Oh, the In-humanity

Ritchie Calvin
7 min readJan 14, 2024
Photo by Chris Boese on Unsplash

Oh, the humanity”
(Herbert Oglevee Morrison, on the Hindenberg disaster)

People often wonder how it was possible for the slaveowners in the US South to, you know, enslave other human beings. They would buy and sell them. They would rape them. They would beat them. They would kill them (though they may have hesitated to waste their investment). Well, the answer is that the either did not believe, or they convinced themselves that, the people they were enslaving weren’t actually humans. They de-humanized them.

People often wonder how the Nazis were ale to do the things they did in Nazi Germany. They rounded up entire groups of people. They beat them. They experimented on them. They raped them. And they killed them. How were they able to do that to other human beings? Well, they also did not believe that the people they were brutalizing were humans. They de-humanized them.

People often wonder what is happening at the southern US border. Tens of thousands of individuals, entire families, separated families show up at the border seeking refuge. The Texas state officials, they set up traps, they separate the families, they ship them off (together or separately) to other states. How can they do this to other human beings? Well, the answer is exactly the same. They do not see them as human.

The attitude and the actions derive from the top. Texas Governor Greg Abbott sets the tone. His in-humanity is on full display.

As an example, Greg Abbott deployed a trap in the middle of the Rio Grande (Río Bravo). Abbott ordered razor wire installed along the river bank, and floating barriers in the middle of the river. Abbott claims that the barriers are a way to prevent the asylum seekers from reaching the border. However, many have raised the concern that the barriers post grave risk to the individuals crossing the river. Further, those who got through were pushed back into the river and denied any life-saving supplies, such as drinking water. One of the state troopers said, “I believe we a have stepped over a line into the inhumane. We need to operate it correctly in the eyes of God.”

Greg Abbott does not see the border crossers as human beings. They are non-human. They are a nuisance. Or, they are a campaign opportunity. They are not humans.

One of Abbott’s other responses has been to load up asylum seekers onto buses and to ship them off to other parts of the country. He has specifically targeted what he calls “blue cities” and/or “sanctuary cities.” Those cities include Washington, D.C., New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, Denver, and Los Angeles. Part of the strategy is to relieve Texas of any burden (though the cost of busing the immigrants is high),and part of the strategy is to mock the policies of sanctuary cities. He’s sticking it to the libs, as the saying goes.

But the reality is that he treats these human beings like cattle. They are bodies shoved into a bus and sent to places unknown. I was recently in New York City, and I witnessed the unloading of a bus from Texas. I saw about 60 people emerge from the bus. Approximately 60% of them looked to be under the age of 12. Were they able to communicate? Were they with their parents? Were they bused for their own well-being or because it suited Abbott’s political and ideological agenda? What will become of those young lives? Those young individuals who are the future of humanity?

In early January, 2024, a band of frigid weather and snow hit Chicago. They were life-threatening conditions. The Governor of Illinois, J. B. Pritzker, wrote a letter and asked Greg Abbott to pause sending the buses to Chicago during the dangerous weather. He wrote: “The next few days are a threat to the families and children you are sending here. I am pleading with you to at least pause these transports in order to save lives. I plead with you for mercy for the thousands of people who are powerless to speak for themselves. Please, while winter is threatening vulnerable people’s lives, suspend your transports and do not send more people to our state.” Pritzker called on Abbott’s humanity, and Abbott, predictably, declined. He said that the buses would continue to arrive, thereby endangering the bus drivers, the passengers, and the people meeting the buses.

Now (January 2024), the inhumane Greg Abbott has gone even further. He told the right-wing radio host Dana Loesch that: “The only thing that we are not doing is we’re not shooting people who come across the border — because, of course, the Biden administration would charge us with murder.”

How do you shoot human beings, how do you shoot adults and children, all of whom are merely seeking refuge? How is it possible to think of doing this to other human beings? The answer is the same as above. They do not see them as human beings.

The religion that Abbott claims to follow, and the set of laws that Abbott has sworn to uphold, both very clearly define situations in which murder is justifiable. Walking across a border is not one of them. Seeking a better life for your children is not one of them. The funds that might be saved by killing (or busing) an immigrant do not justify the murder of a human being.

All of these examples — the slaveowners, the Nazis, and Greg Abbott — are examples of sociopaths. They are examples of inhumanity to fellow human beings. Psychology Today defines sociopathy as: “a pattern of antisocial behaviors and attitudes, including manipulation, deceit, aggression, and a lack of empathy for others. . . . Sociopaths may or may not break the law, but by exploiting and manipulating others, they violate the trust that the human enterprise runs on.”

There is an iconic scene toward the end of The Silence of the Lambs (1991), in which Clarice Starling, the FBI investigator, is narrowing in on the missing woman, Catherine Martin. She has talked to Hannibal Lector to get insights into the mind of the killer. She has located the house where Catherine is being held. She hears the woman. And she tells her, “Talk to him. Tell him your name.”

The scene gets at the heart of Buffalo Bill’s psychological de-humanization of his victims. To him, they are not humans. They do not have hopes, dreams, and desires. They are trophies. They are quite literally just the skin of a human being. What Clarice asks Catherine to do is to humanize herself. By telling Buffalo Bill her name, she is becoming a person. By talking to him, she is no longer just an empty skin, but is a full-fleshed person.

To the Nazis, the Jews, the homosexuals, and all the others they rounded up were mere numbers. To Greg Abbott, the immigrants are not human beings. They are numbers. They are objects. They are means to his end. He exploits them for personal gain. He violates the sanctity we hold for human society and the fellowship of humanity.

He does not see them as equally human. He does not see their hopes, dreams, and desires. He does not understand the conditions that brought them to this point. They are individuals and they are parents who are fleeing a situation that they find unbearable. They are leaving everything behind, risking life and limb, risking their lives and their children’s lives to get out. And mark me, everyone has such a breaking point. Everyone — Greg Abbott included — will reach a point in which they would pack up and leave. We each have a breaking point. Abbott, too, has a breaking point. Things would get so bad that he would take his children and leave, hoping for a better life for himself and his children. That is a human response. It is what every human would do.

But he cannot see that humanity in the immigrants arriving at his border.

What we need to do, in the face of such inhumanity and such sociopathy, is to talk about the immigrants. Tell their stories. Tell him (Abbott, DeSantis, Trump) their names. Help them to see the humanity in each of them.


Edit: Of course, this story only gets worse. Several hours after I posted this piece, news broke of three deaths on the southern border. According to Homeland Security (HS), Border Patrol agents were responding to a distress call from Mexico. They were looking for three immigrants attempting to cross the river and were in distress. HS says that its agents were turned away by the Texas Military Department (TMD) and denied access to the area. TMD claims that they searched the area but found no one in distress. According to the Texas Tribune, the Mexican authorities recovered the bodies of a woman and two children.

These three deaths are directly attributable to the attitudes, policies, and actions of Greg Abbott and those under his command. What possible reason could they have to stop federal authorities from searching for people in the river? What possible territorial and jurisdictional dispute could possibly be worth the lives of three people?

(As of this writing, I have found no news report that provides the names of the three people who drowned. I will provide those names here when they are available.)

The Texas National Guard is responsible for those three deaths. The Texas Military Department is responsible for those three lives. Greg Abbott is responsible for the deaths of those three human beings.

Hold them accountable.

Ritch Calvin is an Associate Professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at SUNY Stony Brook. He is the author of Queering SF: Readings, Feminist Epistemology and Feminist Science Fiction (Palgrave McMillan) and edited a collection of essays on Gilmore Girls (McFarland). His most recent book is Queering SF: Readings (Aqueduct Press).