inventory of all those things I owe to the group to which I - for better or worse - belong, I’ll end up with quite a long list (ibid.: 25).

From this group - and especially from particular significant members of it at different times - we secure the ‘enormous knowledge’ necessary just for mundane everyday living.  It is interesting that Bauman, in the above quotation, identifies a certain ‘secrecy’ embedded in the whole process he is outlining.  He argues that, in general terms, individuals are not especially aware of the ways they have acquired important social knowledge but, nevertheless, acquire it they do; moreover, uncritically abiding by it is much the easiest thing to do.  People tend to end up knowing that, somewhere within them, they have the knowledge that they need and depend on to help them fight through their daily tasks and challenges (ibid.: 26).  This knowledge is manifested in a set of rules which individuals can recite and can be seen in a set of practical skills needed for living in the social world.  With a nod toward an ethnomethodological understanding of common sense knowledge, Bauman says such skills are effortlessly utilised throughout life.

          Bauman asserts that basic precepts of this essential knowledge are acquired in early childhood, from a time ‘which one does not remember much’ (ibid).  Returning to the notion of the significance of these ‘social lessons’, Bauman states that this early knowledge is ‘so well settled’ that it has ‘a powerful grip’ on the individual.  Such knowledge is largely taken for granted as a ‘natural’ thing which therefore does not require much questioning.  Bauman further asserts that socialisation processes ‘sediments’ durable social structures (1993: 143).  Bauman regularly uses Durkheimian notions of sedimentation in his writings, and it is clear here that the suggestion is that social knowledge has solidly settled within the minds of persons, and settled with an influential existential utilisation of a fundamental nature.[1]

          Bauman also uses George Herbert Mead’s I and Me formulation to note that, not only does a collection of beliefs become internalised, but - again - these beliefs have the appearance of being obvious, self-evident and comfortably ‘natural’.  It is perhaps now high time to note that this reading of Bauman’s account seems, thus far at least, to be overly deterministic and therefore such a reading would be a gross misrepresentation of the case he actually makes.  When Bauman explains the process of secondary socialisation, as opposed to the details of early primary socialisation, it becomes apparent that the ‘one-way process’ thus far implied is rather illusory.  However, for the purposes of the present study (in particular for a section which appears later in the present thesis), it is important to carefully reiterate and underline that Bauman does clearly claim that there is relatively little agency or dialectical input on behalf of the socialised in their earliest experiences of the socialisation process.  Echoing Wrong’s (1961) well-known objection to overly deterministic views of the process of socialisation, it would seem evidently incorrect to uncritically accept that individuals routinely ‘take on board’, without any reflection or qualification, every societal value and social norm they are taught in their early upbringing.  Nevertheless, Bauman indicates that it would be equally erroneous not to recognise the social and psychological importance and sedimentary impact – and, indeed, the potential longevity - of this early foundational learning.  To make these points a little clearer, and to develop the argument somewhat, the introduction of subsequent features highlighted by Bauman which include a greater degree of human agency in the account of socialisation processes is useful at this point.

Processes of Socialisation.

From the fairly standard starting point that the socialisation process is an ‘on-going’ phenomenon, not limited to childhood,[2] Bauman suggests that later (secondary) socialisation can be regarded as ‘the dialectics of freedom and dependence’ which starts at birth and ends at death (1990: 35).  There are two important things to note here.  In early socialisation, a child appears to have little opportunity to seriously challenge the content of the social lessons she receives, and perhaps has an even smaller sense of freedom of choice with regards to ‘deciding’ the group which she is ultimately dependent upon.  Thus, Bauman argues, very young children effectively have ‘no choice about family, locality, neighbourhood, class or country’ (ibid).  However, the older one gets, the wider one’s choices may become; and Bauman suggests that, at last, some dependencies can effectively become challenged and rejected, while others are actively sought and voluntarily assumed.[3] 

          Even so, human beings are never entirely liberated from their past; and perhaps the most frequent experience of social life is the experience of being free and unfree at the same time.  Furthermore, while some changes may seem to be attractive, in practice they may be impossible to bring about.  In respect of those cases in which change is actually possible, Bauman reminds his readers that ‘the costs of change are exorbitant and off-putting’ (ibid).  Here, Bauman argues that some social habits become so firmly fixed that the ‘expense of change’ may appear to be just too much to take on.  In such circumstances, there appears to be just a little too much to ‘de-learn’; too many established habits that need ‘forgetting’, and thus - with age - ‘making a break’ becomes more and more impossible, unlikely, and ultimately unattractive.  This is a crucial insight as far as this thesis is concerned because, with David DeGrazia (1996: 44), it is suggested that some early socialised ‘lessons’ often appear to be extremely difficult to negate and successfully resist.  Put differently, some socially-constructed attitudes and many fundamental internalised and institutionalised values and beliefs become so firmly sedimented, that breaking away from them may well require some supreme effort.[4] 

          In addition, and this is an extremely important point for all those seeking change in human-nonhuman relations, it is argued that the perceived ‘costs’ of change must seem to make sense and appear worthy of being paid.  In other words, given the perceived costs, there must be something that makes ‘paying’ attractive - this must outweigh the apparent attractiveness of avoiding change.  In terms of rejecting traditional attitudes about humans and other animals in any genuine animal rights sense, that is, beyond traditional animal welfarism (developed in Part Two), the social costs involved may appear to be very great indeed (Adams 2000; 2001).  Moreover, and again serving to underline the widespread prevalence of the ideology of animal welfare, the ‘need’ to pay such a high cost may not be immediately apparent due to the dominance of orthodox orientations toward human-nonhuman relations.  The evidence presented in this thesis essentially suggests that the predominance of welfarist ideology seductively states that there is no need to attempt to fix what is not broken.

Insiders and Outsiders.

Returning directly to the details of Bauman’s (1990) sociological account of socialisation processes, thus far the focus has been concentrated on the social factors involved in ‘insider group’ construction.  However, where there is a notion of ‘inside’, there is a corresponding notion of ‘outside’ as well.  Indeed, the very notion of ‘inside’ logically relies on the existence of a clearly perceivable ‘outside’ in order for the concept to make sense.  It may be noted that, in part, ‘the dialectics of freedom and dependence’ means that, at some stages, there can be opportunities to ‘choose groups’.  For, there is no suggestion in Bauman’s account of socialisation that its processes can successfully manufacture an utterly homogenous population.  Miliband (1969) rather earlier asserted (although in another context), that he thought it unlikely that any social process could create such a ‘conservative’ population.  Rather, individuals are socialised into particular and varied social groups whose values may oppose - and be opposed by - others.  After early childhood, there are greater chances to change - or even form – these all-important groups.  In this ‘multi-group situation’, Bauman notes that Alfred Schutz has suggested that individuals often judge other members of humanity by reference to an imaginary line, a continuum, based on the notion of social distance (Bauman 1990: 38). 

          Social distance grows ‘as social intercourse shrinks in its volume and intensity’, Bauman argues (ibid.: 38-9).  Variations in social distance also involves a decrease or increase in empathy or ‘fellow feeling’ based on feelings of mental and moral proximity regulated or influenced by physical and/or psychic distance.  This, then, is the social construction of morally important ‘in’ and ‘out’ groups populated by ‘us’ as opposed to ‘them’.  Bauman argues that ‘we’ and ‘they’

do not stand just for two separate groups of people, but for the distinction between two totally different attitudes - between emotional attachment and antipathy, trust and suspicion, security and fear, cooperativeness and pugnacity (ibid.: 39). 

Bauman also says that ‘the ‘We’ group stands for the group to which I belong’: 

What happens inside this group, I understand well - and since I understand, I know how to go on, I feel secure and at home. The group is, so to speak, my natural habitat, the place where I like to be and to which I return with a feeling of relief (ibid). 

However, the ‘They’ group:

stands for a group to which I either cannot or do not wish to belong. My vision of what is going on in that group is thereby vague and fragmentary, I poorly comprehend its conduct, and hence what that group is doing is to me by and large unpredictable and by the same token frightening (ibid).

Bauman maintains that part of being ‘trained to live’ in a world constructed by human beings involves making boundaries that are ‘as exact as possible’.  This exactness is important because it is necessary that boundaries are both easily noticed and unambiguously understood (ibid.: 55).  Bauman argues that this is a matter of supreme importance.  He notes that, ‘well-marked boundaries send us an unmistakable signal’ in terms of expectations and in relation to which learned patterns of conduct to employ. 

          Following Georg Simmel, Bauman describes how others perceived as strangers can be seen as less morally valuable than non-strangers.  Others seen as strangers - by definition, cases in which moral proximity can be regarded as being reduced - means that moral responsibility toward them can be correspondingly lessened.  The lack of moral proximity evidently results in the increased possibility of overcoming the ‘animal pity’ which Bauman - citing Hannah Arendt - argues is generated by humans beings being with each other (1989: 20; 24).[5]  In other words, a moral ‘proximity lack’ means that social actors have no special need to abide by what Bauman regards as the usual ethical character of human relationships (1990: 54-70).  However, this is not to say that, necessarily, strangers are automatically treated like ‘enemies’.  But, importantly, they may be and, if they are, this can mean that strangers are liable to end up being ‘deprived of that protection which only moral proximity may offer’ (ibid.: 70). 

          Bauman notes that there are different ‘levels’ in ideas of moral proximity.  Something that may be described as ‘civil inattention’ may be but a ‘short step’ away from the more serious notion of ‘moral indifference’, he claims.  Both may lead to ‘heartlessness’ and a ‘disregard for the needs of others’ (ibid).  According to Bauman, the construction of stranger creates the outsider classification: ‘They’, firmly conceptualised as different and considered opposite to insiders.  Again (once more emphasising ideas of being ‘in’ or ‘out’), further influential notions of ‘togetherness’ and ‘community’ are important building blocks to forge a feeling of unity – a unity between insiders.  Such feelings of unity may be genuine or may be merely desired, suggests Bauman, but it is a ‘spiritual unity, subject to a shared spiritual authority, that we have in mind first and foremost’ (ibid.: 72, emphasis in original).  According to Bauman:

One shared view which underlies and conditions the sharing of all other views is the agreement that the collection under discussion is indeed a community - that is, inside   its boundaries views and attitudes are, or ought to be, shared, and that agreement can and should be achieved if any of the views (merely temporarily, one believes) differ (ibid).

Bauman next describes ‘the community type of belonging’.  At its most basic and obvious, a ‘community’ does not exist if the factors which unite people are weaker than the factors that can divide them.  What is essential, he claims (adding that he is tempted to contend that this is an ‘overwhelming consideration’), is a certain similarity between community members.  Returning to the commonsensical elements which run throughout this analysis, Bauman states that community members view their collectivity as having a natural unquestioned unity (ibid).  Therefore, this community type of belonging is reified as a thing, a social fact; as a solid fact of nature

          As ‘community’ is idealised - and regarded as simply there - its perception is all the stronger during times when it does not need to be talked about.  In these circumstances, the ‘hold of community’ can be significant.  Again, its normative strength is gained through its very invisibility.  Bauman suggests that the very idea of community is so sociologically important that it may simply exist as a postulate (an assumption without proof).  It is therefore assumed that community exists even though it may be ‘an expression of desire, a clarion call to close the ranks, rather than a reality’ (ibid.: 73). Constructions of community are so vital that:

we bring to life, or keep alive, or resuscitate a community of meanings and beliefs which has never existed ‘naturally’, or is already about to fall apart, or is to rise again from the ashes (ibid).

In effect, then, Bauman notes that a social community is largely an ideological construct, no doubt effectively serving many useful and necessary ends for the social beings inside it (some more than others to be sure), not least in the drawing of the apparently essential boundaries between ‘us’ and ‘them’.

          Once constructed, boundaries need - naturally enough - to be jealously, or at least studiously, guarded.  Important attention must, therefore, be given to gate-keeping activities.  After all, insiders and outsiders cannot merely choose themselves in an unregulated manner.  Ways of deciding who’s who are crucial material and on-going requirements.  As noted, Bauman has argued that the ‘universe of moral obligations’ is, in fact, ‘non-universal’.  Here the sense of ‘social closure’ is clearly seen, dealt with in all sociological accounts of social mobility.  However, there also exists the additional sense of moral closure as well.  Again, means of differentiation are extremely important. 

          While it is a sociological convention to focus on notions of social class, ‘race’ and gender to explore social differences which may result in levels of inequality, in relation to issues of morality Bauman appears to acknowledge and accept that perhaps the deepest divide is based on species membership.  For example, he argues (ibid.: 138) that humans are most likely to remain categorised as moral subjects if they can remain categorised as human beings.  Bauman notes that humans have evolved notions that ‘being human’, on its own, entitles the subject to special treatment: treatment reserved for human beings only, and regarded (at least in theory) as the proper treatment of every human being.  As some building block or consequence of human rights thinking, this construction of ‘proper treatment’ is so strong, Bauman claims, that ‘one may even say that the concepts of a ‘moral object’ and ‘human being’ have the same referent - their respective scopes overlap’ (ibid).  In terms of moral proximity and physical treatment, there is, of course, a flip-side to this: 

Whenever certain persons or categories of people are denied the right to our moral responsibility, they are treated as ‘lesser humans’, ‘flawed humans’, ‘not fully human’, or downright ‘non-human’ (ibid).

If simply being ‘less-than-human’ can be a serious threat to one’s moral standing, the apparently thoroughly unforgiving status of nonhuman puts one furthest away from the likelihood of being treated as morally valuable.[6]  Thus, historically, some early human communities deliberately described themselves with names that literally meant ‘human’, thus automatically casting all ‘outsiders’, all ‘others’, into nonhuman categories and therefore outside of the boundary of ethical concern (Midgley 1983: 101).  By the same token, human slaves have been commonly regarded as nonhuman - or at least distant ‘beast-like’ barbarians (Clark 1985: 42, writing about the thoughts of Aristotle).  Bauman, however – quite possibly thinking about his own powerfully disturbing analysis of the rational, bureaucratic and ultimately ‘modern’ Nazi Holocaust (Bauman 1989) - comments that, ‘Our century has been notorious for the appearance of highly influential worldviews that called for the exclusion of whole categories of the population - classes, nations, races, religions - from the universe of moral obligations’ (1990: 138-39).

The Exercise of Exclusion: Moral Closure.

From his North American perspective, animal rights philosopher Tom Regan (2001) also examines the notion of the non-universal nature of the universe of moral obligations.  In a chapter entitled, ‘Patterns of Resistance’, Regan outlines how religious and scientific ideas have been used throughout history to attempt to block access to the ‘moral universe’.  He argues that, regardless (and because) of the use of the phrase ‘all men’ in the North American Declaration of Independence, not every person was deemed to be possessors of the rights to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.  Clearly exploring notions of processes of moral closure, Regan asserts that, ‘the plain fact is that not all humans, not even all men, were included under the rubric ‘all men’ (2001: 108).  Regan focuses his attention on four excluded groups: African Americans, women, gays and lesbians, and animals other than human.  He details the patterns of resistance that were (and are) utilised to preserve their exclusion from the moral ‘in-group’.  This historical exercise of exclusion is the history of boundary building, boundary guarding and boundary maintenance for the benefit of moral insiders, initially of course ‘white male property owners’ (ibid).  According to Regan, exclusion results in the construction of what he regards as a ‘less than ideal’ moral community.  He asks, ‘How do the beneficiaries of membership in a less than ideal moral community act to retain their privileged status?’ (ibid.: 109).  Brute force is one frequently employed option, he says, but there are other powerful social institutions that can also assist in the process of exclusion, such as religious and scientific ones.[7] 

          Although these are the forces he chooses to concentrate his particular analysis on, Regan immediately and sensibly acknowledges that other social institutions are involved as well, not least those of economics and politics and ‘the sheer power of custom, including popular culture - the media, the songs that are sung, [and] the art of the times’ (ibid.: 110).


It has been argued that humour plays an important sociocultural and ideological role in society (Powell & Paton 1988), featuring as it does in popular culture, songs and, indeed, the ‘art of the times’.  Although not entirely neglected by sociologists, the sociology of humour has not traditionally been included as a major or central interest of the discipline.  However, humour can play a substantial role in terms of social control and resistance to such control.  Thus, through a ‘jokelore’, social and political values can be transmitted within and between societies and, as Powell & Paton point out (ibid.: xi), sociologists of all people should appreciate that extracting any human activity from its social context is problematic and unwise.  Christie Davies’ chapter in this collection on ‘stupidity and rationality’ (Davies 1988) appears to helpfully inform the discussion thus far in this section.  For example, his analysis of humour is supportive of Bauman’s contention about the moral benefits of ‘insider status’ - as well as having something significant to say about human-nonhuman relations.  For instance, Davies writes that people of various nationalities often use humour to poke fun at and, more seriously, denigrate both the social and moral standing of selected others.  Thus, the British have traditionally told jokes about the Irish, North Americans have told jokes about the Polish, the French aim their humour at Belgians and so on (ibid.: 2). 

          Davies claims such jokes enjoy an ‘enormous and universal popularity’.  Moreover, part of their ideological function is to present or construct a group of people who are characterised as ‘stupid outsiders’.  This is not a small or inconsequential matter, he argues, because people have a ‘deep-seated’ need to manufacture these outsiders (ibid.: 3).  As said, Davies’ position appears to directly support Bauman’s perspective on the social significance of moral distance and the corresponding link to notions of moral respect.  For example, he writes:

By telling jokes about the stupidity of a group on the periphery of their society, people can place this despised and feared quality at a distance and gain reassurance that they and the members of their own group are not themselves stupid or irrational (ibid).

Davies reproduces a selection of the jokes to reveal the ‘stupidity’ of the victim population: the butts of the joke.  In one example, the way of suggesting that a targeted human being is a stupid person is to indicate the possession of less intelligence than a nonhuman animal.  This joke concerns a rocket being launched with a crew of one human (a representative of the victim population) and one chimpanzee.  Every so often the chimp is instructed by ‘mission control’ to complete complicated and important flight tasks inside the rocket.  Unemployed throughout, eventually the human gets extremely irritated and restful; but then his orders finally arrive.  They read: ‘feed the chimpanzee’ (ibid.: 7).

          On one level, the human is simply denigrated by being shown to be intellectually and hierarchically inferior to the chimpanzee pilot.  However, when real live chimpanzees have been blasted into space by humans they have been sent there as experimental animals, as ‘scientific’ models.  Thus - in this joke - this human and the other animal share the same designation of an ‘experimental tool’ or ‘model’, even though the chimp is given superior status.  Keeping the focus on the position of the human, and recalling Bauman’s ‘holocaust thesis’, which involved Nazis subjecting depersonalised humans, that is humans-seen-as-nonhuman-animals, to painful and often fatal experimental procedures, it is suggested in the joke that once humans can be said to share the same referent as ‘animal’, they may be used in potentially stressful, painful or lethal experiments.  However, as in many jokes, the status of the nonhuman as an exploitable and legitimately ‘harmable’ being, while essential for the internal logic of the joke, is silently assumed as a given reality.[8] 

          In another example, Davies (ibid.: 1, in the first joke he cites) reproduces a North American joke about a Polish couple who buy chickens and proceed to plant them in the ground like vegetables.  Their stupidity is predicated on their surprise that the birds died.  However, the deaths - and the property status of the chickens - are not important or problematic within the internal logic of the joke.  After all, it is this very lack of importance which leads Bauman, citing Stanley Milgram’s infamous social psychological experiments about ‘authority’, to warn that any successful ‘moving away’ of people from the status of human being is likely to lead to negative consequences for the individuals involved. 

          As seen in detail a little later in the thesis, the process of dehumanisation can only ‘work’ (function) if the successful transformation of humans to the status of nonhuman is widely ‘understood’ as an act that is imbued with sociopolitical and hierarchical meanings.  In other words, intentionally placing people into a category of ‘animal’ in order to subsequently exploit or oppress them would seem to serve little purpose if many other animals were not already constructed as potentially exploitable or, for various reasons, ‘killable’ (ideologically ‘cullable’) beings; or ‘human resources’ and so on. 
To very briefly recap, some of the prevailing social forces and processes which ultimately result in the construction of ‘in’ and ‘out’ groups have been outlined.  To ‘achieve’ allegiance to such categories, groups need efficient social control mechanisms which construct insiders and outsiders.  And although these mechanisms cannot in any sense be regarded as absolutely deterministic, the evidence suggests that they function to a sufficient extent to effectively construct these meaningful categories.  Utilising concepts of ‘in’ and ‘out’, ‘community’, ‘group’, ‘similarity’ and ‘difference’, it is perhaps quite evident that the categories of ‘human’ and ‘nonhuman’ frequently have a significant ideological role to play.  Exploring the rational, organised, and ‘efficient’ administrative genocide in Nazi Germany, Bauman (1989) emphasises the practical necessity of the presence of all the factors discussed thus far in this section.  Thus, Jews and other ‘others’, over a period of time and with systematic care and attention to detail, were physically and psychically separated from the general German population, who were themselves reformulated in Nazi ideology as a Caucasian ‘race’ of non-Jewish ‘Aryans’.

           German Jews and the other groups of others were, however, subject to a long process of extremely negative but evidently persuasive propaganda which eventually moved (by reducing and ultimately removing) all Jews, ‘gypsies’ and homosexuals to dangerous ‘outsider status’.  After such processes of moral reduction and social removal, these groups were no longer able to enjoy being regarded as constituents of the moral ‘in-crowd’.  Finally, in extremis, the outsiders were successfully conceptualised as not even being members of the human species.  However, and perhaps a reflection of a discernible ambivalence in human-nonhuman relations (Ryder 2000), not just any old animal category would suffice to dehumanise Jews.  Thus, they were often portrayed as lice, and that meant that they were subject to carefully constructed ‘extermination policies’ enacted against such a ‘pest’ species.[9]  Indeed, Hitler was able to conceive of the genocide as being part of a campaign of ‘social hygiene’.  Clearly, the stories (including the jokes) human beings tell themselves, each other, and their children are truly meaningful.

Human Beings and Animals as Utterly Distinct Categories.

Keith Tester is another sociologist who outlines the absolute necessity, as well as the practical pragmatism, of conceptualising others and enemies in nonhuman animal categories.  For example, in relation to the My Lai massacre in which a company of highly trained North American soldiers, as he puts it, ‘murdered and raped their way through a whole community’ (1997: 85), Tester found that often the soldiers believed they were not fighting other human beings (also see Bourke 1999).  Biologist and feminist Lynda Birke (1994) argues that ‘human’ and ‘animal’ categories are usually regarded as utterly distinct.  Human beings commonly conceive of themselves as human by strictly reserving the label ‘animal’ for other animal categories, or for certain demonised human individuals or groups.  Thus, it is generally only seen as appropriate for ‘bad’ or somehow ‘deficient’ humans to be labelled as animals. 

          In a sense, these understandings also account in part for some of the utility in dehumanisation processes.  In other words, categorical distinctions are constructed as things that matter, and the label ‘animal’ ultimately becomes what ‘we’ are not - and, furthermore, a label most human beings would not want to associate with themselves.  Birke says the word ‘animal’ may be seen as a ‘cultural standard’ against which human beings may set themselves.  Moreover, humans are in general assumed to be ‘better’ than those placed in ‘animal’ categories (1994: 17).  Hence, football supporters, at least those who ‘go around fighting and wrecking places’, find themselves called ‘animals’ - or (how bad is this?) - ‘worse than animals’ (recalling the jokes).  This linguistic formulation, Birke suggests, is to signify that human beings are ‘out of control’, and that suggestively means behaving sub-humanly (ibid).  Displays of ‘animal-like behaviour’, with notions of ‘the beast within’, when applied to human beings, are normatively pejorative. 

          According to Birke, a now obsolete dictionary definition of ‘beasts’ used to include human beings but ‘later usage’ specifically and deliberately separates ‘us’ from ‘them’.  Thus, in modern usage, the term ‘beast’ is often associated with passive but strong - but also probably stupid - ‘work animals’, within categories of nonhuman animals classified as ‘livestock’.  On the other hand, the term ‘beast’ is connected to ideas suggesting ‘evil forces’: the ‘devil’ himself is part-beast after all (Thomas 1983: 36).  Joanna Bourke (1999: 349-63) argues that authorities who sent ‘boys’ to war were extremely wary of the potentially dangerous ‘creatures’ who might return; those who were perhaps brutalised by their war experiences and thus may subsequently represent a beast-like threat to their own friends, families, sweethearts and spouses.  Given the negative cultural meanings associated with the term ‘animal’, it is perhaps not surprising that in Northern English prison argot (and tabloid newspaper headlines), the label ‘beast’ is often bestowed by ‘regular cons’ on both unconvicted and convicted sex offenders - especially those who have allegedly sexually assaulted children.  These human individuals are also often regarded as passive, and perhaps weak and stupid, but who are at the same time ‘evil’, ‘predatory’ and ‘animal-like’ at least in their sexual proclivities, ‘picking on’ children, as it were, because they are putatively incapable of a sexual relationship with a grown-up person. 

          Stephen Clark sees such notions imbued with ‘folk-taxonomic meanings’, carrying moral significance (1991: 14).  Treating people ‘like an animal’ means treating them ‘without due regard for their preferences, or their status as free and equal partners in the human community’.  Again, the importance of community in these constructions is clear.  Indeed, Clark adds that, ‘To behave ‘like an animal’ is to pay no regard to the normal inhibitions and ceremonies of that community’ (ibid).  Such ‘creatures’ surely cannot be community insiders because they do not know how to return friendship; they do not know how to keep or make bargains, they cannot play a social contractual role as they are ‘forever excluded from distinctly ‘human’ practices’ (ibid). 

          Once ‘outside the realm of justice’, all ‘animals’ - human or otherwise - may be more easily enslaved, hurt, or killed, and in great numbers.  The detail of the harmful utilisation of attitudes concerning ‘the species barrier’ will be postponed until species barrier ‘construction’ is considered in part of the ensuing section on the social construction of the species barrier.

[1]   On the other hand, Bauman (1993: 143) notes that socialisation can have a tendency to ‘cool off’.  Moreover, like most sociological analysis of the socialisation process, Bauman regularly returns to the point that socialisation should not be seen as a one-way process, and that there are other social forces, such as the notion of sociation, which may disrupt or counter the process.
[2]   Gordon Marshall, in his Dictionary of Sociology (Marshall 1994: 497-98) notes that the sociological study of socialisation moved on from a specific focus on primary socialisation, based on the role played by agents such as the family and school, in a recognition that the socialisation process effects people throughout their lives.
[3]   However, see Brim Jr (1966: 20-4) for an account of the ‘limits of later-life socialisation’.
[4]   One relevant observation regarding this point is evident from email discussions involving animal rights advocates.  It appears fairly common for campaigners to underestimate the difficulty others may experience when contemplating, say, lifestyle changes if they themselves found such changes relatively easy.
[5]   Such sentiments can be traced at least as far back as Rousseau who claimed that human beings were made weak and ‘more brutish’ by society: they were ‘naturally’ gentle and noble (in Franklin 1999: 178).
[6]   However, as shown in a later section of this thesis, being regarded as entirely inanimate (like a toilet for example) can place people even ‘further away’ from the category of human being than the case of regarding humans as nonhuman animals.  The latter are at least conceived of as living, breathing, biological entities with an individual and/or group welfare.
[7]   It should be pointed out, as Regan himself does (2001: 110-11), that he is not claiming that scientific and religious ideas have not played a ‘positive role’ and challenged the exclusion of the groups under discussion.
[8]   I was reminded of this point when sociologist and now radio pundit Laurie Taylor told a joke about the assumed laziness and slowness of British workers in his BBC Radio 4 programme, Thinking Allowed (April 2001):  A ‘Liverpool docker’ crushes a snail under his foot and, when asked to account for his action, complained that the snail had been following him around all morning.
[9]   ‘Vermin’ animals such as rats, or ‘food’ animals such as pigs are also regularly the chosen label for the dehumanised subjects.  More seemingly ‘virtuous’ animals - often regarded and categorised as ‘higher’ animals - may be deliberately adopted by human individuals or groups as a symbolic representation of themselves.  Commonly, animals used as symbols for humans (and ‘favourite’ animals) seem to be mainly carnivores.  For example, recent paramilitary forces in Bosnia called themselves ‘The Tigers’ and ‘White Eagles’, both ‘savage’ but ‘skilful’ and popular predators, of course. (Jamieson 1999: 138). 

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