Humanizing/Dehumanizing is Respectability Politics, and That’s a Problem

This entry in this series (you should part 1 and part 2 before reading this post) was delayed because I wasn’t satisfied with my draft, so I wrote a post for the Carnival of Aces instead. And then I read this post by epocryphal which manages to get at one of the ideas I want to present in this series yet was struggling to describe:

Some people are robots, or monsters, or animals.

And even if we weren’t – some people have the traits which are called those things, and distancing from those is respectability politics and probably ableist.

For those who don’t know, ‘respectability politics’ (at least, the way I think epochryphal means it) is trying to lift yourself up by putting something else down. For example, let’s say we have a hierarchy where A is more privileged than B. And let’s say the population looks like this:


Let’s say the upper-case Bs get together and say ‘Hey, we’re not lowercase! Stop treating us as badly as the lowercase letters!’ … that is respectability politics.

I also agree with epochryphal that this is ableist. For example, why is it NOT OKAY to do [horrible thing] to humans, but OKAY to do that same [horrible thing] to a nonhuman animal which has a central nervous system, has pain nerves, exercises agency, makes tools, forms close emotional relationships with its family?

If the answer is ‘because they’re not human’, that makes about as much sense as saying that it’s NOT OKAY to do [horrible thing] to women, but OKAY to do [horrible thing] to men, or whatever categories you want to use.

If the answer is ‘because this nonhuman animal is not as intelligent as humans’, yup, you are being ableist. You are implying that it is okay to do [horrible thing] to humans who are not ‘intelligent’. In practice, people often target people who are considered of low ‘intelligence’ to do horrible things.

If the answer is ‘because this nonhuman animal is not sentient’ well, aside from the range of definitions of ‘sentience’ (and there are nonhuman animals which meet every definition which is not specifically tailored to describe humans alone), not all humans are sentient. Someone who has brain damage and is in a permanent coma is not sentient. And yes, in practice, a lot of violence is targeted at people who are not sentient, and I consider that type of violence to be ableist.

I am an animal (I think humans are a subset of animals, but if a human identified as a nonanimal I might accept that). I also used to be an alien, albeit a terrestrial one (I enjoyed telling people in Taiwan that I was an alien, and then pulling out the government-issued ID which said that, yep, I’m an alien). So yes, not all aromantic asexuals are aliens, but I was an aromantic asexual alien.

In the next post, I intend to examine an example respectability politics, specifically human/self VS. animal/other, which is tied to the worst thing which my family experienced in the past hundred years. But since I don’t even have a draft yet, the topic might change.

4 thoughts on “Humanizing/Dehumanizing is Respectability Politics, and That’s a Problem

  1. I’d define respectability politics as trying to improve the stereotype(s) of a group you care about by distancing and disassociating it from a group which is perceived in a similar manner. Inevitably, doing this reinforces the stereotypes surrounding the group dissociated from and supports treating them in the way you’re trying to avoid the group you care about being treated.

    I don’t agree with the sentience and ableism part. If there’s no level of sentience or awareness and no possibility of such, then I don’t see anything innately worse in harming a creature or structure then in harming their corpse.

    • Well, with living humans, it is nearly impossible to rule out sentience 100% in a specific case, since there are examples of humans who were assumed to have completely lost awareness of the outside world, when it was later revealed that, yes, they were still aware, they were simply incapable of giving any signs that they were aware.

      I have read about what goes on in facilities to care for people who are presumed to be long-term unconscious, and there is a lot of wrong going on there.

  2. Pingback: Linkspam: May 29th, 2015 | The Asexual Agenda

  3. Pingback: I Am Vermin | The Notes Which Do Not Fit

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