Less Than Human
Why We Demean, Enslave, and Exterminate Others
One of the most acclaimed and far-reaching philosophers today, David Livingstone Smith dispenses universal truths from science and philosophy, particularly ones dealing with why humans—who are capable of incredible acts of kindness—often lie, demean, and become violent.
David Livingstone 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 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.
“Less Than Human: Why We Demean, Enslave, and Exterminate Others makes for an interesting and unusually lucid book about an under-studied subject.”— The New York Times
A unique thinker often quoted in the media, Smith strives to appeal to a wide audience without leaving out anything substantial: “My aim is to speak in a manner that is engaging and accessible to the general listener while also having something meaty to offer the specialist.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.