On treating persons as objects
Today’s culture treats persons as objects. Not “sometimes”. Not “usually”. The very nature of today’s society refuses to recognize people (that vague plural mass) as distinct individuals but instead as objects.
This was not always the case, (and if it was, civilization would never have been born.) Nor is this the first time in history that human beings have become human things—ancient cultures did not limit their sacrifices to animals. Nor is it true that all cultures of the present day dehumanize humans. But it remains true that today’s culture, the whole western world it seems, no longer treats men, women, and children as men, women and children.
By objects I mean that people have become less personalities with infinite depth and more a collection of properties. You are not a person, you are a white male Republican. You are not a person, you are a welfare queen. You are not a person, you are an illegal immigrant. You are not a person, you are rich. You are not a person, you are a fetus. You are not a person—and so the list goes on.
Opinions do not matter, except to label objects to dismiss them from having a point. Beliefs do not matter, except to label objects and dismiss them as against what is right and good—as we see fit. Emotions do not matter, except to label objects as to what medication should be applied to it. Physical state does not matter, race does not matter, ability does not matter. Charity does not matter at all, for this society cannot conceive of agape, and dismisses it as some kind of malfunctioning machine, or some secret motive, or something, anything, other than true love.
As for what this means, it means that society is not by and for the people, it is by objects and for objects. And objects can be anything. By money and for money, by idols and for idols, by ideas and for ideas. It no longer cares for anyone, only except as they fit into the machine.
I cannot believe that there is only one cause for this, one tipping point that turned this society into an abomination. There must be more than one, and I can think of two.
The first is lust. Lust in all its forms turns love into mere attraction, mere self-gratification. It is a horrible corruption, even if it is the least of the Seven Deadly Sins. Lust in modern society is that of consequence-free sex, “love-making” without love or making. Contraception is where it started, divorce, porn and abortion is where it has only begun to end.
Now, saying that contraception is at fault for the ills of this world is more than merely controversial, but I am not afraid to stand with Pope Paul VI on this. Sin lies, and the first lie it tells is that all things are permissible. The first step is to divorce marriage from procreation. The next, marriage from sex. The next, marriage from any form of objective reality. (Note how the antagonists of the traditional family rarely admit to the objectivity of marriage. “It’s a marriage because we say it is,” they say. Then why do they require that society recognize what they say?)
I say it begins to ends in divorce, porn, and abortion, because we have not hit the bottom yet. I have trouble imagining what could be worse than no-fault divorce, but I am sure someone will figure out a worse way to ruin marriages and harm children. But as for porn, the lax limits on what is permitted by human law will decay. (If you think that something like child porn will never be legalized, consider that one porn company was making child porn in the 1970s.) As for abortion, the logical conclusion is killing older and older children whenever their parents tire of them.
In all of this, persons have ceased to be persons. A prostitute is not a person for the one who pays for her, nor is the porn star. Nor is the fetus, nor is the child or the spouse in the divorced household.
The second reason for the loss of personhood is greed.
The free market is commonly blamed for the present economy. Capitalists say that the lack of a free market is to blame for the present economy. I say it is greed, no matter its form. Greed is an even worse corruption that lust, for “the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” When persons become less personality and more tool, then they have ceased to be human in the eyes of those who use them. And least it be thought that this is the fault of corporations or governments or their wretched combination, be it noted that only the owner can sell. We would not be used if we did not let ourselves be used. (Yes, even slaves have a choice of letting themselves be truly dehumanized or not. There is an infinite difference between the man who must work or be beaten and the man who wants to work so he can buy a shiny car.)
Greed is one thing when it is done by a person. It is another when it is institutionalized. The moment the first bailout passed, we went from the rule of law to the rule of money. See how intertwined money and power have become, and tell me this country is not corrupt rotten by greed.
As for the other five deadly sins, they are also at fault, but I can’t imagine they are as much at fault. Nearly every form of objectification in modern society has to do with either lust or greed, though I am certain this is not for lack of effort on the devil’s part. But no, these two sins have become embedded in our society like poison arrows, and will one day, if not treated, will kill it.
And how will we treat it? We must start with ourselves. For I, too, am guilty of this. It is much easier to live with only one person in the entire universe, and better yet, zero. A person has responsibilities; an object does not. An object may be abused for whatever reason; a personality may not. An object only exists, a person must worship God.
A meditation on the controversial topic of trigger warnings.
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