Friday, May 18, 2012

[outside the moral circle]

From Richard Beck's book, unclean: Meditations on Purity, Hospitality, and Mortality.
But what about those people on the outside of the moral circle? Those we identify as strangers? People on the outside of the moral circle are treated instrumentally, as tools to accomplish our goals in the world. In Kantian language, people inside the moral circle are treated as ends in themselves while people on the outside of the moral circle are treated as means to our ends. We treat those inside the moral circle with love, affection, and mercy, and those outside the moral circle with indifference, hostility, or pragmatism. And all this flows naturally from a simple psychological mechanism: Are you identified as “family”? Once the identification is made (or not), life inside and outside the circle flows easily and reflexively.


Does humanity end at the edge of the moral circle? That is, is the way we treat people outside the moral circle symptomatic of something darker and more sinister? Do we see outsiders as less than human?

The phenomenon of seeing people as less than human is called infrahumanization. Historically, infrahumanization occurs when one group of people comes to believe that another group of people does not possess some vital and defining human quality such as intellect or certain moral sensibilities. These infrahumans might be human from a biological perspective, but they are believed to lack some moral or psychological attribute that makes them fully human, on par with the "superior” group.

Beck, pp. 101-102
In Jesus' day, lepers were seen as less than human. So were Samaritans and Gentiles. Whom do we think of as less than human today?

See the untouchable jesus cartoon in the previous post.

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