People as things

April 12, 2015

“There is a very interesting debate raging at the moment about the nature of sin, for example.”
“And what do they think? Against it, are they?”
“It’s not as simple as that. It’s not a black and white issue. There are so many shades of gray.”
“There’s no grays, only white that’s got grubby. I’m surprised you don’t know that. And sin, young man, is when you treat people as things. Including yourself. That’s what sin is.”
“It’s a lot more complicated than that—”
“No. It ain’t. When people say things are a lot more complicated than that, they means they are getting worried that they won’t like the truth. People as things, that’s where it starts.”
“Oh, I’m sure there are worse crimes—”
“But they starts with thinking about people as things…”

—Terry Pratchett (1948 – 2015)

Since Terry Pratchett died, I find myself going back to his work more often. This is one of the most insightful lessons the great teacher taught me. He proved what a lie it is that atheists cannot have a strong morality, for his was stronger than most.

It’s not complicated. It really isn’t. It starts with people as things. Once you start treating people as things, it’s easier to abuse them, to dismiss them, to marginalize them, to hurt them without hurting yourself. Empathy is what keeps us from being evil, and makes those who embrace it so very kind.

But we do it all the time, don’t we? We don’t deeply interact with the clerk at the train station, nor do we always ask the waiter about her day, or personally thank the chefs who made our meal.

It’s not the same. They’re still people, even if we only interact with them on a superficial level. It’s when we treat them as less than human beings—when we treat them as tools there to fulfill our needs—that we have erred.

Arslan Senki provides a reminder. When people begin talking about heretics or savages, beware—they’re treating people as things, and mistakes are about to be made. Were that relegated to fiction, it wouldn’t be such an issue. Unfortunately, it’s very real.

Sometimes the whites get grubby, and sometimes there are no good guys in the tale. But you can avoid becoming one of the bad guys as long as you remember one simple rule:

People as things. That’s where it starts.

As always, thank you for using my Amazon Affiliate link (info).

By Stephen W. Gee

Author of Wage Slave Rebellion, Freelance Heroics, and about two good blog posts out of a hundred.