David Livingstone Smith
Author of Less Than Human
David Smith's newest book, Less Than Human: Why We Demean, Enslave, and Exterminate Others, delves into our darker side—specifically, why we do the bad things we do—by drawing from psychology, philosophy, biology and other branches of learning for its conclusions. The book, which won the 2012 Anisfield-Wolf Award for non-fiction, fits neatly on the shelf with Smith's previous works, Why We Lie and The Most Dangerous Animal. They make him the go-to expert on human nature's darkest impulses and what understanding them can teach us.
Smith is co-founder and director of The Human Nature Project. He earned a Ph.D. in philosophy at the University of London (Kings College), and is currently a professor of philosophy at the University of New England.
Dehumanization in Genocide, Racism, and War
The Nazis described Jews as filthy vermin, Rwandan Hutus described their Tutsi neighbors as cockroaches, and English settlers described Native Americans as ravenous wolves. In this talk, based on his powerful, award-winning book Less Than Human: Why We Demean, Enslave and Dehumanize Others, David Livingstone Smith looks at how and why human beings think of others as subhuman creatures. Smith describes the crucial role of dehumanization in war, genocide, and racism, and uses examples drawn from the Holocaust, the transatlantic slave trade, and the extermination of Native Americans, as well as current events, to drive his point home. Smith explains what it is about the human mind that makes dehumanization possible, and argues that understanding dehumanization should be made a priority if we want to prevent repeats of atrocities like those that occurred in Auschwitz, Bosnia, and Hiroshima.
Race: The Most Dangerous Illusion
Although it is sometimes said that we live in a post-racial era, the fact is that Americans seem to be as obsessed with race as ever. Racial stereotyping and discrimination, as well gross disparities in wealth, academic achievement, and rates of incarceration, remain harsh realities of life. Racist attitudes simmer beneath the surface, and every once in a while explode into plain sight. For centuries, racism has been responsible for the worst atrocities that human beings have perpetrated against one another—genocide, slavery, and oppression. In this hard-hitting and inspiring talk, philosopher David Livingstone Smith argues that race is a powerful and dangerous illusion, and explains why getting rid of it should be near the top of our social agenda. Smith starts by explaining the psychological and historical origins of the idea of race, and goes on to spell out why it has no scientific basis and why it has such a potent foothold in the human mind. Next, drawing on history, anthropology, and the latest psychological research, he exposes the roots of racism in our conscious and unconscious attitudes, and explains the link between racism, slavery, and genocide. Finally, he points the way forward to a truly post-racial society. We have managed to eradicate diseases like smallpox and diphtheria; eradicating the disease of racism is long overdue.
Free Will: Illusion or Reality?
Do human beings have free will, or is this just an illusion? The age-old problem of free will has been surfacing once again in writings by neuroscientists and psychologists. It seems like every few months there is a new claim that there’s no such thing as freedom of the will or that science has proven that free will exists. What are we to make of these conflicting claims? Can science really show that we are autonomous, morally responsible agents, or that we are we hard-wired slaves of our genes? In this talk, David Livingstone Smith explains why these views are naive. He takes his audience on an enthralling tour of how philosophers think about the free-will problem, translating difficult concepts into a form that anyone can understand. In the end, he shows that there is a place for genuine freedom in a scientific picture of the world, but it’s not of the sort of freedom that many people imagine.
Why Philosophy Matters
Philosophy is increasingly seen as a relic of the past that is irrelevant to the contemporary world. Many people think of it as useless navel-gazing that has been replaced by modern science. Philosopher David Livingstone Smith begs to differ. In this impassioned talk, Smith argues that far from being a useless discipline, the practice of philosophy is more important today than ever before, and that it has a vital role to play in science, government, on Wall Street, in education, and in daily life. Philosophy, he claims, does not give us answers, but it does give us options, and therefore tools for living freer, richer, more fulfilling lives.
Less Than Human
Winner of the 2012 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Nonfiction A revelatory look at why we dehumanize each other, with stunning examples from world history as well as today's headlines.
"Brute." "Cockroach." "Lice." "Vermin." "Dog." Beast." These and other monikers are constantly in use to refer to other humans—for political, religious, ethnic, or sexist reasons. Human beings have a tendency to regard members of their own kind as less than human. This tendency has made atrocities like the Holocaust, the genocide in Rwanda, and the slave trade possible, and yet we still find it in phenomena such as xenophobia, homophobia, military propaganda, and racism. Less Than Human draws on a rich mix of history, psychology, biology, anthropology and philosophy to document the pervasiveness of dehumanization, describe its forms, and explain why we so often resort to it.
David Livingstone Smith posits that this behavior is rooted in human nature, but gives us hope in also stating that biological traits are malleable, showing us that change is possible. Less Than Human is a chilling indictment of our nature, and is as timely as it is relevant.
Why We Lie: The Evolutionary Roots of Deception and the Unconscious Mind
Deceit, lying, and falsehoods lie at the very heart of our cultural heritage. Even the founding myth of the Judeo-Christian tradition, the story of Adam and Eve, revolves around a lie. We have been talking, writing and singing about deception ever since Eve told God, "The serpent deceived me, and I ate."
Our seemingly insatiable appetite for stories of deception spans the extremes of culture from King Lear to Little Red Riding Hood, retaining a grip on our imaginations despite endless repetition. These tales of deception are so enthralling because they speak to something fundamental in the human condition. The ever-present possibility of deceit is a crucial dimension of all human relationships, even the most central: our relationships with our very own selves.
Now, for the first time, philosopher and evolutionary psychologist David Livingstone Smith elucidates the essential role that deception and self-deception have played in human--and animal--evolution and shows that the very structure of our minds has been shaped from our earliest beginnings by the need to deceive. Smith shows us that by examining the stories we tell, the falsehoods we weave, and the unconscious signals we send out, we can learn much about ourselves and how our minds work. Readers of Richard Dawkins and Steven Pinker will find much to intrigue them in this fascinating book, which declares that our extraordinary ability to deceive others—and even our own selves—"lies" at the heart of our humanity.
The Most Dangerous Animal: Human Nature and the Origins of War
Almost 200 million human beings, mostly civilians, have died in wars over the last century, and there is no end of slaughter in sight. The Most Dangerous Animal asks what it is about human nature that makes it possible for human beings to regularly slaughter their own kind. It tells the story of why all human beings have the potential to be hideously cruel and destructive to one another. Why are we our own worst enemy? The book shows us that war has been with us---in one form or another---since prehistoric times, and looking at the behavior of our close relatives, the chimpanzees, it argues that a penchant for group violence has been bred into us over millions of years of biological evolution.
The Most Dangerous Animal takes the reader on a journey through evolution, history, anthropology, and psychology, showing how and why the human mind has a dual nature: on the one hand, we are ferocious, dangerous animals who regularly commit terrible atrocities against our own kind, on the other, we have a deep aversion to killing, a horror of taking human life. Meticulously researched and far-reaching in scope and with examples taken from ancient and modern history, The Most Dangerous Animal delivers a sobering lesson for an increasingly dangerous world.